Doug Clifford Returns With Lost Album, 'Magic Window'
Doug “Cosmo” Clifford didn’t exactly retire in 2019 when he and longtime bandmate Stu Cook put Creedence Clearwater Revisited, the band they’d formed in 1995, to bed.
Cleaning out his garage, he stumbled upon material he’d recorded in the 1980s in the hopes of landing a record deal. With 100 songs to choose from, he quickly went about shaping the material into what became Magic Window, his second solo album. His first record, Cosmo was released in 1972, around the time that Creedence Clearwater Revival was splitting up.
Cosmo, despite having some sturdy moments and featuring performances from Cook, bass legend Donald “Duck” Dunn and member of Tower of Power, it doesn’t hold a particularly soft spot in the drummer’s heart.
“It wasn’t an artistic endeavor. It was an experiment,” Clifford recalls. “We wanted to see if Cosmo’s Factory, our headquarters, could be converted from a rehearsal space to a recording studio.”
He adds, “It wasn’t a five-star project. But this one, I’m a writer on everything. I’m the singer on all the songs. I really did my homework on the vocals before I got into the vocal booth and did the singing. I’m also a producer, so I’ve got many hats on the record.”
Clifford wasn’t absent from the music business in the years between CCR’s dissolution and resurgence. He produced records for the Sir Douglas Quintet with Doug Sahm and worked on various projects that he hoped would land record deals. Around the time that he wrote what became Magic Window, he’d nearly inked a deal with legendary producer Richard Perry, but then Perry suffered some health problems and the plans fell through when Perry shuttered the label.
“There I was, about to get a record deal and it didn’t happen,” Clifford recalls.
What happened next may have been one of the more unexpected turns in the musician’s career: The Lake Tahoe area, where he had a home, was enduring a terrible drought. Clifford, who had some experience in the field of biology, developed an acclaimed defensible space system that helped ease the draught.
“That became the focus of my life,” he recalls. “It was all volunteer but I’d work 50-60 hours a week on what became the number one program of its kind according to the Department of Agriculture. There were literally busloads of guys who came out to see what it was all about.”
When he finally able to return to music, Magic Window had slipped from the front of his mind. “It was mixed and everything but I forgot about it,” he says. “Then I was cleaning out my studio and came across these reels of tape.”
In all there were 10 reels, featuring various bands and singers. Magic Window marks the beginning of what Clifford hopes to release from those vaults.
The album is consistent with heartland rock (think: Tom Petty, Del Fuegos et al.) of the 1980s, something that the drummer attributes to his ongoing interest in music. He continued to listen to contemporary artists during his career, absorbing new sensibilities.
Some of that he attributes to a lifelong love of radio.
“Radio is what made Creedence,” he says. “We were on a jazz label and they didn’t know a whole lot about rock ‘n’ roll other than it made a whole lot more money than jazz did. But they didn’t know how to handle it.”
In the 1960s, there were industry types who created tip sheets, suggesting which songs might be potential hits. It was a radio promotions person Bill Drake who suggested that CCR’s “Suzie Q” might be a hit. “It was a cover song but it was a hit,” he recalls. “Then we put out another cover song from the same album and it stiffed.”
The band members soon realized that they’d need hits to have a sustainable career and that leaning heavier on their own material for singles might be the way. For the group’s sophomore release, Bayou Country, “Born On The Bayou” became the lead single.
“It as a turntable hit,” he says of what he calls his favorite Creedence song, “but it didn’t have sales. If you don’t have sales, your career is over.”
Then word came down from Drake: “You have the right record, just turn it over.”
The B-side was “Proud Mary,” which became a Top 10 hit in early 1969 and ushered in a highly prolific period in the group’s short career. “Without Bill Drake, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” says Clifford.
CCR isn’t too far from his mind: There will be a half-century edition of Cosmo’s Factory, arguably the band’s finest hour, this summer. But the 2019 retirement is really the end of the line for Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he was eager to leave with the band’s legacy intact.
In the meantime, he remains optimistic about the future of his current solo project, adding that he’s had some discussions about future writing sessions.
“If this does well,” he says, “we’ll think about more writing.”
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.