Back in the fall of 1980, Creedence Clearwater Revival fans (and rock faithful in general) celebrated the release of The Royal Albert Hall Concert, the document of an historic April 14, 1970 concert and the first official live album by the band’s original quartet lineup.
Great news, except…it wasn’t.
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The disc in question turned out to be from a New Year’s Eve concert that same year in Oakland, Calif. The album was retitled The Concert, and the Royal Albert Hall show remained the province of bootleggers. Until now.
On Friday (Sept. 16), Craft Recordings releases Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall, a documentary (streaming on Netflix) that shows the gig was every bit as exciting as its legend. Taking place concurrent with Paul McCartney’s formal announcement of the Beatles’ breakup, the show positioned CCR as the next band most likely to be The Biggest. And there was no place better for the quartet to take up that gauntlet than in the Fab Four’s home country.
The film, narrated by Jeff Bridges, also includes about a half-hour of interviews and footage from CCR’s entire European tour. The band members — brothers John and Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford — appear fresh-faced and wide-eyed as they tour the sites and hang out in hotel rooms and backstage. There’s little of the rancor that would subsequently mark the band’s breakup and legacy — though Cook acknowledges things are not always rosy — and the footage simply documents four guys having the time of their lives and not entirely sure how they got there.
To mark the occasion of the real Royal Albert Hall release, Billboard spoke with John Fogerty about the show, as well as some more contemporary matters.
Is it nostalgia, or what is the emotion you’re feeling as this rolls out?
I think for me the uppermost emotion is I’m glad fans finally get to see it as a performance. I’m sure almost all of them have maybe heard about it, but no one’s ever seen it before. I think there’s been a few (bootleg) copies running around, but I don’t know who was able to actually see it anywhere for 50-something years. It’s almost like a stone unturned that needed to be. There are underlying other emotions — part of which is why in the world was it hidden away so long, that kind of thing. But we’re here now, so make the best of it.
And this time it’s the real Royal Albert Hall concert, right?
(Laughs) Well, you’re digging into the trash can of my relations with Fantasy and Saul Zaentz, of course. But, yes, what happened was when I was finally able to leave Fantasy, they warranted that they only had one more piece of Creedence material in their vaults, and that was the Royal Albert Hall tape. So at the end of 1980 they released an album called Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall. I remember getting a copy — of course in those days it was vinyl — and dropping a needle on the record and the first thing I heard was Tom Donahue’s voice, the famous disc jockey in San Francisco. He was only at one of our shows, and that was in Oakland, so I quickly understood a slip-up had happened. I also thought it wasn’t just a mistake; it was a devious move. They had gotten a master copy of this Oakland Coliseum tape, and I think they were trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes and use that contractual commitment to try to get away with it. But everybody understood right away it wasn’t done at Albert Hall, it was done in Oakland. So after that they just called it The Concert.
How important was this show to Creedence at the time?
I’m sure we all felt like it was a high-water mark because Albert Hall is so legendary in terms of rock n’ roll. First and foremost the Beatles played there, I think a few times. I imagine other British bands that rose to the top, too. I think the (Rolling) Stones and maybe the Kinks by then had played Albert Hall. It was seen as the thing to do in rock n’ roll, especially when you went to England.
The documentary also positions that performance as staking a claim for Creedence as the biggest band of the world in the wake of the Beatles’ breakup — which became public knowledge that same month. Did your band feel that way?
I’m sure that I felt we were in our ascendency. I believe we were in England preparing to play at Albert Hall the first time right when the Beatles broke up, when the news was on everybody’s minds — I think it was within days, actually. The idea that the Beatles had broken up therefore led to quickly thinking, “Well, they’re not a band anymore, so who’s the No. 1 band? Gee, maybe it’s us!” Some people would say that about us from time to time, but there couldn’t have been any official polling or anything. There were other bands that were around, like the Rolling Stones, that certainly could have been in contention.
Did that scenario put a little extra charge or jet fuel into Creedence for that show, then?
That’s a good question; I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I think for a period of about a year, and perhaps the Albert Hall was right in the middle of that one year — as a band Creedence could really strut its stuff. By then I’d written quite a few radio songs, so we had a pretty unbeatable repertoire live and were able to perform the songs really well. There was a certain amount of swagger to the whole presentation. There was a great feeling right during that time, having emerged from the shadows and standing directly center stage there in the spotlight, and at a time before all the tensions within the band started to make things more complicated.
Do you have specific memories of playing the show itself?
Y’know, it was all kind of a blur. I remember rehearsing in the afternoon and I remember being on stage, and then it’s just sort of…I haven’t really thought about it a lot over time. It’s all sort of one singular thought rather than a memory with lots of parts, the way maybe last week’s concert would be. I hadn’t seen the film over the years, either. I remember we played well and it was a great reception. It was a pretty legendary performance in a legendary place. But I tend to remember it as a singular snapshot.
Part of the legend, of course, is the 15-minute standing ovation after you finished, but Creedence never played encores. Did you even consider it, just that once, given that people were going crazy?
The way that came about was there had been a series of shows several months before this one where we would go off and then come back on to do an encore, and people would come on stage — I mean lots of people. It seemed to be an entitlement or some sort of signal that all the rules are now off, you can do whatever you want, so people would rush the stage and get on the stage. Several times we watched Doug’s drums being torn apart. It became mayhem, in other words. By then, by the end of ’69, we had started hearing, “Well, the Beatles didn’t do encores,” and “the Stones are now not doing encores” and there were several other bands. So in Creedence I made the decision…so we were well into the mode of not doing an encore.
But I have to say that as (the ovation) went on, somebody came back and told us after about 10 minutes, “Well, they’ve been playing ‘God Save the Queen’ but everybody’s making so much noise they can’t hear it.” I just thought, “Well, we better not change things,” ’cause it had gotten so dangerous. For better or for worse, that’s where it is.
Did you get to meet any of the British musicians when you were there?
No, not that I remember. I had heard that a couple of Beatles were in attendance, but since I didn’t get to meet them I never really got to verify that. I’m sure if I’d have met Paul McCartney or John Lennon or George (Harrison), then, oh my goodness, I would’ve been just a fanboy. All these new things that were happening to me and my band, it was quite recent history and we had come from almost nothing and we’re now being celebrated all over the world. In no way was I used to that at all.
A comment is made in the documentary that you were “considered one of America’s most politically significant songwriters” at that time. Was that an aspiration?
Well, I took that stuff very seriously. I consider myself very American. I was and am very aware of being an American citizen, with a lot of interest in American history. At different points I thought I might become a history teacher. So it was important to me. I’ve stayed on that radio station all through my life. When things seemed unfair and they shook my sense of balance and fairness and equality, I thought in terms of, “We need to fix this. We need to make America better.” And, of course, in America at that time civil rights was a very high priority among people, young people especially. I think it still is in certain portions of our society.
Back then you were writing in a social-political-cultural maelstrom, and we find ourselves in the same maelstrom today. Do you see parallels?
I would say, of course, the answer is yes. There is a very similar situation now. One of the differences, to me at last, is back in the sixties I always felt the young people — meaning the people that were my age at the time — all felt about the same, kind of left-leaning, liberal, wanted to improve America’s civil rights and social rights and stand more for the things that were in our Constitution. It seemed like the young people identified with that and the conflict was basically between young people and old people. Nowadays it’s not that simple and you’ll find even young people in certain political instances or ideologies saying things that certainly I don’t agree with, and you’ll find young people AND old people on the other side.
The great divide.
Yes. We seem to have a left side and a right side and a lot of people that think they are centrists, I suppose. From my point of view a lot of things that come from the conservative side of things seem to not hold up. The one that’s the most surprising in this day and age is all the people who think the 2020 election actually came out a different way than most of us believe. I just find that…not only hard to go along with, but it’s also disturbing that so many people can. They’re almost like flat-earth people; they want to believe that the planet looks like a saucer, and if you go out to the edge you’ll fall off. That bothers me, ’cause it’s not really good for our country to have so many people saying stuff that’s not believable.
What are your thoughts about President Biden so far?
Of course I voted for him. I wish there was a better version of him at times. I wish he was more dynamic. I wish he was able to express himself better, that kind of thing. You just wish it was more forceful, but politically I’m still right where he is. And he’s gotten a lot better the last few months; that’s probably driven by the fact there’s what they call midterm elections coming up. It seems like he’s paying more attention to that side more recently. But I am heartened by the latest big deal he got past. Things were going so poorly with our 50-50 Senate, I was surprised anything was gonna get done. It just looked like each side was dug in and not moving at all.
You’re old enough to remember a different kind of discourse in the political world, when the tone was more civil and you never questioned the motives or agenda of “the opposition.”
I thoroughly agree with that. There were people in the sixties and seventies who expressed the conservative side, I’m thinking like George F. Will or William F. Buckley, some other folks you would see pretty often on TV, but you knew they were gentlemen. You knew they perhaps had a different mindset but expressed it pretty eloquently. We didn’t throw chairs at each other while we were trying to figure things out. That’s the part that’s pretty disturbing now; I do not think people listen. I think they just try to say what they’re saying louder than the other guy.
Are the issues of the day fueling your new songwriting?
On and off. I wrote a song a year ago called “Weeping in the Promised Land,” and it’s kind of divided (the audience) down political identifications, which I didn’t want to do but it’s hard to get away from that. Twenty years ago I had a song called “Deja Vu (All Over Again)”; in many places I actually was booed while I was playing it on acoustic guitar. But I’m really glad that happened; before, when I thought I was just an entertainer standing up in front of an audience, many of whom were booing, my first reaction would be, “Wow, they don’t like me very much, do they?” Then I realized it was the song, or what the song was saying, and I’d play something else and they’d be back to cheering. (laughs)
Where are you at with new songs and recording plans?
Well, it’s in mind. I finally have my studio running as I want it. The fellas I’m playing with now I really enjoy very much, which also includes my two sons who are playing in the band (Tyler and Shane). It’s just a sense that this is a sort of cohesive unit, much more so for the kind of music that I like to record. There’s certainly a lot of ideas and a few completed songs. Mostly ideas. It’s the kind of swampy music that I love to do. That’s what I’m feeling.