Work For Your Dreams: CCR's Doug 'Cosmo' Clifford on Going Solo in 'Magic Window'

Creedence Clearwater Revival founding member and of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford has released a solo album excavated from the vaults of music history, dusted off, slightly tweaked, and surprisingly fresh and relevant, with Magic Window.

The tracks were part of a series of recordings laid down at Clifford's Lake Tahoe studio in 1985 with engineer/guitarist Russell DaShiell (Norman Greenbaum, Crowfoot), bassist Chris Solberg (Santana, Chris Isaak) and rhythm guitarist Rob Polomsky. Clifford rediscovered them while cleaning out his garage, not just due to COVID isolation, but also because he's coming off 25 years of touring with Creedence Clearwater Revisited and finally taking stock of other musical projects.

Fans may recall that Clifford has worked on solo recordings off and on over the years, including the Cosmo album released in 1972, which included 8 original tracks, but that won't really prepare you for the range and appeal of Magic Window, which is predominantly concerned with love songs, taking in the many angles of relationships and the pursuit of meaningful connections.

In the first part of our conversation with Doug Clifford, we talked about his rediscovery of the tracks and his work on bringing them to light, and in the final portion of that interview below, we break out into a discussion of specific songs on Magic Window and hear some fabulous tales from Clifford about how he learned to play the drums with limited resources as a young person.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I don’t know if you intended it, but for me, looking at these love songs, I saw a development. I feel like “Don’t Leave Me Alone Tonight” is a kind of spiritual or heavenly love. Then we have “Somebody Love Me Tonight”, which is a bit earthy, and gritty, and darker. Then you have “Hungry For Your Love”, which is more animalistic and human.

But then you kind of break through that, and you get to songs like “Just Another Girl”, “Falling For You”, “You Mean So Much To Me”, and those speak much more to real relationships that someone has managed to get into, and trying to figure out how they will pan out. And as you say, there are actions you have to take and express that real love. It’s the full range of possibilities here in thoughts about love on the album.

Doug Clifford: You’re very perceptive. It is about that. That’s exactly right. You do pay attention!

HMS: It just reminded me of something like Dante’s Inferno because you’re going through all these experiences of love, the good, the bad, and then the question: what is the real thing?

DC: [Laughs] So many songs have been written about it that it’s not just a single word, but it’s a montage of things. Love has so many sides. The many sides of love. I should write that down.

HMS: My personal favorite, though I probably shouldn’t tell you that I have a favorite, is “Don’t Let Go”.

DC: That’s a great one. In that case, it’s hanging onto love, but also hanging on to your dreams. And that’s probably the second most written about subject, “the dream”.

HMS: I guess because of the way the world is right now, it made me feel like it was about identity, about who you are, and about who you want to be. That’s important right now, I think. So I’m glad you released this album right now and decided not to wait.

DC: Once I really thought about it, I wondered what I could do to really make a difference other than wearing a mask and social distancing, the obvious things. Well, I thought, “I can put in music. And music’s a healer.” And there are good messages in the songs. I can’t even believe what the front-liners are going through right now. Talk about selflessness. They could use a hero in Washington, I can tell you that.

HMS: 100%

DC: We don’t have one, that’s for sure. Don’t get me started.

HMS: [Laughs] I’ll try not to.

Do you think that the decision to stop the quarter century of constant touring with Creedence Clearwater Revisited enabled you to put this album out, and to focus on this in the way that would be necessary?

DC: Absolutely. There was no way I could have done it, or would have done it, in any other way. Eventually, once I found it, I knew I had to put it out. I thought, “This is good enough to go out.” The thing that I find interesting, when I set up an interview, is there’s only one thing I insist on is that they have to listen to the album first. They really have on this one, and it has really surprised people. They say, “Whoah, you can really sing!”  And I say, “Well, I sing in the shower every day.” And then, there’s the songwriting, and they are taken aback by it. It kind of catches them by surprise. I’m finding that to be fun! I have not had one negative review.

They ask, “When did this happen?” All I can say is that I’ve been writing and recording since the late 70s and I’ve got a lot of things that will be coming out eventually, but one thing at a time. You have to be smart about focusing. Right now, I’m focusing on putting out the story about this album. I’m working every day on that. I believe in dreams, but I believe in working hard for your dreams. If you’re not passionate about it, it won’t happen.

HMS: Well, you believe in your own work, and you’re showing that you believe in the value of it by getting involved and self-promoting.

DC: I think that it’s worth putting a plan together to talk about this record, and more coming down the line. But one thing at a time.

HMS: There’s such an amazing story to this album that getting the story about this out there is definitely part of it too.

I meant to ask you, the “Magic Window” that’s the title of the album and the song, is that a real window in your Tahoe studio?

DC: It was a real window in the studio where it was recorded at Lake Tahoe. We lived a thousand feet above the lake, so we had panoramic views of it. Just a gorgeous view. I’d go up there a lot of times working on stuff, and just stare and look out, and think, “Wow, I’m so lucky to be living in this place.” I’d see someone out in a boat out there, and I’d be surrounded by beautiful conifers, 60 feet tall.

HMS: Whoah. That is amazing.

DC: Also, in the song, there’s some spooky stuff in there.

HMS: Yes, some kind of mystical stuff.

DC: The mystical, magic, window. The non-physical magic window, that’s where songs come from.

HMS: That’s a great image, a great idea for a song, and even more so for an album.

DC: Well, it made sense to me.

HMS: It sounds like you have other material around that you’re thinking about already, but are you someone who would record totally new material, too, doing vocals and other parts?

DC: Oh, I don’t know. I had cancer, and I had a lot of radiation in the head and neck area. That’s why I have a raspy voice. So, my singing voice is not very good. I’d have to really work on that. But there are so many other things that I have on my plate right now, that that’s not “in the locker” so to speak. But at the same time, I have been sort of humming things, when watching TV or listening to music. I’ll hum and maybe even try to find a melody.

But you’ve got to stay focused rather than bouncing from here to there, so I want to get this thing going and have some success with this before I focus on something else.

HMS: Well, it’s all good. Whether you’re working on getting the word out about Magic Window or putting together other things, it’s all work, and it’s all your work. You’re coming to grips with your work, and celebrating it, and giving it attention.

DC: Like I said, dreams are great, but you gotta make them happen. Otherwise you’re going to die old, and without that dream.

I’m still in a dream right now because of what we did in our musical careers. That thing is still alive, on the radio, and people know it. It’s growing, actually. That’s a pretty remarkable thing.

But we worked for it. It took us ten years to have our first hit. You have to be in it for the duration.

HMS: What is it about the ten-year mark? So many people I talk to had to work exactly ten years before they really got a handle on things.

DC: Well, we started out when we were 13! So, we weren’t ready.

HMS: [Laughs] This is definitely true. Okay, you guys don’t count. You’re too weird.

DC: We needed those ten years, believe me.

HMS: Do you remember that Tower Records had a motto, “No Music, No Life”, and “Know Music, Know Life”? What do you think of when you hear those phrases?

DC: I like “Know”. I like that one.

First and foremost, music is what I picked for a career, and at an early age. It’s been around so long, and I’ve learned so much. I taught myself how to play drums by listening to radio and/or buying records. Buying records was a little tough because it was so expensive, and I was also saving money for drum parts. So I would use Top 40 Radio a lot. The thing about Top 40 Radio was that you could hear a movie soundtrack, and then hear James Brown, and then you’d hear the singing nun. It was a pretty wide-open format, but at the same time, all those songs on there were successful songs. They were hits, 40 hits. You were getting the cream of the crop.

You’d also get a lot of R&B, which I loved. I loved horn sections. I loved Little Richard, Fats Domino, James Brown, Muddy Watters. I thought I was going to play sax, because in the 50’s, saxophone was the predominant solo instrument. You didn’t have many guitar solos. You had sax-solos. I thought I’d do that, until I saw Gene Krupa [play the drums], and that finished me off. I thought, “I think I’ll play drums instead.” Boy, I’m glad I made that trust.

In the big band era, drummers just kind of kept the time. They didn’t have much personality, or weren’t allowed to have much personality in what they were doing. Gene Crooper had movie star looks, black greasy hair, he had “it”. He had what Elvis had, but with drums. He brought the drummer out of the depths of darkness to have his own spotlight and be involved, musically, in what was going on. Then along came Buddy Rich as well. Later on in life, they became friends.

I saw Gene Krupa on a television special, and I thought, “I want to do that. But I want to play Rock ‘n Roll, not big band music.” I made the decision and started buying drum stuff. I bought a snare drum. I did lawn jobs, and both my parents worked, so I also did the housework. I got a little money for that, and for doing other peoples’ yards, and for ours. Then I’d listen to the AM radio, and I’d focus on what the drum was doing. I didn’t have the technical skills, but I was teaching myself. How would I know what to do? I’d just listen to them.

I’m a “feel player”, I feel my way along, and that dictates what patterns I have, with my kick. And also, what type of fills I would have to support the song I was listening to. Sometimes those parts were too technically hard, and I couldn’t quite get the part. So what I would do was concentrate on the feel, and build a part that was similar to that one, and keep that feel alive. And that actually served me really well when we started recording, and I was the only drummer in the room. I took those things and capitalized on them.

HMS: I imagine it might have been a little easier if you could actually see footage what they were doing.

DC: Oh yes! I always look at the drummer. A lot of time on television, the camera is on the singer. But if we went to shows or what not, I’d always look at the drummer. I those days, the left hand was played in the military position, meaning the stick is inverted in your hard. And the matched grip is holding the left hand like the right hand. But by the time I saw that, I was too locked in. When we started touring, I went to matched grip, but the songs that had beats or fancy parts, I played in the military grip. Because I had the chops then to be able to play that.

HMS: Wow, so you’d probably thank yourself for learning that, then, because that helped you later.

DC: Yes! There are some guys who play in the military grip now and they must have had older guys teaching them.

HMS: That is a tremendous story. Thank you for sharing that with us.

DC: That’s what I love to do, to talk about this stuff. I marvel at the story and I have to pinch myself. The unlikelihood of it all and the difficulty of making it in this business, and the route we took being on an obscure Jazz label. What we did in a very short period of time, and the legacy of our music. To know that I came up with things, like the drum bit for “Suzie Q”, which even starts with drums. We all brought something to the table.

HMS: The positivity that you’ve brought to the legacy, and playing it so much for 25 years, is as much a part of the legacy as the music now, and I think that’s wonderful. Thank you for that.

DC: It’s been terrific.

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