Riveting Riffs Logo One Doug "Cosmo" Clifford's Magic Window
Doug Cosmo Clifford Photo One

Doug “Cosmo” Clifford the drummer for Creedence Clearwater Revival and the drummer and co-founder of Creedence Clearwater Revisited (with Stu Cook) took time to sit down with Riveting Riffs Magazine recently to discuss his new / old album Magic Window. The record is old in the sense it was first recorded in the mid 1980s and he seems to recall 1985 as the year, was forgotten about (we will get to that in a minute) and then digitized when it was rediscovered by Clifford. We need to be honest here, before getting into the album and tell you we were equally fascinated by his alternate life and career in forestry and fire management, which unfortunately for this article we only have time to touch upon briefly.

“The mid-eighties is when I was most active as a songwriter and when I had material that I thought would be an album’s worth and then I started working on my vocals. I am not really known for either one of those things and it is kind of fun. I have been getting really good reviews (and you can add Riveting Riffs Magazine to the list of good reviewers Doug!). It makes you feel good, because at the time you put your heart and soul into it,” he says.

Doug Clifford Photo TwoHe goes on to talk about why the record is only seeing the light of day now, “We were in a huge drought situation up at Lake Tahoe. I had a biological background and I had a firefighting background, minimal, but enough. I put together a program that would deal with fuels and what to do with a forest to try to get it back to a normal environment. Fire is a culling factor in a forest, but when you put the fires out the fuels continue to build up. That is why we have cataclysmic fires when they hit now, because the fuels haven’t been burned at low levels and that is because of our fear of fire. I teamed up with the University of Reno Nevada’s biological department.

Anyway that program was deemed number one in the nation by the department of agriculture. It was all volunteer and it was something that I was doing for the good of the environment. It overrode the artist in me and my civic duty came out. I put the tapes away. Thirty-five years later I found them.”

If you are wondering if there are challenges involved with trying to restore a thirty-five year old analog tape, you are not alone.

Doug “Cosmo” Clifford says, “Nobody knew this back in the day, but with a lot of analog tape there was whale oil in it and if I had known that I would have been marching in the streets to get rid of that sort of thing. All of the information that was on the tape had been sitting dormant for a long time. I had put it in a dark, cool and dry storage facility inside of my garage that had a cement floor and even in the summer was minimal, so in terms of that I was lucky.  Now there is a process called baking. You bake the tape and what it does I am not one hundred percent sure, because I am not an engineer. If it is going to play it requires this process of the baking. You have (only) two weeks after you do the baking to get it to digital and that is what I did. I didn’t really pay a lot of attention when they said they were going to bake it. I said wake me when it is done. It just didn’t sound like something logical to do with something as delicate as a thirty-five year old tape. That is how they do it and I handed it off to a recording engineer friend Tom Gordon, who also teaches at university. They did it in LA and lo and behold every one came out.

I ended up with at least ten albums worth of masters and the thing they have in common is I am either the writer or the co-writer of the songs. It is a publisher driven project. I consider myself to be very lucky.

Back in the day Stu (Cook) and I had a production company. I would buy studio time if I needed to record. I recorded master quality songs and that is what these things are they were going to be demos trying to try and get a deal either as a writer or an artist. Fire danger came and it took precedence over my career at that point.”

One of the best songs on the album Magic Window is “Just Another Girl,” a song that talks about how when the guy in the song first met the girl he thought she was nice, but nothing more than just another girl that he knew. As time went on, he realizes right in front of him all of this time was the girl he loved and who would change his life forever.

“One of the things people have mentioned to me is gee you have a lot of love songs in there. Those are always fun to write. Creedence didn’t do any of them (love songs), so I thought I would make up for lost time. Most people, their approach to love songs is love at first sight. There she was and I fell to my knees and pulled that diamond ring out of my pocket and I said will you marry me? I wanted something different. This is the opposite approach. The first time I saw her she was just another girl and how was I to know then that she would change my whole world. The first verse sets you up to what the hell happens. What is going to go on with this? I wanted to have a different driver in it,” he explains.

The song “Magic Window,” for which the album was named, has a story behind it and there really is a Magic Window.

My studio was above a three car garage. It was a 1,000 square foot room. We are a thousand feet above Lake Tahoe, which is a gorgeous sight and I could see for sixty miles. When you came into the studio you saw my drum set and where I looked out into the room, but beyond the people in the room was this solid glass window that showed off that beautiful view. I would go up there to work on material and I would look out the magic window. The “Magic Window,” as a song has a little mystique to it. Some of the lyrics are almost spooky. Then we have the spoken voice, Pink Floyd like during the solo. Then just before the fadeout there is discussion and it is not (discernible) and that is intentional. In the verse I am just speaking out the chorus (he recites the words). You can barely hear that in there, but it is something to spice it up a little bit. I think Pink Floyd was doing pretty well back in that time. That was a little tip of the hat to them.”

When we note that the window the way it is portrayed in the song, almost seems alive, has an energy to it and it acts as his muse, Doug “Cosmo” Clifford agrees, “Yes I think you defnitely have the right idea. A lot of work was done there looking out (through the window). I felt so fortunate to be in that environment. Gosh, I have a studio and most studios don’t have windows. In most studios you are in a cubicle full of machines. The window opened up a pathway to a beautiful environment. It helps the mood for sure when you are writing.”Doug Cosmo Clifford Photo Three

The song “Born on the South Side,” is guitar driven with some good grooves laid down by Russell DaShiell and Rob Polomsky, both playing rhythm guitar. There are references to Creedence Clearwater Revival, to Clifford’s own life and to John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival).

It is like the story of the band and my story. It is the only Creedence type of song on the album. I did that intentionally to let people know where I was coming from. I was the guy on all of these records, but I was playing drums, I wasn’t the singer or the writer. It was to familiarize people with me. That song gets a lot of attention, because the groove is the closest thing to Creedence on it. The guitar stuff hints at it. That is what I wanted. It is not an exact autobiographical type of song, but there are things about it that reflect my life and the life of the band,” says Clifford.

As for others who contributed to the album, he says, “Russell was also the recording engineer and since I found the tapes I also made him the co-producer with me on the project. He has good technical skills and we did do a little surgery on some of the stuff. I had a bridge in “Just Another Girl,” and I tried to alter it by doing this and that. Finally, I called him up about two months ago and I said Russell take the bridge out of “Just Another Girl,” and we will fade out after the solo. It makes a huge difference in the song. It was one of those things that never quite fit. Having a bridge is cool, but it has to have value to it. It has to be better than what would be there if you didn’t do something. This is the opposite case, it never worked, the way that I envisoned it.

The good songs usually happen almost instantly. It hits and you can’t write them fast enough. I type terribly. I can sometimes write faster, but it is often in my own language, just so I can get the idea. You don’t want any time to hit and while all this energy is happening with the song I don’t want to lose any of it. Those are usually the best ones and the ones that are easy. You may be carrying a basic idea around in the back of your mind, but when it comes to fruition and all of a sudden it presents itself it looks at you right in the eye. You go wow! How did that happen?

Chris Solberg (bass and keyboards) was a local boy from my hometown and he was about ten years younger than me. He played with Santana and Chris Isaak. We were from the East Bay (Oakland). In San Francisco is where all of the psychadelic bands were and we were more the blue collar bands. He is a very talented guy and I wrote a couple of songs with him on the album.”

As for whether or not he has a preference in terms of the songs he likes to write, Doug “Cosmo” Clifford says, “It doesn’t matter what type of song I am writing, as long as when it comes out that it is at a level it is supposed to be at. The ideas come from the heart and the brain. You just go with the flow and let it happen. If it ends up being a ballad then that is okay. I am a drummer, so I enjoy some funky grooves. I like R & B a lot. Sometimes a song will come out of a drum groove. It usually is not a lyrical wonder, but more of a beat thing. You have to have those as well.”

The songs are your children and they have a special place, but I think my favorite (from this album) is “Don’t Leave Me Alone Tonight,” another love ballad. It goes back and forth between that and “Just Another Girl.” It has that infectious groove and I was really pleased with my vocals on that one. If I had to pick one I would have to flip a coin, because it is that close.”

What does the future hold for Doug “Cosmo” Clifford?

Well there are those other albums from that rescued analog tape. It would seem a shame for all that baking to have been done and not let anybody consume the finished goods, so he says you can expect to hear that music.

He also has visions of one of his earlier songs being used for a kid’s show, as a storyline. It is called “Life in a Hollow Log,” and tells the story of a boy named Leroy, the son of a fisherman. The boy and his mother and father were caught at sea in a boat that eventually sinks during a storm. Before the boat sinks his father empties out a barrel of fish and puts the little boy in the barrel with a note and he hopes he survives. Two days later the oby is found by a man and in this case the narrator in song.

“The story is only his kid could fit in the barrel and although there was no guarantee he was going to do everything that he could to try and save the little boy. I see that as a complete story and I would love to do something like that,” he says.  

Reflectively he says, “I have been touring for twenty-five years and the world of the road is a tough one. Travel is really hard on you. I have drummer’s back right now and sometimes it goes out without the traveling. It was time for me to kick back and have less wear and tear. I also have Parkinson’s disease and I don’t want to be in a situation when I can’t finish a set, because I can’t play. I have five grandkids to attend to and I have missed a lot of birthdays. Right now I like being back in the creative mode,” he says.    Return to Our Front Page

Top Photo by: Brent Clifford

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This interview by Joe Montague  published May25,2020 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of Doug Clifford unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine.