Creedence Clearwater Revival “Willy and the Poorboys” 1969 Cover

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Willy And The Poor Boys

Fantasy Records, 1969

O, sweet CCR! In the last year of the ’60s these guys were on a roll, under the leadership of commander John Fogerty; this was their third album within a year, a mere three months after the release of “Green River,” so the mood is snakeskin, simultaneously rugged and smooth, touring and recording relentlessly so having adequately locked in as though they were one organic many-limbed music machine, refusing to put out singles with bad B-sides; a rock and roll swamp-cat chasing away the pretenses that would often infect other American bands so enamored of the British bands in the midst of the psychedelic explosion, that they made bubble-gum mockeries of themselves like some maudlin wreckage of Carnaby Street in London and Haight-Ashbury cliche.

Willy and the Poor Boys are an alter-ego band, a kind of American working class response to The Beatles’ ‘Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ that plays in the narrative of “Down On The Corner,”  and was considered to form a kind of overarching concept to this record until they scrapped that idea while working on the record. (They are still “in character” on the cover, photographed in Oakland, California.)

“DOTC” is the perfect intro to this album setting up the front porch jamboree vibe. Today, I was inspired listening to this song on a ride up to Julian up Highway 67 through the foothills of East County in my brother-in-law Justin’s jeep with the doors off, the smells of desert scrub lavender and sage in the light breeze, the bouldered crags of canyons rolling by, Stu Cook’s bass chunkin’ through my limbic system, grateful I grew up in an area where most people knew each other and each other’s family, we didn’t know rich folk but plenty of our neighbors had nice spreads of land, bought for what today would be nothing, when this was all dairies and horse ranches, chicken farms and quarries next to the creeks that were the adventure-tale lands of my youth. Having lived in the East Bay Area of Central California for years, I imagined that Fogerty and his cohorts grew up in a similar El Cerrito just northwest of Berkeley and also watched it fade away to tract homes and suburban sprawl.

These architects of some of America’s greatest indigenous rock and roll created a mythical swamp rock that was a fine distillation of America’s fading west, self- aware and wary of what the status quo offered at the time, Fogerty having served in the Army Reserve after receiving a draft notice during the Vietnam War and then being critical of the Nixon administration in songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Effigy.” This album also has a couple songs made famous by Leadbelly, whom John Fogerty was deeply inspired by, saying that when one listened to him, “You’re getting closer to the roots of the tree.” One of those songs, “Midnight Special,” is given such a perfect atmospheric and then soulfully celebratory arrangement, it is like hearing the forgotten ghosts of America in a gospel revival.

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