Excalibur and Cosmo: When CCR Members Go Solo

CCR offshoots

In many ways, we’re living in a great time to be an obsessive music fan. Boutique record labels like Craft Recordings are expertly micro-targeting listeners who crave obscure, out of print LPs by reissuing them with tremendous care and attention to detail. These long-lost titles might not have burned up the charts in their day, but they are often essential artifacts of their times that can provide a deeper insight into a given artist’s — or band’s — legacy. This is certainly true of Craft’s latest offering, the simultaneous release of a pair of LPs from 1972 by two former members of Creedence Clearwater Revival: rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty and drummer Doug Clifford. Fogerty’s Excalibur and Clifford’s Doug “Cosmo” Clifford are two very different albums yet are nonetheless very effective when taken in together.

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Tom Fogerty (1941-1990) might have lacked the fire and fury of his younger brother John as a singer and songwriter, but his rhythm guitar and laid-back sensibilities were essential to the homespun character of Creedence’s music. Those elements are on full display on Excalibur, his second solo album. (Fogerty released five solo LPs in his lifetime, and Craft Recordings is also making the others available on digital streaming platforms.) On Excalibur, Fogerty leads a sympathetic, Bay Area-based studio band that includes Jerry Garcia on guitar and keyboardist Merl Saunders. The performances are loose and casual as if the band was playing the songs for the first or second time, but it works. Apart from the occasional psychedelic studio effect (most notably a backwards vocal and Mellotron trumpet on “Sign of the Devil”), Excalibur succeeds best when Fogerty and the band let the music do the talking and settle into that swampy, bluesy pocket that CCR is lauded for.

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By contrast, CCR drummer Doug Clifford wasn’t burdened with being the frontman’s older brother; or much of anything, if the sound of Doug “Cosmo” Clifford is any indication. “Cosmo” is the textbook drummer’s solo album: get some players together, pick some tunes, and have a ball. Clifford didn’t mess around with the personnel: the tracks are punctuated by the Tower of Power horns and the famed Hawkins family’s soulful vocals, with the entire set anchored by one-of-a-kind drummer Clifford and legendary Stax bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn. The rollicking studio band provides the perfect setting for Clifford’s unaffected vocals, rootsy songwriting, and easy charm. He even drops in three covers: Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man,” Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover” and Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream.” Clifford’s image on the LP’s back cover speaks volumes: He’s leaning against a busted brick wall in a leather jacket and sunglasses, smiling as if to say “No big artistic statements here, buddy.” Rather, “Cosmo” feels like Clifford hosting a hot jam session at his local bar; it’s an easy ride with a musician who’s got nothing to prove.

Both sets are cut from the original analog masters onto 180-gram vinyl discs, and the packages have been faithfully replicated including the classic “Fantasy Records” label on the discs themselves. They look, feel, and sound tremendous; No need to scour garage sales for these titles anymore! These LPs have been out of print for decades and might have slipped through the cracks of history, but Craft Recordings thankfully recognizes the demand for these works. CCR’s die-hard fans will snatch them up immediately, but casual listeners will also find much to enjoy here. Releasing these two titles simultaneously is also more than a marketing strategy as they perfectly complement each other, and serve to enhance CCR’s storied legacy. Despite their famously acrimonious split in the early ‘70s (and the ensuing decades of lawsuits between band members over one thing or another), there’s no denying that Creedence Clearwater Revival remains one of America’s premier rock and roll bands. Excalibur and Doug “Cosmo” Clifford are perfect representations of two elements that generated that legendary sound.

John Montagna

Photo Credit: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Doug Clifford and Tom Fogerty (Cropped photo by Chris Walter/WireImage courtesy of Getty Images)

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John Montagna is a bass guitarist, singer, songwriter (but not a “singer-songwriter”) and Brooklyn Native. He has toured the world and elsewhere with Alan Parsons, Todd Rundgren, The Turtles (featuring Flo & Eddie) and many other legendary hit makers, and he created the theme music for the top-rated comedy podcast “WTF With Marc Maron.” John prefers to view his all-consuming obsession with The Beatles as an asset, rather than a liability.

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