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Creedence takes center stage at Camelot Theatre

Scriptwriter and musician Dave Bernard discovered just how rich the story of John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival is while writing a new musical spotlight for Camelot Theatre.

“It reads like a Shakespearean tragedy,” Bernard says. “It’s the story of a band quickly rising to fame and then, partly through their own undoing and partly through other stuff, it all falls apart.”

Singer and songwriter Fogerty, his brother and rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty, bassist Stu Cook, and drummer Doug Clifford played together, first as The Blue Velvets, then The Golliwogs, since the late ‘50s.

Finally signing as Creedence Clearwater Revival with Fantasy Records in 1968, the band released a self-titled, debut album. In ‘69, it quickly went on to record three chart-topping albums — “Bayou Country,” “Green River” and “Willy and the Poor Boys.” The albums generated hit songs “Born on the Bayou,” “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lodi,” “Down on the Corner,” “Fortunate Son” and others.

Creedence was at its peak between ‘69 and ‘71. With albums “Cosmo’s Factory” and “Pendulum” in 1970, additional hits included “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” “Run Through the Jungle,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” “Hey Tonight,” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”

The band’s final album was “Mardi Gras,” released in early 1972 with swan song “Someday Never Comes,” according to Wikipedia. “Mardi Gras” featured Fogerty, Cook and Clifford — Tom Fogerty had left the band — and received mixed to poor reviews. Creedence officially disbanded in the fall of ‘72.

“I really didn’t know the band’s story,” Bernard says. “To me, they were like a flash in the pan. They came and went quickly.”

When Creedence recorded Dale Hawkings’ “Suzie Q” in ‘68, the band took it to a radio station in San Francisco. It received airplay and became a hit, Bernard says.

The band played Southern rock, even though its origin was in the San Francisco Bay Area, with lyrics about bayous, catfish, the Mississippi River, along with politically conscious lyrics about the Vietnam War.

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s music is still a staple of U.S. radio airplay. The band sells millions of albums in America alone, and Rolling Stone ranks the group among its top 100 greatest artists of all time.

“Spotlight on Creedence Clearwater Revival” previews Thursday, Jan. 10, opens Friday, Jan. 11, and runs through Feb. 3 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 for the preview, $28 to $36 for all other shows, and can be purchased at camelottheatre.org, by calling 541-535-5250, or at the box office.

Directed by Camelot artistic director Shawn Ramagos, the shows feature the East Main Band, with Bernard on lead vocals and guitar, Will Bartell on bass, guitar and Dobro, drummers Craig Mather and Mike Dadaos, Ken Kigel on guitar and bass, and Mike Gardiner on keys.

“The music is really fun,” Bernard says. “It’s easy to play because it’s straightforward, and our band is having a blast. There were only four guys in Creedence, but to recreate their true sound live takes more musicians because Fogerty would add tracks to recordings.”

Bernard wrote spotlights about Kenny Rogers, James Taylor and the Eagles for Camelot’s musical spotlights. He suggested several things for this one to Ramagos, who pushed him to write one for Creedence.

“Creedence was my last choice. Not because I don’t love Creedence, but because I knew it would be a challenge for my voice. Fogerty has a strong voice, and I’m more of a James Taylor singer. I’ve had to work at it, but I’ve surprised myself. I’m no John Fogerty, but it doesn’t sound like James Taylor either,” he laughs.

“All of the spotlights have taught me things about music. They’ve all been good challenges and helped me improve my craft.”

Growing up in a south suburb of Chicago, Bernard picked up the guitar in middle school and played in high school bands. He quit music to raise a family and help his father found a new company.

“We wanted to base it in a place with a high quality of life, in a nutshell,” he says. “On one of my trips around the country, I stumbled across Ashland. We weren’t looking for a small town, but something about Ashland just grabbed me.”

Bernard’s father passed the company, Darex, on to him, and when he was ready for semi-retirment, he passed it on to his son and resumed his interest in music.

This spotlight will differ from Bernard’s earlier shows. Narration will be provided by recorded interviews with Fogerty and other members of Creedence, along with members of East Main Band.

“More than half the dialogue is by Fogerty and his band,” Bernard says. “Sound and video designer Brian O’Connor put the footage together and really made it sparkle. I don’t think Brian gets enough credit for what he does. How he can put sound together with ambience is amazing. It’s one thing to make James Taylor or The Kingston Trio sound good. It’s entirely another to have Creedence play rock ‘n’ roll and not overwhelm the audience in a 150-seat venue.”

Bernard’s story will be comprehensive, starting with the Fogertys, Cook and Clifford starting a band in middle school, then its recordings as The Blue Velvets and The Golliwogs.

“Then we go all over the place,” he says.

The story takes audiences through the discord between the band members and with Fantasy Records.

“We don’t get into the lawsuits with Fantasy much because there’s too much story there,” Bernard says. “It’s interesting, though, that the label’s owner, Saul Zaentz, took the money he made off Creedence and produced Oscar-winning films ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ ‘Amadeus’ and ‘The English Patient.’ He had a touch.

“It took Fogerty 10 years to come back with his hit album, “Centerfield,” but even then he wouldn’t play his old songs because he still didn’t own them.”

Laurie Heuston is arts and entertainment editor for the Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings. Reach her at tempo@rosebudmedia.com.

Clockwise from left: Dave Bernard, Mike Dados, Will Bartell, Craig Mather, Mike Gardiner and Ken Kigel are the cast in Camelot's "Spotlight on Creedence Clearwater Revival." Photo by Steve Sutfin