Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Ten That Made Springsteen; 8. Creedence Clear Water Revival; Who'll Stop The Rain

Creedence Clear Water Revival, or CCR for short, is undoubtedly one of the key influences on the development of Springsteen's music. Although CCR hardly has the stature of the Stones or the Who these days, in their hey day they were almost as big as those two acts. CCR couldn't have escaped Bruce in the early days of his career. After the Castilles Springsteen made a sudden shift from the Garage to the Power Trio of Earth. Judging from their music and set lists the band was highly influenced by Cream, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. Suddenly Bruce was sporting long wavy hair and a Gibson les Paul, looking more like a carbon copy of Jimi Page than of the Beatles like he had in the Castiles. For a short period Springsteen indulged himself in long spun out jams. Necessarily maybe for him to get more versatile on the guitar, but hardly interesting music or something that had his distinct own voice. With Steel Mill (first called Child) Springsteen started moving back to more straight forward R&R. Although the music was still lengthy, Steel Mill would incorporate much more down home R&R in their sets and approach. Though Steel Mill is often credited with being influenced by the Stones or the Who, their approach to R&R was very much akin to CCR. Maybe Steel Mill's shift to a more R&R approach could be credited to Steven van Zandt, who played bass at one point, but the band certainly started to go from long jams to a more structured sound. Most notably on early Springsteen fan favorites like "Going Back To Georgia". With songs like "Dancing In The Street" making it into the sets Springsteen was moving back to his Garage roots again in an approach that reminds me of CCR's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (Download an early Steel Mill show here) .

I've always seen CCR and Springsteen as similar artists. Like Springsteen, CCR seemed to be a summary of the R&R that came before. With their classic albums CCR tapped into early R&R as much as Springsteen did with "Born To Run". The bands had similar backgrounds. CCR was born out of Garage bands the Velvets and the Golliwogs. Although the latter recorded some memorable singles, John Fogerty and his brother Tom failed to make a dent in the charts until they transformed their approach to a more personal and distinct sound. Creedence tellingly first hit big with their rendition of Dale Hawkin's classic "Suzie Q" (featuring the immortal James Burton on guitar) but were soon off to making it big with their own material. They stayed so close to R&R's roots sometimes that they had to settle out of court with Little Richard when their "Traveling Band" bore more than a little resemblance to his "Good Golly, Miss Molly". CCR's hit sometimes were so close to the R&R standards of its golden age that they became standards themselves. Their "Proud Mary" is often mistakenly credited to Ike & Tina Turner and got covered by greats Solomon Burke. Although Creedence is best remembered for their swamp blues like approach to music, their influences didn't stop their. CCR are has always been infused with a heavy dose of Country harking back at Hank Williams and the like. I suspect that Springsteen's later infatuation was smoothened by listening to acts like Creedence. When CCR fell apart Fogerty went solo with mixed results. "Rocking All Over The World" (covered by Springsteen two times) brought him some succes in '75, but by the time he released his '85 comeback album Fogerty was surpassed in popularity by the very artists he (partly) inspired.

But going into Country was the only path I suspect Creedence smoothed out for Springsteen. Somewhere around the recording of the River album Springsteen's political awakening started, coached by Jon Landau. One subject that hit close to home for Springsteen at the time was the Vietnam war. Springsteen had been drafted for the war but got out of it by claiming he was gay (amongst other things. He got 4-F on account of his motorcycle accident in which he had badly injured his leg and acting as crazy as he could. Others around Springsteen weren't so lucky. The drummer of the Castiles went and came back in a body bag. Ron Kovic's book "Born On The Fourth Of July" about Kovic's experience as a Vietnam veteran, is well known to have had a major effect on Springsteen, so Creedence's songs on Vietnam must have been easy for Springsteen to tap into. Song like "Who'll Stop The Rain" and "Fortunate Son" must have made Springsteen realize how R&R could work as a political force well before he started listening to Woody Guthrie. "Who'll Stop The Rain" had been adopted by the Vietnam veterans as their anthem, so when Springsteen was asked to play a benefit for the Vietnam Veterans of America, an organization dedicated to the interests of the Vietnam veterans, on august 20th 1981 in LA (download the show here), it was the natural opener for a visible emotional Bruce who warned in his opening speech "you guys out there that are eighteen and nineteen years old, it happened once and it can happen again". Some twenty years later the second Gulf war started and America landed itself in a situation very similar to Vietnam. At the time the of the show the Vietnam veterans suffered from a severe lack of recognition of the pain they had brought home from the war and were shunned by the anti war movement. The war had ended in '75 and many veterans were looked upon as baby killers when the world was confronted with when the home front saw the shocking footage through a press that wasn't as embedded as they are these days. An artists with the stature of Springsteen playing a show in their tribute was one of the first steps in setting things right.

Over the years John Fogerty's seem to have resurfaced every time Springsteen wanted to assert himself politically. He played "Bad Moon Rising" on 18 Jun 1988 at Chateau De Vincennes, Paris, France, at the SOS Racism Concert that was broad casted on French TV, but more significantly, when the Bush administration invaded Iraq of March 20th 2003 "Who'll Stop The Rain" started to reappear regularly in the sets of the Rising tour. When that tour was over Springsteen aligned himself politically for the very first time, at least in an explicit way, with his John Kerry endorsement and the "Vote For Change" tour. Before that his political loyalties had always been implicit in his songs. With "Vote For Change" it all came into the open as he opposed both the war and Bush openly. Although the campaign failed and America got stuck with four more years with the blunder in chief Dubya, for Springsteen the gloves were off. In recent years we've heard a more outspoken Springsteen than ever before, seemingly rallying against the war every chance he gets. His songs suddenly became open indictments against president bystander in "How Can a Poor Man (Stand Such Times And Live)" and against the war in Bring Em Home". VFC also got him some significant stage time with his hero John Fogerty teaming up "Fortunate Son" and "Promised Land" through out the tour. Two songs that represent both sides of the coin, America's nightmare and its lasting promise.

See also the December 2007 Newsweek article

"Who'll Stop The Rain" - Bruce Springsteen
"Rocking All Over The World" - Bruce Springsteen
"Suzie Q" - Dale Hawkings
"Don't Tell Me No Lies" - The Golliwogs

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