Life Through a Guitar

By Vicente Mateu

The Genius of Creedence Clearwater Revival began his career on the back of a Rickenbacker 325 and it peaks with a Telecaster.

When somebody puts a band together in a place called El Cerrito, California, they're either bank robbers or a country group. But this was the 60s, and the Fogerty brothers opted for the second handle, under the name of Tommy Fogerty and the Blue Velvets  (then The Golliwogs) and put their efforts into imitate the Beatles and britpop.

One man and one style with which the ´black dolls´ (the golliwogs), white as milk, never would have gone down in history without becoming the seed of a fleeting yet fundamental chapter of the origins of rock, Creedence Clearwater Revival. The blame or credit goes to the record label Fantasy Records, a minor role really, but relevant to the legend of our ‘Fortunate Son’.    

John Fogerty was born in mythic Berkeley, California in May 1945, just in time to attend the bloody end of WWII  and grow up in nappies of a new world in which so many things were about to change. Twenty some years later he would make his own revolution by banging on the table at Fantasy Records, throwing pop out the window and play what he and his brother Tom and their mates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook wanted to play from the beginning: pure hard southern rock. And that's why they moved to El Cerrito.

This part of the story is well known. It all happened so fast, between 1968 and 1973 roughly. John figured he was a genius and his brother Tom couldn't stand the pressure. Neither could Doug nor Stu with whom he recorded a fistful of records, some which serve as a historical reference to rock in capital letters: Fortunate Son, Proud Mary, Born on the Bayou, Down on the Corner...there are plenty to choose from. Their separation actually marked the boundary between the rock of the 60s and their heirs of the 70s.  


The young, problematic, and conceited John Fogerty, also considered himself to be great with the guitar, - he said as much in many interviews-, a powerful Rickenbacker 325, the same one John Lennon used, with which he wanted to emulate his hero Chet Atkins, whom he had given tribute throughout his life “other than James Burton, of course.” 

Fogerty started out with an $88 Silvertone Danelectro, amp included, which he tried to replace with a Fender Mustang before settling on a Rick 325. They were the first of a collection that, of course, also shone brightly with the Gibsons, the Les Paul that he picked up after his ES-175 was stolen. The curse of legends is that they are almost forced to sleep with their favourite instruments out of fear that they don't disappear into the belly of some airport.  

However, the Telecaster used by Burton, the man who probably helped more to create rock and roll in the 50s accompanying the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and nearly all the stars of that era, would not join the band until much later.  In his smugness, he didn't hesitate to record all the instruments himself on his first solo single, The Blue Ridge Rangers, a bold homage to the great glory of country. 

The solo career of John Fogerty couldn't have got off to a worse start. Rockin´All Over the World, which he took to the top of charts list in 1975, couldn't even save him. But the next year, the fiasco of Hoodoo was so painful that he asked the record company, which had already decided not to release it, to destroy the original tapes. He chose to fade away into the void for a long ten years.  


Loyal to Himself  

A Washburn Falcon finally got him out of this creative black hole he fell into. In 1985, Centerfield gave us back this guitar master. Just as rebellious and complicated as always, but aware that his life went on, and goes on, thanks to a 6-string. This was a more mature record that landed him another number 1 hit to his collection after so many years in the ditch, The Old Man Down the Road

Of  course legal problems kept following him to spoil  the moment. The ghost of Fantasy Records chased him to where he went with his shiny new Washburn.

Fogerty, ever loyal to himself, ended up ruining it with his own obsessions, conflictive with his Creedence mates, who he refused to play with on more than one occasion, and especially, the hurt felt by the personal drama with his brother Tom, who died of the HIV epidemic at 48. As had happened the first time, at the beginning of the 90s, he went into hiding in a silent and creative exile.

Then another guitar came to change his life. He looked back and hooked up once more with James Burton and his Telecaster. Fogerty points out that he preferred the Gibson Les Paul because the Fender was too “hard” to play.  

As a student of his old master, Fogerty discovered ´another approach´ to the Fender that helped him to tame it. According to him, it's the one that feels best when you have to put the pedal to the metal on stage. It doesn't matter whether it´s the Custom from 1959 or 1969, for now it's his favourite.


Breaking the’ Evil’ Spell

The return delivered big in 1997, and a Grammy for Rock Album of the Year, was a gift. Blue Moon Swamp, in which he even dared to play a dobro (a type of acoustic guitar with steel resonating discs inside the body under the bridge), and it was more than a comercial success, it was some of his best work as guitarist, and it gave him the boost his crumbling career needed. A curious tidbit, despite his love for the Telecaster, he appears on the album cover with a Strat, to give him a seemingly more “surf” look. In any case, there's no doubt about his going over to the Fender ranks.   

Premonition, live, released a year later, seemed a real new beginning to the 50 some crowd with the 21st century just around the corner.  

It cost him more than expected, and it wasn't until 2004, with the purchase of  the “evil” Fantasy Records by Concord Records, that Fogerty returned to be a true rock star that still shines today. With the royalties from CCR fame, he went back to the studio and recorded Deja Vu, he protested against the Iraq war, joined in  tours all over the States and managed to play in  the UK in 2006 after decades of not setting foot on stage. What more can you ask for?  

Now we do have a guitarist in pure form. No need for more songs. Seeing him live is enough and for him being seen, the same said. Playing for the sheer pleasure. And with his array of guitars at hand at any given moment, no matter the make or model, all tuned to his unique style.  

One part of this achievement belongs to the unexpected fans of grunge who claimed him as their main influence. On his latest work, Wrote A Song for Everyone, (2013) he's backed by the Foo Fighters, Kid Rock, or our friend Tom Morello, among many others. They're covers of old hits, but sound furiously new. That's the secret to rock and roll.  

Fortune has smiled back at one of his sons.