The Venues: Red Rocks Amphitheatre

In January 2018, I did a post about Bad Company’s album Live at Red Rocks. It keeps getting views, with the most recent occurring just a few days ago. This gave me the idea to write about what must be one of the most magnificent outdoor performance venues. Plus, my last post in the venues category dates back to August 2019 – another good reason to look at one of the places where the ultimate thrill in music takes place: The live experience!

Red Rocks Amphitheatre has a long history, something I had not been aware of and frankly had not thought about. How long? It somewhat depends where you start. Construction of the facility near Morison, Col., 10 miles west of Denver, began in 1936, though the first concerts there were produced by John Brisben Walker as early as 1906. Brisben, a magazine publisher and automobile entrepreneur, had the vision to leverage the site’s natural acoustics for entertainment purposes.

The next important milestone in the venue’s history occurred in 1927, when manager of Denver parks John Cranmer convinced the city to acquire the area of Red Rocks from Brisben. The price? $54,133, which is the equivalent of approximately $797,920 today – quite a bargain, if you ask me! Denver architect Burnham Hoyt was brought in to design the facility. After a five-year construction, Red Rocks Amphitheatre opened to the public in 1941.

What’s truly amazing to me is the age of the rock formations. It took the natural amphitheater more than 200 million years to form. There are traces dating back to the Jurassic period 160 million years ago, including dinosaur tracks and fossil fragments. In one of the less glorious aspects in Red Rocks’ history, the area around it was inhabited for hundreds of years by the native American Ute tribe, until they were displaced in the 19th century, according to this collection of facts about the venue, published by the Denver Post in June 2016.

Now let’s get to the fun part: Music performances at Red Rocks. And as you might imagine, there have been many. The challenge, however, is to find live footage from there, capturing artists I truly dig, especially old gigs from the ’60s and ’70s, such as Jimi Hendrix in September 1968 or Jethro Tull in June 1971. The latter unfortunately led to a confrontation between non-paying fans who had arrived to the sold-out show without tickets and the police. It resulted in a five-year ban of rock concerts at the venue.

The first show I’d like to highlight dates back to August 26, 1964, when The Beatles played Red Rocks as part of their U.S. tour that year. While according to The Beatles Bible, only 7,000 of the 9,000 tickets were sold, making it the sole show of the tour that wasn’t sold out, the Fab Four still set a box office record for the facility, marking the earliest notable rock & roll performance there. Here’s some historical footage I found, which includes concert snippets. It’s impossible to verify whether were actually captured at Red Rocks. In any case, it’s a nice illustration of the insanity of Beatlemania.

For the next gig, I’m jumping ahead 19 years. On June 5, 1983, U2 recorded their concert film U2 Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky, which also yielded their live album Under a Blood Red Sky released in November of the same year. The following clip captures the first 15 minutes of the film directed by Gavin Taylor. U2 almost looked like high school pals, but they sure as heck didn’t sound like a high school band. The energy they brought is just infectious. Appropriately, the boys from Dublin kicked it off with Out of Control, a tune from their October 1980 album Boy. It was a rain-soaked evening! This was followed by two other tracks from Boys: Twilight and An Cat Dubh.

While I couldn’t find a clip of the above noted Jethro Tull gig from 1971, here some footage from a show they played at Red Rocks on August 12, 2008: Aqualung, the title track of the band’s fourth studio album from March 1971. It was the only song on that album that wasn’t solely written by Ian Anderson. His first wife, English photographer, actress, playwright and life coach Jennie Anderson (born Franks), is listed as a co-writer.

The last clip I’d like to include captures one of my all-time favorite rock artists John Fogerty who played Red Rocks last year as part of his My 50 Year Trip tour, which is still ongoing though currently on hold because of you know what! Here’s Fortunate Son, a tune a wrote for Willy and the Poor Boys, the fourth studio album by Creedence Clearwater Revival released in November 1969. I can tell you one thing: I consider myself as fortunate to have seen the man in May 2018. He continues to kick ass!

Obviously, Red Rocks Amphitheatre is currently closed, and their website lists the many shows from April through October that have been cancelled or postponed/ rescheduled due to COVID-19. While this sucks for live music lovers like myself and creates a lot of pain for artists, the venue and all the connected vendors, it’s the right thing to do. Catching the bloody virus spreads many hospitalizations and lots of death, as this country has painfully witnessed over the past few months.

I’d like to wrap up this post on a more cheerful note with some additional Red Rocks facts noted in the above Denver Post article, which was updated in November 2018.

Red Rocks has seen nearly 2,700 shows through the end of 2016.

While the above Beatles gig may have marked “the earliest notable rock performance,” it was Ricky Nelson who played the venue’s first ever rock show in 1959.

The band that has performed at Red Rocks the most is Widespread Panic.

Huey Lewis and the News are the band with the record for most consecutive shows in a row, with four gigs performed from August 9-12, 1985.

Electrical transformers were moved outside the venue, after Neil Young noticed they were causing feedback on his tube amps.

While Red Rocks has been successful in attracting big names, one of the biggest has yet to book the venue despite constant rumors they are going to do so: The Rolling Stones.

Sources: Wikipedia; Denver Post; The Beatles Bible; Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre website; YouTube

My Playlist: Creedence Clearwater Revival

The first Creedence Clearwater Revival song I heard was Have You Ever Seen The Rain. This must have been in Germany around 1974. My six-year older sister, who at the time was in her early teens, had the single. The B-side was Hey Tonight. I liked these two tunes from the very beginning. I also recall listening to Proud Mary and Bad Moon Rising on the radio. I dig this band to this day, and they’ve been on my mind for the past few weeks, since I learned about the Blues & Bayous Tour ZZ Top and John Fogerty will do together later this year.

The story of Creedence Clearwater Revival or CCR started about 10 years before they would become one America’s most successful rock bands. Their first incarnation was a trio called The Blue Velvets, formed in 1958 by Fogerty (guitar), Doug Clifford (drums) and Stu Cook (piano), who all were students at Portola Junior High School in the San Francisco suburb of El Cerrito. In the beginning, they mostly played instrumental music. Their first studio recording experience occurred in 1959, when they backed up African American singer James Powell on a single. Later that year, John’s older brother Tom Fogerty, who himself had been an aspiring music artist, joined the band as their lead vocalist, and they became Tommy Fogerty and The Blue Velvets. At the time, John was not singing yet.

Tommy Fogerty And The Blue Velvets

The band started to record some demos written by the two Fogerty brothers. A small Bay Area record company, Orchestra, decided to release a few of their songs, but they didn’t fare well. In 1964, the band signed with Fantasy Records, an independent San Francisco jazz label. Prompted by the record company, they changed their name to The Golliwogs. Fantasy released a few of their songs, but except for Brown Eyed Girl (unrelated to the Van Morrison tune), the music didn’t make any commercial impact. Eventually, most of the band’s members took on new roles: John became the lead vocalist, his brother changed to rhythm guitar, and Cook switched from piano to the bass.

In 1966, Fogerty and Clifford were drafted into the military and joined the Army Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve, respectively. During their six months of active duty, the band was put on the back burner. In 1967, the financially struggling Fantasy was purchased by Saul Zaentz, a salesman for the company, who had organized a group of other investors. Zaentz liked The Golliwogs but told them they needed to change their name. And so they did, to Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Creedence Clearwater Revival First Album

The band name had three different origins. Creedence was derived from Credence Newball, a friend of Tom’s. Clearwater was inspired by a beer TV commercial that used the words “clear water.” And Revival reflected the four members’ renewed commitment to the band. They didn’t waste any time to act on it and went to the studio to record their eponymous debut album. Even before it appeared at the end of May 1968, CCR’s cover of the Dale Hawkins tune Susie Q, which they had cut a few months earlier, already received radio play and a good deal of attention. It appeared separately as a single and became their first hit, peaking at no. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 – the only CCR top 40 track not written by John Fogerty.

Following their breakthrough, CCR started touring heavily and shortly thereafter began working on their sophomore album Bayou Country, which was released in early January 1969. The band continued an intense touring schedule, which notably included the Atlanta Pop Festival (July 1969) and Woodstock (August 1969). Even though CCR was a headliner at Woodstock, none of their songs were included in the documentary and the accompanying soundtrack. John felt their performance had not been up to standard. Apparently, they had ended up playing at 3:00 am in the morning after the Grateful Dead, when only few people had been awake. It would take until 1994 when four of the tunes from that night were included in a commemorative box set titled Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music.

Ten days prior to Woodstock, CCR’s third studio record Green River was released. Four more albums followed: Willy And The Poor Boys (November 1969), Cosmo’s Factory (July 1970), Pendulum (November 1970) and Mardi Gras (April 1972). By the time this last record appeared, serious tensions over CCR’s artistic and business direction had emerged between John Fogerty and Cook and Clifford. In late 1970, Tom Fogerty already had left the band, which since had been a trio. In mid-October 1972, CCR broke up officially. Time to get to some music!

Susie Q, CCR’s breakthrough song from their first studio album, was recorded in January 1968 and appeared in June that year. Originally, the tune was released by Dale Hawkins in May 1957. It was co-written by him and Robert Chaisson, a member of his band. Due to CCR’s extended version, the single was split in parts one and two, which appeared on the A and B-sides, respectively.

Proud Mary from Bayou Country was the first of five no. 2 hits CCR scored on the Billboard Hot 100. Apparently, the band holds the record for achieving the most no. 2 singles without ever getting a no. 1 on that chart. Like pretty much all songs on the first four albums, the tune was written by John Fogerty. Various other artists have covered Proud Mary, most notably Ike & Tina Turner.

Green River is the title track of CCR’s third studio album from August 1969. The Fogerty tune is one of the no. 2 songs.

Down On The Corner is the opener of Willy And The Poor Boys, CCR’s fourth studio record and the third album the band released in 1969. The tune was also released as a single and became another hit for the band, climbing to no. 3. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Fortunate Son, another track from Willy And The Poor Boys, was the B-side of the Down On The Corner single.

Cosmo’s Factory, CCR’s fifth studio record from July 1970, became the band’s most successful album, topping the Billboard 200 and the LP charts in the UK, Canada and Australia, among others. Here’s a clip of Up Around The Bend.

Another tune from Cosmo’s Factory I like in particular is Who’ll Stop The Rain.

The aforementioned Have You Ever Seen The Rain? is from the band’s sixth studio album Pendulum, the final record with Tom Fogerty. If I could only choose one CCR song, it would probably be this one. I totally dig the Hammond in that tune!

Here is Hey Tonight, another outstanding song.

I’d like to conclude this playlist with Someday Never Comes from CCR’s final album Mardi Gras. Unlike the band’s previous records, songwriting and production were shared among Fogerty and Cook and Clifford, something Fogerty had fiercely opposed in the past. While Fogerty’s previous leadership may have been dictatorial, the record’s mixed to poor reviews indicate that a democratic approach wasn’t working well for CCR. Perhaps tellingly, Someday Never Comes and the other Fogerty tracks on the album are the best.

Despite CCR’s relatively short four-year career, they sold 30 million albums and singles in the U.S. alone. The band is ranked at no. 82 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists from December 2010. In 1993, CCR were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly, Fogerty refused to perform with Cook and Clifford during the induction ceremony. His brother Tom had passed away in 1990.

Sources: Wikipedia, Creedence Online, Rolling Stone YouTube