CD Review and Interview: Doug "Cosmo" Clifford - Magic Window

Former CCR drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford discovers a strong 1985 solo album in his garage.
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For most people, cleaning out the garage might mean getting rid of old paint cans and rusted out tools, but not for former Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer, Doug "Cosmo" Clifford. Clifford discovered loads of master tapes he had forgotten about with over 100 songs on them and had them baked and transferred to digital. The result is a "new" solo album from the drummer, Magic Window, his first since 1972's Cosmo. While the album features some modern overdubs and production choices from Clifford and his guitarist/coproducer Russell DaShiell (who was the album's original engineer), the bulk of the material was recorded in 1985 at Clifford's home studio in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

The album leads off with the title track. While it, and the album in general, sound of its era (electronic drums and chorused guitars, etc.), there are still some real drums and more bite than what would be expected for 1985. Clifford proves a capable vocalist and the lead guitar bits recall David Gilmour. The song shows off a tight, bluesy groove.

While the title song sounds nothing like CCR, Clifford reminds people where he came from with "Born On The South Side," a track that could easily be an updated version of "Run Through The Jungle" or "Born On The Bayou." The song's jangly guitars remind the listener of what CCR may have sounded like had they continued into the 1980s. On "Don't Leave Me Alone Tonight," Clifford offers a synth-heavy ballad with a bit of an ELO feel, delivering a heartfelt vocal in the process.

"Somebody Love Me Tonight" shows Clifford was paying attention to what was going on in pop music as this driving rocker has a bit of a New Wave feel, particularly in the keyboard parts. The song showcases a poppy chorus that would have been right at home on rock radio in its era. "Just Another Girl" is a mid-tempo ballad with a warm vocal from Clifford, who proves he is equally adept at slower numbers as he is at rockers.

Still the rockers are where he shines best and "Love Mode" is an excellent example. This gritty track shows off some Billy Gibbons-inspired guitar licks and is a highlight of the album. The album closes with "You Mean So Much To Me," a tender ballad with another strong vocal from Clifford.

Clifford's garage cleaning led to some nice discoveries with Magic Window. He says there is enough material for several more albums. One can hope that the wait will not be as long for the next batch of tunes to come out if they are of this quality.

Doug Clifford Interview

Blinded by Sound had the opportunity to interview former Creedence Clearwater Revival and Creedence Clearwater Revisited drummer, Doug "Cosmo" Clifford. He has just released Magic Window, an album he recorded in 1985 after taking some time away from music to help initiate the Neighbors For Defensible Space program to help deal with a drought, but only recently rediscovered when cleaning out his garage. He had a lot to say about the record, CCR, Woodstock, Johnny Cash and John Fogerty.

Blinded by Sound (BBS): What is the story about how your new album, Magic Window, came about?

Doug Clifford: I was in the music studio in the second floor of my house and I noticed some ¼" reels, which usually means it's a master. I knew I had a few more downstairs in the garage and found 9 or 10 of them, including this album. I had no idea if they were playable or still good, and a friend took them down to LA to bake the tapes. You basically have one shot at it and they came out great.

BBS: How did you go about choosing the musicians for this album?

Clifford: I was the artist, which is sort of a rare occurrence with me. I was trying to get a solo deal. I had at least six to eight albums worth -- more treasure to be released when the time is right! I got a hold of Russell DaShiell, who was living with us at the time, to coproduce and play guitar on it. Chris Solberg, who played with Santana and Chris Isaac, was a Bay Area guy and grew up where I grew up and where Creedence was formed. Robbie Polomsky co-wrote four songs and played on one to two songs. I really worked on the singing. I put in the hours. I'm really happy with it.

BBS: While much of the album sounds very contemporary for the times, "Born on the South Side" seems to recall your old band. Was that deliberate?

Clifford: Yes. That groove was my thing when I was the drummer in a world-class band. We tried to go for a Tom Fogerty sound on the rhythm guitars.

BBS: What is the songwriting process like for you? Do you write on piano?

Clifford: I write on piano. In my career, I was surrounded by guitar players. Creedence was a three-guitar band -- bass, lead, and rhythm. They sort of mocked me and said, "Why don't you learn guitar?" Piano's my tool for writing songs, but I am not a piano player if that makes sense. Piano you can get a little chord sheet out and you can do it in a day practically. When I co-write, generally I co-write with guitar players. I can do the piano part. I am also coproducing the project with Russell. These are 2-track masters, so I wasn't able to remix, but the mixes are good. We did it right way back when. Russell added a couple of rhythm tracks to a couple of songs. I was the doctor, he was the surgeon. I said take this out, move this chorus by the bridge. He was retired and needed a project so I said how about being the coproducer on this project. To add drums would have been a pretty difficult task. The basic tracks were all solid. We added a rhythm track on south side to give it more of that Tom Fogerty sound. We mastered it by a master "masterer" if you will, George Horn. I've known him for 50 years. He did the final masters.

BBS: Do you have any plans on performing the material live, once things get back to normal with this Coronavirus scare? What about the other material you discovered?

Clifford: No, I ended my touring career this year, or the end of last year. That was Creedence Clearwater Revisited. That was Stu Cook, the original bass player from CCR. That project went for 25 years. No one was more surprised than Stu and I. We had a five-year plan. I just had my 75th birthday. My body said enough. I just had shoulder surgery and radiation for cancer and Parkinson's is creeping in. There are more albums to come. They are different because I have different players. I have one where Bobby Whitlock and I wrote together. He is the singer and of course played B3. Another had Steve Wright from the Greg Kinh band, he co-wrote "Jeopardy." I have at least a dozen songs from that project. The constant in it is me, because I am the cowriter in these. I have another album with me being the singer where I wrote most of the stuff by myself.

BBS: So I am told you have a good Johnny Cash story?

Clifford: Back in 1969 there was a summer music show. I think it was called the Johnny Cash Show and we played that show. It was the last show in the old Grand Ole Opry. The cut a section of the stage out and so it was definitely the end of the old Grand Ole Opry. We were rehearsing and I wanted a real country western shirt from Nashville. I had long hair and a beard and the producer told me where to go. These guys came out of a bar and said, "I don't know whether to f**k it or shoot it. I heard a deep voice and it was Johnny. They said I was a hippy and he said, "He's no hippy. He's the drummer from Creedence Clearwater Revival and they are on my show." I never did get my shirt.

BBS: CCR played Woodstock. What do you remember from that performance? Much has been written about it, but what is something people might not know about it.

Clifford: The guys that put Woodstock on were amateurs. They had a concept -- peace, love and music or whatever it was. There were gonna be 50- or 100,000 people there -- A different approach to the outdoor festival. None of the big acts wanted to go. They were all on the fence. We looked at it and we were going to play New Jersey the next night and we didn't have a show booked the night of the festival. We were the number one touring act in America, the number one team. When we said yes, almost instantaneously the other big acts joined in. Had we not gone in, I don't think any of the other acts would have gone. They were sitting on the fence for a reason. They were worried about being the headliner at a show that no one was going to come to.

BBS: Speaking of Woodstock, I hear when that live set was released recently that you and Stu Cook made up with John Fogerty, or at least put aside your differences. What is that relationship like now?

Clifford: Let's put it this way. Neither one of us we'll be inviting the other one to dinner. We had a business relationship and always will have one so we might as well stop all the negativity. That's an important piece of music at a historical site and event and we've been fighting 40 some years to get it out. John now sees that just because you don't like someone that you shouldn't capitalize on a very historic event. It will never be duplicated. There were horrible conditions. It was wet and rainy. Instead of 50,000 people, it was 500,000. People shared with strangers what they had to share. I saw no violence. People came to have fun and have peace and just play in the mud. You could feel that energy. It was real love. They had all these great bands to listen to and dance and do whatever you can do. I am sorry we didn't get to have the video portion of that. There was video. What we do have in its complete form is the Royal Albert Hall. That's the only video we had and that's coming out this year. Some of the Beatles were there and I think Eric Clapton as well. I'm pretty sure.

BBS: You still hear CCR every day on classic rock radio. With all the bad blood CCR had, what are some of the good things about being in that band?

Clifford: The good thing is we started when we were 13 years old. Our dream was to have our songs played on the radio. Well it's 52 years since "Suzie Q" was released and they're still playing it. It was Tom Fogerty who got us together.  He was in a band as a lead singer and had the vision of cutting some demos in LA. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be talking to you right now. We'd have rather worked on our cars. We were an instrumental trio. I played drums, Stu played piano and, of course, John played guitar. Tom came to us and said would you back me. I have the original acetate.

BBS: When you were starting out in music, could you have imagined your career would have been as successful as it was?

Clifford: It was a dream and a hope -- 100 times more. I basically had two with Creedence Clearwater and Revisited. In between that, I was a producer and played on a number of records. I played with the Don Harrison band, Stu did as well and so did Russell. 25 years with Revisited? Who knew? The difference is now I do it all out of my house. I'm really tired of traveling. My back went out the other day and I wasn't traveling. Stu and I thank the fans -- we have always been the underdogs. We have been able to make millions of people happy around the world, whether they speak English or not. It's multigenerational. I don't listen to what my parents listen to so it's a pretty big deal to have younger fans. I wish we would have had a better relationship with John. Before all that animosity took place we were kids. We were straight and sober and said if you can't get high on the music, why bother? Putting out three albums in a year and touring them and doing the Ed Sullivan Show twice. That was the biggest television show at the time. He introduced the Beatles to America. He introduced the Stones. He introduced us. Then of course Dick Clark was the other guy who did a lot. He did a lot for a lot of black artists. He went in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the same time we did as an executive. We were always indebted to him for the support he gave us.

BBS: You played with Steve Miller too, right?

Clifford: Steve Miller. I played one show with him. It was at Knebworth Castle in England for 120,000 people. Pink Floyd was the headliner. He put together a super band -- Les Dudek on guitar, he was a gunslinger, and he had Lonnie Turner (his bass player) and me. He was great. He is a friend of mind. He hung out with Stu and me and he always asked how we did it and our career with Creedence was over so there'd be no competition so we were happy to tell him. He played me the single for "Rockin' Me Baby" and he said, "What do you think?" I said,  "You need to slow the tempo down." The first time it was ever played live was at that Knebworth Fair show.

BBS: Do you have any regrets? Would you change anything about how your career has gone?

Clifford: When people ask that question and people say they have no regrets, I'd do it the same way -- That's bull**t. Of course you have regrets. The whole idea is that you learn from your mistakes. John insisted on being the business manager and he knew nothing about it. That should have never happened. We all wanted a manager and mentor. Tom had a nice tenor voice, a sweet tenor voice like Ritchie Valens. John didn't want him to sing, just play rhythm guitar. Tom had the most to lose. He had a job, a house, kids and a mortgage. Tom had serious responsibilities, but was relegated to only playing rhythm guitar. So as soon I stood up for Tom, that put me at odds with John. We needed a manager/mentor to clean up the business dealings and to help the brothers get through their murky water. We might have even still stayed together had that happened. I'd have liked to have found a way to make it happen, but John is a very stubborn man and he blamed everyone else when he was the one responsible for it. He still talks about his brother and he's been in the grave since 1990. I feel bad that he carries that around with him. I wish we still had the relationship we had when we were 13 years old. That would have been the cherry on top.