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John Fogerty and the Gibson Les Paul Custom

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

John Fogerty in recent years, on stage with his 1968 Les Paul Custom.

John Fogerty in recent years, on stage with his 1968 Les Paul Custom.

John Fogerty Is a Legend of Rock and Roll Music

When I was a kid, the radio was always on somewhere in our house, and it was nearly always tuned to a classic rock radio station. Things were much the same when going somewhere in a car with my parents, it was the oldies rock from the '50s to the '70s, and things are just so today as well. Creedence Clearwater Revival was easily noticed to be one of my father's favorite bands.

The music of Creedence Clearwater Revival was such that were someone to not like it, I'd have assumed they were not Americans or disliked the USA. Years went on, and the same idea was just reinforced for me. How could anyone ever forget that epic moment in Forest Gump, when Fortunate Son's massive drum and guitar intro dominates the set? Whether one is stuck in Lodi again or rolling on a river, CCR was there for us. In some way, they were us, and we were them; it's working-class music.

John Fogerty was, of course, the primary singer, songwriter, and guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival. The group has such memorable songs it is easy to forget just how short-lived it all was. Fogerty has enjoyed a far, far longer solo career and has a net worth in excess of $70 million. That's a heck of a lot of success for a man with a guitar, and for the most part, he plays the Gibson Les Paul Custom.


The Beginning of Creedence Clearwater Revival

The music of John Fogerty always felt to me like southern music. You hear songs like Born On the Bayou, and you tend to assume that Fogerty was born and raised somewhere in Louisiana. This is not the case at all. It's good to remember that great creative artists have license to create art for the sake of creating art. Sometimes art tells a story, and the story could be fiction or represent someone other than the artist.

John was born in Berkeley, California, a place which, at one time, was associated with free speech. He grew up in El Cerrito, but John reports not having had an especially great childhood. His parents were alcoholics, and he was forced to go to a Catholic school where he was not treated decently at all.

Later on, he'd get to go to public school in El Cerrito, and it was there that he and his older brother Tom got to know the other members of what would become Creedence Clearwater Revival. By the time he was in junior high, he was forming bands with the CCR rhythm section of Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. Early rock and roll pioneers like Little Richard and Bo Diddly would be the band's inspiration.

Originally, the band was called The Blue Velvets and later, The Golliwogs. Music would have to wait; however, as the US government had plans for John Fogerty, they sent him a draft notice, and so he instead went and signed up for the army reserve the same day. In 1967 when John was discharged, he had built up a huge desire to create and perform music, and Creedence Clearwater Revival was born out of that pent-up energy and longing.

John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty, and Stu Cook.

John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty, and Stu Cook.

Creedence Clearwater Revival's Great Music, and John Fogerty's Suffering

The story of Creedence Clearwater Revival is one where John Fogerty is the central character, and he has amazing success, suffers a heck of a lot for it all, and decides he's had enough. The band only existed for around four years. They had terrific appeal, a gigantic amount of loyal fans, and a huge output of hits. Fogerty was left hurting for more than a decade for it all.

Here's the thing. John Fogerty is over all of that stuff, and I doubt he'd want anyone to dwell on it too much. He's proud of the music they made. I'm extremely proud to know and own that music, and if you are reading this, chances are you've felt that music has made your life more enjoyable too.

I want to make it clear here I'm not in any way taking away from the contributions of the other members of CCR. The three other members made for a perfectly outstanding rhythm section, and the music would not have been what it was without them. They are fabulous musicians, and they did what they did extremely well.

The thing about it all is, John wrote most of the songs, he was the primary singer, and his voice was and is extremely unique. Fogerty has an instantly recognizable voice, he thinks of his voice as being another instrument, and I agree with him. Then to top it all off, he was the primary guitarist. The other members of CCR wanted equality with John, but without putting out as great a contribution as John.

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Creedence Clearwater Revival Created Some Timeless Music

The hits started coming hot and heavy, but it all started with the song "Suzie Q"; this would be the band's first major hit, but it was not written by John Fogerty. The song was almost a decade old. Fogerty's arrangement of it was completely original and a bit psychedelic, making CCR's music perfect for the massive Woodstock Festival.

The next big hit would be "Proud Mary," and the entire nation would love it. It is the kind of song that transcends time and will become a folk song, lasting hundreds of years. The rich and powerful are depicted as distant and uncaring, but the poor and simple people are happy to share what they have with a stranger on a journey. The character singing the song experiences a rebirth. This is timeless stuff. Bob Dylan could be jealous of it.

With "Proud Mary," Fogerty was able to portray the hopes and dreams of the poor and 'simple' persons, while at the same time making multiple references to things that show the simple are often not that at all, but merely lacking in material wealth. The same idea would be repeated in "Fortunate Son," a song about how the rich make war, but the poor wind up having to go fight, often dying, in those wars. It never matters what century one is living in; the theme transcends them all.

Yet another CCR smash that, I assure you, will last for ages to come is "Bad Moon Rising." Fogerty has stated he wrote the song after watching a film and that the song is in reference to an apocalypse. A fan need not be affiliated with any sort of mainstream religion to understand how large forces in motion, be they human forces, or forces of nature, can shatter a society. "Bad Moon Rising" would have been as valid a song before the volcano erupted near Pompeii as it is now.

Creedence Clearwater Revival was establishing itself as a band that represented the working class and the downtrodden. How ironic it would be that they'd signed a record label deal with a company headed by a man who was the archetypal mass media mogul vampire, sucking the blood of the productive youth, contributing little, and for his own insatiable desires. Saul Zaentz was just such a man, an insatiable oppressor, seeing his victims as the simple.

CCR Breaks Up, Fogerty Goes Solo

Creedence Clearwater Revival was like a hurricane of success that lasted four years. It wouldn't last any longer than that, and never comes the day of reunion. Tom Fogerty would quite the band for feeling like his contributions weren't valued. He'd create solo albums that very few persons would purchase.

The remaining two members were told that were they to have an equal say in matters, they should take on equal roles in the band. They did, and the album Mardi Gras was nearly universally trashed by critics, and the fans didn't think too well of it either. John Fogerty was involving himself in numerous lawsuits with Fantasy records, and these would not end any time soon.

John stayed out of the public eye, for the most part, until he would release his fantastic solo album Centerfield, in 1985. A man after my own heart, it is clear Fogerty loves baseball as much as I do. Whenever I hear the title track or "Rock and Roll Girls," my device's volume is going to be on max. Problems with vampiric record label owners would only continue, and Fogerty would be accused by Fantasy records of plagiarizing himself. It was as though Saul Zaentz felt Fogerty had no right to be John Fogerty.

The music-loving public has never gotten tired of John or his music. John had, from the breakup of CCR, up until 1987, completely refused to perform CCR material. He didn't dislike his music—it is hard to find people who dislike his music; the music just brought up a bunch of negative emotions for him. It took two of his peers, two guys of the same stature as him, to talk him into performing CCR songs again. Hey, if Bob Dylan and George Harrison are giving advice, it would be profitable to listen.

1968 Les Paul Custom Reissue

1968 Les Paul Custom Reissue

Black Beauties and Fretless Wonders

In the early days of CCR, John Fogerty mostly played a Rickenbacker 325. Rickenbacker makes a fine product, but John acquired a 1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom, he paid just a hair over five hundred dollars for it, and it became the instrument most associated with Fogerty's work with CCR, and also his solo material.

Fogerty owns somewhere over three hundred guitars. Hey, guitar people can get like that, and when you've got the money John has, why not own lots of your favorite things? He owns a lot of different Les Pauls, but the black beauty is still one of his top picks to play whether he is in the studio or on the road.

What is the difference between a regular or standard Les Paul and a Les Paul Custom model? Well, Les Paul, the man, wanted there to be a fancier version of his namesake guitar. He had expressly stated he wanted a guitar that looked like a tuxedo. This is exactly that, but the Les Paul Custom models which are finished in black are not always the same as other Customs.

These guitars are referred to as either Black Beauties or Fretless Wonders. That they are black and beautiful is plainly seen. They do, of course, also have frets, and this is obvious.

What isn't seen from images is the fret wire used for the Black Beauties is a smaller gauge of fret-wire. What is important to know about small gauge fret-wire instruments is that you would have to determine yourself whether or not you like this. Are you a person who loves to do a lot of string bending? A fretless wonder may not be the exact best fit for you.

So what exactly is the benefit of a fretless wonder black beauty LP Custom? The action, meaning the distance the strings ride up from the fretboard, should be very very minimal. With taller frets, the strings simply must sit up higher; with lower frets, the strings can ride lower. A fretless wonder Les Paul would then facilitate playing chords. You can play Fogerty-style rhythms on one of these with less stress on your fretboard fingers.

Gibson 1968 Les Paul Custom Reissue Solidbody Electric Guitar Features

  • An iconic solidbody electric from one of the world's renowned guitar makers
  • Period-correct long neck tenon delivers unbelievable sustain, brilliance, and resonance
  • '68 Custom pickups provide classic Gibson humbucker tone
  • Hand-scraped, multi-ply binding for Gibson's renowned "tuxedo" look
  • Lightweight aluminum tailpiece for enhanced sustain and tone
  • Hide glue neck construction for a truly handcrafted guitar
  • Hand-wet-sanded nitrocellulose lacquer finish for a classic look and feel
  • Includes a hardshell case
The 50th Anniversary 1968 Les Paul Custom

The 50th Anniversary 1968 Les Paul Custom

The 50th Anniversary 1968 Les Paul Custom

It's been more than 50 years since Gibson made the 1968 Les Paul Custom. Gibson loves an anniversary more than married women do. In 2018, they produced a batch of 50th anniversary 1968 Les Paul Custom instruments.

Back to the whole fretless wonder thing. Yeah, these are not those. That fret-wire simply does not exist anymore. I've read a lot in forums online about this. I've heard tales of people buying a peculiar Martin fret-wire, which is close to what Gibson used in the years of 1968–1974 for the black beauties or fretless wonders. This 50th-anniversary guitar has the Gibson historic medium jumbo fret-wire. It's a wide wire, where the fretless wonder wire was very narrow.

There are exactly three hundred of these 50th anniversary 1968 Les Paul Custom guitars produced. If you're wanting something of this nature, you may well be better off hunting down a used 1968 Les Paul Custom reissue. Again, as this needs clarification, only the black Les Paul Custom instruments from 1968-1974 had the exceptionally low and narrow fretwire.

It's five and a half thousand for these. That's plenty of cash to ask, in my opinion, and it is awfully nice of Gibson to go ahead and use ebony for the fretboards, as they know they should do. What bothers me the most about these things is there aren't any push pull pots to split the coils. Yes, of course, I know there weren't any on the 1968 model. I just feel like when someone spends that much money, they should be getting the very most Gibson could give them.

Gibson Custom 50th Anniversary 1968 Les Paul Custom Features:

  • Built to the precise specs of a 1968 original
  • Celebrates the 50th anniversary of a turning point in the Les Paul's lineage
  • Only 300 total will be made
  • 2-piece maple cap over solid mahogany body
  • 14-degree headstock angle for decreased string tension compared to earlier LP models
  • '68 Custom humbuckers deliver period-correct tone
  • Collectibles include exclusive case, switch plate medallion, throwback hang tags and picks, and copy of the 1968 Gibson Gazette
Fogerty and his blue plaid Les Paul Custom

Fogerty and his blue plaid Les Paul Custom

2018 Gibson Les Paul Custom Guitars

John Fogerty now has a new favorite Les Paul Custom. It features a blue plaid finish which perfectly matches his favorite blue plaid shirts. Fogerty almost always wears plaid. The image I used way up top of him in black is an exception to all of that. He loves the blue plaid LP Custom because his wife had it made for him and surprised him with it.

So what about you? Yes, any Les Paul Custom is a bit of a cork sniffer. People will want to smell the inside of the case, even. Can you blame them? I can't. It's one of the most desirable instruments in the entire world of guitars. You can find them at most large guitar stores where Gibson guitars are sold, but you may have to ask someone's permission to play the thing.

You may not want a black Lester Custom. It isn't a problem. You can get these guitars nowadays in any number of colors, and you can get them in many different burst finishes too. They are God's gift to Rock and Roll. The additional mother of pearl inlay on the first fret, and the beautiful split diamond inlay on the head-stock just makes the thing look like a jewel.

I know that when I play a Les Paul Custom, I can get all those classic swamp sounds which John Fogerty made our lives better with in all those classic songs. What you maybe do not know is that Fogerty, maybe as often as Keith Richards, used open tunings on his hits. Oh sure, some of his classics are in standard tuning, but you really are going to have to do some open D, open G, and open C tunings to get it right. Thanks for reading; I'll be down on the corner, out in the street.

Gibson Les Paul Custom in Alpine White

Gibson Les Paul Custom in Alpine White

Gibson Custom Les Paul Custom Features

  • Gibson Les Paul Custom
  • An iconic solid body electric from one of the world's renowned guitar makers
  • Weight-relieved mahogany body for playing comfort
  • Carved 2-piece maple top
  • Long neck tenon for maximum sustain
  • Matched 490/498 humbucking pickup set
  • Nitrocellulose lacquer finish, for the look and feel of a classic
  • Classic Custom "tuxedo" appointments include gold hardware and black speed knobs
  • High-quality CTS 500K volume and tone pots, handwired harness, Switchcraft toggle switch

© 2018 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 12, 2020:

I'm jealous, Rick! I'm not old enough to be jealous, but I'm jealous just the same!

Rick Creasey on January 12, 2020:

Very good article. I still have my 1977 Les Paul Custom Black Beauty. It's not a fretless wonder anymore. Wore the frets down and it's been refretted twice. I bought it in 1977, paid $899 back then I still have the original receipt, case and Life Time warranty card. From Gibson. She and one of my Strat are my two main guitars for gigs. Thanks

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 22, 2018:

Thanks Pamela. It used to be classic rock, and now I guess they're calling it oldies. heh.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 22, 2018:

I always loved CCR, especially John Fogerty. You presented man facts about him, the group and the Gibson guitar. This brings back good memories, and I appreciate your article.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 21, 2018:

Well now, Paula, I am impressed that you used to listen to Les and Mary. Ms. Ford was quite a looker, you know, and she could pick them there strings a bit. Yeppers. I reckon so.

Suzie from Carson City on September 21, 2018:

Wesman, my pal, my buddy......I love John Fogerty and I remember listening to my Les Paul & Mary Ford 45 records when I was a kid, about a hundred years ago.

I actually have no interest in guitars for any particular reason. I read and comment on your work because I'm a friend. I have a site with my work on it as well.......but you, my friend, NEVER visit. Shame on you.

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