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music friday: creedence clearwater revival, "keep on chooglin'"

I don’t remember the details any longer, and maybe it’s just a myth that came after the fact without basis in what actually happened. But during Creedence Clearwater Revival’s run, the story goes that Creedence was looked down upon by the psychedelic passengers in the San Francisco Bay Area, I think because CCR had actual hit records that got played on AM radio (you know, like the Airplane with “White Rabbit”). Thanks to military service by John Fogerty and drummer Doug Clifford, the band didn’t get around to recording their first record under the Creedence Clearwater Revival moniker until the summer after the Summer of Love. While their music was “timeless” in the way it anticipated Americana, outlasting in popularity most of the great psychedelic bands (for whom I have the highest regard, it needs to be said), for some reason, not everyone in the “scene” was impressed by these guys from El Cerrito. That first album included a cover of “Susie Q” that hit #11 on the singles charts in a shortened version. On the album, “Susie Q” ran 8:37, and the single split that into Part One and Part Two. The band was well aware of the difference between the AM pop stations and the FM “underground” stations, and “Susie Q” was a direct response to that, as John Fogerty later explained in an interview:

This little underground San Francisco radio station, KMPX, would play all kinds of weird things. I told the other guys that the quickest way we could get on the radio, therefore get more exposure and get this thing going was to specifically go in and record an arrangement of "Suzie Q" that could get played on that station. It's been said that what we were doing seemed very far removed from the rest of San Francisco, but that's not quite true. ''Suzie Q" was designed to fit right in. The eight-minute opus. Feedback. Like [the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's] "East-West." And especially the little effect, the little telephone-box [vocal] in the middle, which is the only part I regret now. It's just funny sounding. But, lo and behold, it worked!

In 1969, Creedence released three albums. On those albums were tracks like “Born on the Bayou,” “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lodi,” “Down on the Corner,” and “Fortunate Son”. All in one year. This wasn’t the Grateful Dead … this was a hit-making machine, cranking out one hit after another from the pen of John Fogerty. And they weren’t done. In 1970, there was Cosmo’s Factory (“Travelin’ Band,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Run Through the Jungle,” “Up Around the Bend,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”).

If you assume a popular group can’t also be an “underground” group (and this assumption was made in those days), then a band like Creedence isn’t going to get as much air play on the FM stations than they deserved. My memory doesn’t support any particular position on this … I don’t remember whether Creedence was played on KMPX/KSAN. I know that the band often returned to tracks which could be seen as opus-like: the album version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” ran more than eleven minutes.

The thing that is forgotten is that even dedicated “FM” listeners like myself existed in a broader cultural context when it came to music. I was in high school, and we enjoyed Motown and Stax/Volt and other similar-sounding hits. It all blended together, with Creedence Clearwater Revival heard right alongside Aretha Franklin and the Four Tops. It was all popular music to us. And popular music to high schoolers meant dance music. We danced to it all.

Which brings us to “Keep on Chooglin’”. “Chooglin’” was an excuse for John Fogerty to jam. He sang a brief verse about chooglin’, which stood in vaguely for fucking, and then tore into a long guitar solo, into which he moved to a long harmonica solo, after which he returned to the guitar. All the while, drummer Doug Clifford pounded out a repetitive beat, bassist Stu Cook hit a repetitive run, and guitarist Tom Fogerty played a repetitive chord. There is nothing to this song beyond John Fogerty’s trademark rough-sounding vocals, his guitar playing, his harmonica playing, and the insistent, repetitive beat. The song lasted just under eight minutes, and we danced all the way through, working along with that beat … no matter how bad a dancer you were, you could find a place in “Chooglin’” to call your own.

Not only did “Keep on Chooglin’” work on FM “underground” terms (long and full of solos), it worked when extended on stage. Creedence did such a good job of getting their live sound on record that their concerts were said to be less illuminating than those of others, because the records already sounded like the live versions. I never saw the band, but based on the evidence we have, I’d say if you had as many great songs as CCR, playing them “like the record” wouldn’t be the worst move. Here, then, is a live version of “Keep on Chooglin’”. There are several to pick from … I like this Woodstock version because of something John Fogerty said about their appearance at that famous festival (their set came after midnight): “A quarter mile away in the darkness, on the other edge of this bowl, there was some guy flicking his Bic, and in the night I hear, 'Don't worry about it, John. We're with you.' I played the rest of the show for that guy.”

For an interesting discussion of “chooglin’”, see “Keep on Chooglin.”

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