John Fogerty is sipping tea from a plaid mug inside his home recording studio when he suddenly gets a little emotional. It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the studio space, with its candlelit stone walls and rustic wooden beams, feels more like a ranch that belongs in Big Sky Country than an estate 35 miles outside of Los Angeles. At 71, his face is more deeply lined than it once was but little else has changed. He’s wearing a beat-up pair of Levi’s and a handkerchief tied around his neck, and if you didn’t know him to be a living rock legend, you might peg him as the flannel-wearing down-to-earth host of a wildlife show on PBS. But surrounding Fogerty today are the guitars that helped him create the Mississippi Delta-inflected music of Creedence Clearwater Revival -- a sound that would land him five top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 and weave him into the DNA of a politically charged Vietnam-era America.
At the far end of the room sits the Rickenbacker he played at Woodstock (“I started with ‘Born on the Bayou’”), and beside him rests a highly coveted Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty” that was used to record “Bad Moon Rising” and “Lodi” in 1969 (“I don’t tour with that one; it’s iconic to me”). With time the wood has dried, the glue has hardened, and the value has increased substantially: the Les Paul that retailed for $545 is now likely worth an estimated $10,000. “I still take them out because they sound better with age,” says Fogerty who owns upwards of 300 guitars. “Through the years I’ve kept the directive that when a song is crying for a certain guitar, get that guitar. Make what you’re doing more interesting.” The Beatles, he says, “did it naturally; it always made sense -- Madonna just changed her hair.”