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How John Fogerty Created Swampy 6-String Magic with Classic Les Pauls

Ted Drozdowski
|
01.22.2010

Creedence Clearwater Revival had made four albums and scored six Top 10 hits, including “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising,” by the time 1970 began — an impressive accomplishment for its first two years. And yet John Fogerty and his bandmates kept on chooglin’ straight into another banner year.

2010 marks the 40th anniversary of the release of both Cosmo’s Factory and Pendulum, which took the band through the apex of its career with four more Top 10s: “Travelin’ Band,” “Up Around the Bend,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”

As a wordsmith and melodist, Fogerty’s direct writing and composing style marks him as one of the greatest American songwriters of the rock era. But there was another factor that made Creedence Clearwater so popular — Fogerty’s swampy signature guitar sound. Thanks to his gutty style, the group was instantly recognizable from the opening notes of numbers like “Bad Moon Rising,” “Fortunate Son” and “Green River.” And Gibsons, mostly Les Pauls, were the bedrock of that sound.

When the band began in 1968 after Fogerty and drummer Doug Clifford completed stints in the military, Fogerty replaced his Rickenbacker with his first Gibson model, an ES-175 that he used to cut “Proud Mary,” “Bootleg,” “Graveyard Train” and much of the rest of 1969’s Bayou Country. After that guitar was stolen he purchased his first Les Paul, and that Gibson model has been a crucial part of his sonic arsenal ever since.

Fogerty owned two black Les Paul Customs outfitted with Bigsby vibrato arms during Creedence’s salad days, which he used in the studio and on-stage. He notably brandished one at Woodstock, joining the ranks of fellow Gibson players Carlos Santana, Leslie West, Johnny Winter, Alvin Lee and Pete Townshend (who smashed his SG Special to bits during the Who’s set).

In Creedence, Fogerty always used a Gibson when he played in open D (D-A-D-F#-A-D) tuning, which is the foundation of his dark, swampy sound. Try playing the barre chords to the introduction of “Proud Mary” in that tuning starting on the 10th fret, and you’ll find yourself right in the zone. “Bad Moon Rising,” “Midnight Special” and “Fortunate Son” are among the many CCR songs that benefited from this approach.

Forty years later Fogerty is still playing Gibsons on stage during his solo tours and with the current reconfiguration of his post-Creedence band, the Blue Ridge Rangers. He travels with a pair of Les Paul Gold Tops including a Custom Shop-built 1956 reissue with P-90 pick-ups he uses frequently while revisiting the Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog. He also plays a Les Paul Standard Honeyburst and, as he did in the CCR days, Les Paul Custom Black Beauties.

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