August 3, 2019 was the 50th anniversary of the commercial release of Creedence Clearwater Revival
's Green River
(Fantasy Records, 1969). Two weeks later the band were taking the stage at the Woodstock Music and Arts festival at 12:30 AM Sunday morning, August 17, 1969 for a fifty-minute set of eleven songs. It was a heady place to be. Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) began as Blue Velvets, then the Golliwogs between 1959 and 1967. In the late fall of 1967, the newly-christened CCR began recording what would be Creedence Clearwater Revival
(Fantasy Records), released in the spring of 1968. Driven by John Fogerty's assertive vocals and guitar, the band would mine AM radio gold with covers of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You" and Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q." The charm of the band was a stripped-down Southern R&B sound which never betrayed the band's San Francisco Bay Area roots. They were perfectly positioned to emerge from the Summer of Love and the musically rich environment of Northern California and go national.
Things happened rapidly for CCR. On January 5, 1969, the group released Bayou Country
(Fantasy Records), containing "Born on the Bayou" and "Proud Mary," songs since ascending into the rock canon as performance standards. Unheard of my today's overproduced standards, the band released Green River
a mere eight months later, followed quickly by Willie and the Poor Boys
in November 1969. This was an intoxicating period where a short twelve months gave us "Bad Moon Rising," "Lodi," "Tombstone Shadow," "Down On The Corner," and "Fortunate Son."
Springing up in the middle of this prodigious output was the band's performance at Woodstock. Like the performances by The Band, The Grateful Dead, and Johnny Winter, CCR's appearance did not make the sonic cut for either the original soundtrack Woodstock: Music From the Original Soundtrack and More
(Cotillion, 1970) or Woodstock Two
(Atlantic, 1971). This seems odd today when the band's performance could be considered legendary compared to its later live output, Live in Europe
(Fantasy, 1973)recorded as a trio after Tom Fogerty had left the band near its endand The Concert
(Fantasy, 1980), documenting a January 1970 concert at the Oakland Coliseum, originally (and erroneously) billed as The Royal Albert Hall Concert
CCR's taped Woodstock performance could be likened to recording within the eye of a hurricane. The music was delivered in a potently molten manner under demanding conditions. (They followed the Grateful Dead, whose five-song, LSD-fueled set was ended by their amplifiers reaching critical mass during a 45-minute "Turn on Your Love Light," delaying CCR's taking the stage.) Frustrated and a little cowed, Fogerty and company started their set with their typical opener, the swampy "Born on the Bayou," where Fogerty rips into the lyrics with rabid angst and release. "Green River" follows, introducing attendees to the new LP released just days before. Before the show was over, the band would present "Commotion," "Bad Moon Rising," and their cover of Ray Charles' "The Night Time is the Right Time," finishing their introduction to Green River
CCR reveal their R&B bona fides on a searing "Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won't Do), Fogerty biting the words off and spitting them out with a most menacing sensual animus. He gives his most inspired guitar solo of the show on this Wilson Pickett classic. The band waits until the final two performances to stretch out and turn up the funk. "Keep On Chooglin,'" from "Bayou Country," is a single chord, John Lee Hooker vamp turned up to ten, with which the band often closed their shows. Fogerty displays his considerable harmonica skills, propelling the piece into an electrified psychedelic vision of the blues. The show closer (and stopper) is the lengthy consideration of "Susie Q," the song that put CCR on the map. Fogerty summons all of the juju gris-gris he has for the band's Woodstock coda.
The five-star rating for this collection is a reflection of the band, the performance, the venue, the period. Woodstock was an event fundamentally changing how music is consumed in the United States, as well as the world. CCR's Live At Woodstock
should definitely be considered one of the defining performances of the festival, along with those by Janis Joplin (who immediately followed CCR that early morning), Joe Cocker, Sly and the Family Stone, and the Who. It is a shame that it has taken this long for the performance to become commercially available. Now it has, and we are better for it.