Remember when you realized Thin Lizzy was Irish? Or that Foreigner was a British band? Surely you burned your “Waiting for a Girl Like You” picture sleeve after finding that one out. British people ain’t “hot blooded,” they’re “bloody hot.” Actually, few people know that Thin Lizzy’s song “The Boys Are Back in Town” was originally called “The Boys are Back in County Cork,” but the label thought that wasn’t rockin’ enough. The same can be said for Creedence Clearwater Revival, a band from El Cerrito whose leader tried his best to sound like a Cajun sharecropper’s son. What, pray tell, is “boinin'”? Apparently Proud Mary had a penchant for it.
This week a massive six-CD boxset of Portola Jr. High’s finest, CCR, comes out on Fantasy. It contains everything the band has ever put out, including its earlier incarnations, the Blue Velvets and the unfortunately named Golliwogs. The history between the band and Berkeley’s Fantasy Records is rife with excitement, intrigue, and good ol-fashioned backstabbing. John Fogerty so hated the label that in the early ’70s he broke all ties with it, forgoing any royalties from album sales (he still gets songwriting and residual bucks). When Fogerty released his solo album, Centerfield, he wrote a song about a pig, which he called “Zanz Can’t Danz.” The owner of Fantasy is Saul Zaentz — somehow he made the connection, and chances are he didn’t appreciate being compared to a porcine plutocrat. Soon thereafter, Fogerty was hit with a $145 million lawsuit claiming that a song on the same album called “The Old Man Down the Road” sounded too much like “Run Through the Jungle,” a CCR B-side that Fantasy owned. That’s right, Fogerty was sued for copying one of his own songs. He won the court case. But that’s not to say Fogerty is an angel — as with Buddy Rich, Robbie Robertson, and Lou Reed, by most accounts he’s a big jerk. At the band’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, he played with an all-star scab band while CCR members Stu Cook and Doug Clifford sat in the audience. He wouldn’t play with them.
A-hole or no a-hole, Fogerty was the driving force behind CCR, one of the biggest selling rock bands of all time. Early album sales helped build Fantasy into the amazing powerhouse it is today (owning the Stax, Specialty, Pablo, Prestige, and Riverside catalogs, among others). Actually, it’s already rereleased the remastered Creedence albums, causing frugal record buyers to ask, “Why pay big bucks for the same shit?” The real carrot-on-a-stick in this boxset is the Velvet/Golliwogs stuff. Alec Palao, the same guy who put together the Nuggets boxes for Rhino, went through all of the bands’ early material, remastered it, and created Disc One of the set. Musically, these early versions jump all over the place, from Ritchie Valens-esque ditties, to more bluesy takes à la Them, to sweet Brian Wilsonish vocal tunes — but that’s the thing about the early days of most bands. They sound like other bands until they arrive at their own sound.
“The whole early period of Creedence really hasn’t been examined much,” says Palao. “Most of the rock critics who do a history of them always dismiss it because they are not into that straight-ahead, three-chord garage-band rock ‘n’ roll. What it is is a great garage rock ‘n’ roll in itself.”
One thing that needs clarification is how they got the dumbass name Golliwogs. Palao explains: “In those days Fantasy was an odd company. Max Weiss owned it, and he was this crazy, offbeat guy with a really weird sense of humor which flew over the heads of most people. He thought to himself, ‘hmmm … British Invasion … I’ll name them Golliwogs and everyone will know what that means.’ [A golliwog is a doll that the children of British colonialists would play with.] In his kind of insanity, Max thought, hey, this will be a really great name! Everyone will get it! But of course, no one got it.” Least of all the band, which thought it was going to be called the Visions, only to see its albums come off the press with that dorkwad moniker. Worst of all, Weiss also thought it would be a really good idea to dress the band members in these puffy white hats designed for women. “They kind of looked like they had white afros, basically,” laughs Palao. “These guys wore them for, like, two years, all over the Central Valley, up and down from Sacramento to Fresno.”
“They did actually play in Lodi!” laughs Palao. “Even though they deny it! I found a guy that actually promoted them at a Lodi high school.”
What Palao is most proud of is the sound quality that these recordings have been brought up to in this boxset. Most of the Golliwogs stuff sounded like it had been recorded in a bog, after all. “It’s really great sound quality now,” he says proudly. “It’ll certainly blow Creedence fans away.”