Since 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s performance at the first Woodstock Music and Art Fair has been glaringly absent from all documents about the festival — including the Academy Award-winning documentary the following year. But the upcoming release Live At Woodstock, a complete set package whose “Proud Mary” is premiering exclusively below, shows just how much the group and particularly frontman John Fogerty’s position has softened.
“We weren’t in the movie on purpose,” Fogerty tells Billboard. “Nobody really understood what the movie would be. The track they wanted to use was ‘Bad Moon Rising’; I just didn’t feel it was our best work. At that point in time Creedence was the No. 1 band in the world. I felt like, ‘Why go backwards?'” But as he began constructing an entire concert based around CCR’s 1969 — three top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 and four top 5 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 by the end of the year — Fogerty took a different position.
“Over time there had been so many requests — probably 10 years after Woodstock, and then the 20th anniversary and so on,” Fogerty recalls. “Maybe around the late ’80s I began to think that, historically, it is what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s well done or not well done, it became more a fact of history. Therefore nobody was hurt by it. It was just history.”
Three CCR tracks — “Green River,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “I Put a Spell On You” — first appeared on the 2009 box set Woodstock 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur’s Farm and are reprised on this year’s Woodstock Back to the Garden — 50th Anniversary Experience. Live at Woodstock, due out Aug. 2, features the group’s entire 11-song set, including lengthy rendition of “Keep on Chooglin'” and “Suzie Q.”
“I thought we played good, and in some cases I thought we played great,” recalls bassist Stu Cook, whose Creedence Clearwater Revisited with drummer Doug Clifford is in the midst of a farewell tour. “Just like any show it has its highs and lows from a performer’s point of view, most of which the audience has no clue about. I thought we played a journeyman’s set that had some real high points. It’s a shame we weren’t in the film, but that was not my decision. It wasn’t really supported by the other guys in the band.”
CCR has been cited by many, including Woodstock co-producer Michael Lang, as the first act signed to the festival, though Fogerty isn’t sure that’s the case. “That thing had been rolling for months before I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds pretty cool, let’s do that,'” he says. “They promised us we were headlining, but by the time it unraveled I don’t know who was the headliner.”
Cook and Fogerty have similar memories about their journey to Woodstock after playing a TV show in Los Angeles the night before. They flew into Boston, then took a private jet to upstate New York and a helicopter to the nearby Holiday Inn and another to the site itself. “When we came over the hill and saw this vast expanse of hair and teeth, it was shocking,” Cook remembers. “Nobody had ever seen anything like that in the middle of nowhere before.” And while CCR’s backstage experience was comfortable — Cook recalls steak and French champagne as well as watching other acts from the side of the stage — the gathering had a disquieting effect on his bandmate.
“You knew it was a really momentous and special thing, but I was just nervous the whole time I was there,” Fogerty says. “With half a million people, no rules, no real professionals running it, no real security set up — all it takes is one person shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater, y’know. I was kind of old for my age at the time; In the army they used to call me Grandpa or Ma Fogerty. But I was really worried about what could go wrong.”
Lots did go wrong during the Grateful Dead’s set before CCR went on in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Aug. 17, which was elongated by technical issues. “We were supposed to get on at 10 (p.m.) and I think we got on at 1 or 1:30,” Cook says. “That was a long time for me and my band to sit and wait to make our big mark on society with our music,” Fogerty adds. “I daresay that what happened was I came out full of adrenaline and ready to set the world on fire, and what I saw was half a million people from the love generation asleep. I was running around and trying to do a good job, but in the end what I tell people is we warmed them up for Janis (Joplin).”
Nevertheless, Fogerty says Woodstock is “a remarkable event to look back on now — fondly, of course,” while Cook feels that there’s far more to celebrate than the music that was played that weekend. “The bands sold the tickets, but the event was about the audience and not the artists,” the bassist says. “The conditions that the audience survived were rough, but they did it in a way that we wish everybody could live — all the time, not just for a weekend. So the bands were almost the Muzak of a mysterious event that happened.”