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Stu Cook Back in the Trenches

Stu Cook - "Playin' In A Traveling Band"
by Ed Friedland

Originally Published in Bass Player Magazine,
April 1998 Issue.
WebPublished here by Author's permission


Creedence Clearwater, two words that immediately conjure up visions of the '60's. This pioneering band arrived on the scene with a unique sound that blended blues, rock, country and folk influences. Bassist Stu Cook was the man behind a catalog of hits that defined an era. Cook's impeccably understated style, always provides exactly what the song needs, a deep tone and a solid, supportive groove. Truly, Creedence is one of a few bands whose name can be used to describe a particular feel. Stu and long time rhythm section soul mate, drummer Doug Clifford are out touring again with the newest incarnation, Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Former Cars guitarist Elliot Easton, vocalist John Tristao, and all around man Steve Gunner on guitar, keyboards, percussion and vocals round out the new lineup. "Doug and I put this project together mainly for our souls, so we could play together" states Cook. "When we put this together, it was basically about trying to get out there and play before we were too damn old to tour, the audience reaction has been overwhelming. Almost half the audience is under 25 years old, they weren't even born when this stuff was recorded, yet they're right up front, their energy is really driving the concert."

It's easy to understand the bands' appeal to younger crowds, listening to alternative rock radio, one hears a definite trend toward the classic sounds of the 1960's and '70's. Many current chart toppers owe their success to the legacy of Creedence. It's been 30 years since the band recorded their version of "Suzy Q", yet it still gets massive radio play and generates sales in the millions. One has to wonder how many of the current retro-alternative bands will we be listening to in 2,027?

Creedence's history goes all the way back to 1959 when Cook, Clifford and John Fogerty were junior high classmates in El Cerrito, CA. "We did mostly instrumental tunes like Johnny and the Hurricanes, and The Ventures." The band also started to perform with older brother, singer, guitarist Tom Fogerty. "Tom would ask us to back him up for frat parties and county fairs, it was Tommy Fogerty and The Blue Velvets. The band didn't really break into the vocal mode until the time of The Beatles and The Stones, around '63 or '64."

In the early years of the band, Stu played piano, but due to the scarcity of decent instruments, he started to play "bass rhythm guitar". "I just played the bottom four strings, playing the root - 5 feel." By default, Stu became the bass player in 1965. "The first instrument I played was a P-Bass, but I believe we rented it. The first bass I remember owning was a Rickenbacher 4001 which I still have. I played that through Creedence's second album. Then I went to a Jazz Bass for a while, a Gibson EB-3, then back to a P-Bass. I took the bass pickup off the Rick and put it on the P-Bass up at the neck, I like that really deep tone. I like to feel it more, the overall tone is more important than being able to actually hear each note precisely. I think the bass should fill a space as well as play a particular note."

From 1985 through 1990, Stu played with Southern Pacific, a country rock band that also featured John McFee and Keith Knudson from The Doobie Brothers. Southern Pacific recorded 4 albums for Warner Brothers. During those years, Cook developed an affinity for Modulus Graphite basses, starting with a BassStar 4 string. After an extensive search for a 5 string, Stu decided on a 35" scale Modulus Quantum Spi 5, which is still his main axe. "I don't ever need to buy another bass, I'm married to it."

Having come up through the early years of bass amplification, Stu played many of his pre-fame gigs on a Fender Showman head through a Dual Showman cabinet with 2 15" speakers. "When Creedence got some money, we all went out and bought a bunch of Kustom amps, the tuck and roll stuff. I had a couple of 400 watt heads and 4 Sunn 2000S cabinets, I had a lot of noise behind me." These days, Stu only carries with him a James Demeter preamp, and Demeter HC1 tube compressor. "The HC1 is so transparent, it's the best piece of outboard gear I've ever used. The preamp warms up the sound, it has your basic Fender Showman controls. I can't speak highly enough about Jim (Demeter) and his company." Stu's cabinet of choice these days is the Ampeg SVT.

Stu's states his overall philosophy of bass as, "If you come up with the right stuff, less is more. To me that's the first thing, what will make it work with the most economy? For me, a guy like Duck Dunn combines the elements of note choice and rhythm choice better than anyone." While he does admit to being impressed with the technical developments of modern bass playing, Stu notes, "I'm seeing these guys with incredible chops, but I wonder what they're going to do with that, you can't solo all the time. I refer to myself as a pick and shovel bassist, I'm down in the trenches." Cook does acknowledge the current retro trend in bass playing that has younger players digging up the old grooves. "It never hurts to go back and take a look, it doesn't hurt me to look back at stuff that I've done myself. It helps me think about where I'm coming from. I'm influenced by everything I hear today, but whenever I start to drift in that direction, I feel something pulling me back to where I know it's already at. I learned from listening to the bass player for Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, and James Brown's bass player was the wildest thing we ever saw. Back then it was way more about feel than anything." On his list of favorite players, Stu includes, James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, Jack Casady, and Rocco Prestia.

Stu's hard won message to young bands is simple, "If you're not adept at the business side of music, it really behooves you to surround yourself with people that you trust that will represent your interests, because you are going to get taken advantage of."

"Creedence was magic, it wasn't technical greatness, there was just something about the chemistry when we all sat down and played." With the new line up of Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Stu believes the magic is back "To me, Creedence is not dead, it's really the fans that keep it alive. We still sell upwards of 2 million tapes and CD's a year worldwide. For a band that hasn't toured in 25 years, that's pretty good. What new band wouldn't die to have the airplay and sales that we have." Revisited is now in the process of putting the finishing touches on a double CD recorded live during a recent tour. In the meantime the band has more touring on the horizon, "We're giving away way too much money to the airlines!", so once again, Stu Cook has found himself "Playin' In a Travelin' Band."



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