A Song For Everyone: The Story of Creedence Clearwater Revival
They left San Francisco with a crowd waving goodbye in the gray damp evening, then disembarked to even more shouting young people standing welcome in the English mist. The band was famous everywhere by this point, including at home. But this was London, the global rock and roll capital, and they were being greeted as conquerors. The door of the jet opened and four humble and denim-covered young men were set upon by writers, photographers, label brass, and hangers-on. Behind a barrier, the prime of Young Britain were ecstatic.
It was April 1970 and for all but Stu, it was their first time outside the United States. John, Doug, and Tom had barely left California two years earlier. But now they stood on the Heathrow tarmac as mainstays of the Top 40 for nearly eighteen months. A half-dozen singles and three LPs had stuck in the UK charts like tune-up grease, a barrage like nothing since the Beatles five years earlier.
The original funny-haired quartet had also been together since the late ’50s, playing old Black music in unglamorous circuits, but now they were moving relatively slowly. The rumors from the last few years involved heroin and threats of quitting. These Californians, by comparison, were up-and-comers only now getting their due, and not taking anything for granted. In 1969, they did what no other group had managed for half a decade: they outsold the Beatles.
In the days leading up to their arrival, a press release announced Paul McCartney’s first solo album through a “self-interview.” The article referred to his “split with the Beatles,” and he gave an unusually terse answer to the question of whether he’d ever write songs with John Lennon again: “No.” Suddenly there was no one left to outsell.
Given the circumstances, the English press and those screaming fans might have expected more excitement. Instead they only got four young suburban men. Hairy, bashful, a tiny entourage. A little stoned? Which one was even John, the front man? From the airport they floated through London in black cabs toward their hotel. That evening the label took them to a lavish dinner, then to the Thames dockside where a big party embarked on a cruise aboard the H.M.S. Proud Mary, which the record company had chartered for the evening and christened for the song that started it all only a year ago. A group of cute girls greeted the band, all with big smiles to match their baggy mock-naval costumes. A treat even if the band members were all married. They weren’t accustomed to food, girls, and nighttime boat rides with the bosses. They weren’t used to celebrations.
London was the beginning of the trip but not the beginning of the tour. They started with two shows in Rotterdam, then another in Essen, equally manically received, before returning to the English capital for their debut at the Royal Albert Hall. Television cameras awaited them. They were going to be seen across the nation, preserved for posterity in the city’s best-known venue. Doug could never lose sight of the pure blinding unlikelihood of it all. He had a long thick beard, and behind the drums he was the rangiest, most eye-catching character onstage. The only one who challenged John for control of the band when they were fully engaged and in formation, flying through their filler-free setlist.
On his stool, with his veiny arms waving, his cymbals swirling in the lights like fireworks, Doug bashed the songs that had been ringing through London’s shops and clubs: “Green River,” “Fortunate Son,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Travelin’ Band.” Songs that he and his bandmates had eternalized for every kid in America, and they never sounded better than in the Albert Hall’s grand palace of ancient curtains and looming rococo boxes.
The set ended with “Keep On Chooglin’,” like always. John wailing on guitar, then harmonica, then guitar again, Doug thumping and crashing, building everything continuously upward for nine minutes. The Albert crowd likes to roar, they’d been told. And roar they did. Standing off to the side of the stage as the house lights rose, the band watched six thousand Brits rise and scream as if they were prepared to continue it all night. Five minutes passed and they were still on their feet.
Surely tonight, Doug thought, looking to John. Doug had his towel over his shoulders and was trying to read those hidden eyes, the ones that were always locked beneath heavy pageboy bangs. Surely tonight we’ll go back out for an encore. What else have we been working for but this?
Then John turned away just like every night, making for backstage. Doug watched him go, and watched Tom and Stu, who he knew agreed but would never speak up and tell John just how stupid the no-encores policy was. Stupid at home in Oakland, stupid in New York, Miami, everyfuckingwhere.
Now it had been ten minutes. The fans were still rapturous, the band was still in their claustrophobic greenroom just behind the stage. They could hear the applause, feel their fans vibrating the hall with excitement. The promoters came back to explain: The crowds at Albert Hall don’t leave without encores. They’re waiting everywhere, in the corridors, outside. It would be impossible for the band to leave until the audience was satisfied and finally dispersed. Supposedly McCartney was in the venue along with George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Those three wanted to come say hello but they couldn’t leave their box because the crowd was still there, cacophonous.
Twenty minutes. John was still silent. The band’s US label boss, Saul Zaentz, who was following his golden goose around Europe, explained the policy yet again: The band doesn’t do encores. They do their show, play the songs they planned, and that’s the gig. The Englishmen were vexed.
A half hour went by like that, with some of the country’s biggest musicians, guys they idolized, waiting to pay tribute. They could only wait for the audience to leave the venue out of their own tired, confused volition so the band could leave unswarmed. Doug stewed. Just on the other side of a curtain, his drums sat unattended on one of the world’s eternal stages while thousands of his admiring peers beat their seatbacks, cheering. He and his bandmates sat in growing silence while the last of a thinning crowd chanted “CREE-DENCE, CREE-DENCE, CREE-DENCE…”
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|Epub||August 22, 2022|
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