Even when you’re John Fogerty, a classic-rock legend who has played Woodstock, a guitar hero who has been performing for adoring audiences for 50 years–first as the frontman of Creedence Clearwater Revival and then as a monumental solo act–the prospect of performing in a city like Las Vegas, and specifically at a resort like Wynn Las Vegas, is a thrilling one. “So many greats from all aspects of entertainment have entertained in Las Vegas starting with Sinatra,” Fogerty says on a recent afternoon. “Playing in Vegas is all about being a showman,” he adds. “And it’s a worthy thing to try and be good at.”
Fans of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this spring when Fogerty brings his show to the Encore Theater for 10 intimate performances from March 3 through 11 and May 19 through 28. It marks his debut performance at Wynn, but ask Fogerty and he’ll say in many ways it feels like he’s coming home. “It’s one of me and my wife’s favorite places to stay,” he says of the resort, recalling a Garth Brooks concert he attended there in 2015. Adding to the excitement, during his string of career-spanning sets at Wynn, during which he’ll bust out time-honored hits from “Proud Mary” to “Fortunate Son” and “Centerfield,” for the first time in more than 40 years Fogerty will be playing his long-lost Rickenbacker “ACME” guitar which he used during the height of Creedence’s fame. Says Fogerty: “Having the guitar come back to me after all these years makes me think, “Ya know John, everything’s alright. It really has turned out pretty good!”
Before he kicks off his 10-show run at Wynn, we rang up the rock legend to learn about the long-winding tale to him reuniting with his iconic guitar, why a run of dates at the Wynn has Fogerty beyond excited, and how it feels to have written some of the most beloved songs in rock n’ roll history.
Tell us how you’re feeling heading into your run of performances at Wynn?
John Fogerty: It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to! Las Vegas is a very exciting town. There’s just so much going on all the time and, of course, there’s the bright lights; everything is over-the-top. It’s all about living large, some people would say. There’s just a lot of energy and brashness and confidence and excitement. So I really enjoy that aspect of it. And the thing about being in one place is everybody knows where to find you! It’s just really cool to come back to the same place night after night.
And I understand you recently visited Wynn Las Vegas. Tell me about what you love about the resort?
I had come up with my wife a year and a half ago and saw Garth Brooks. And that was a very nice show. And of course I have visited Las Vegas incognito and have certainly stayed at Wynn. It’s one of our favorite places to stay. So we kind of knew the turf at least as consumers, as normal people.
At this point in your career, after all you’ve accomplished, where does the motivation come from to keep going out there every night to perform?
JF: It’s simple: I really love music. As an infant I loved music. And it pretty much has stayed that way. Maybe even moreso now. Of course I had a little period in the middle of my career where, let’s just say, the record business didn’t treat me very well [laughs]. But happily I reestablished myself and got past all that. But really, being in front of an audience is just great. The idea really is to have fun. It took me awhile to understand that. There are a lot of folks in entertainment with varying degrees of talent or ability but the thing that will carry you very far is if you seem to be enjoying it. There’s nothing worse than the tortured artist who you know is very talented but he comes out and he’s miserable [laughs]. That isn’t a lot of fun for everybody. And yet you’ll see somebody else that is kind of superficial but he’s getting such a kick out of it you can’t help but smile and root for him to do well.
Being a fantastic guitarist has always seemed of paramount importance to you.
JF: It’s been a lifelong quest to be a great guitar player. And what that means is always improving. Always taking lessons. Always practicing. A lot of what I am as a musician comes out through the guitar. It’s the same way I felt when I was a child even before I picked up a guitar. Just the mystery and the enjoyment of conquering some technique that has eluded you. I still get a big thrill out of it.
So tell me the full story behind how you went about recovering your long-lost guitar from the early Creedence days.
JF: I’m still buzzing with the excitement of it! So years and years ago, probably in 1973 or so, there were these two kids that used to hang out where Creedence rehearsed. They were probably 11-years-old. Around then one of them asked me if he could buy one of my guitars. I don’t remember if I actually charged him or if I just gave it to him. But I gave him my guitar. I didn’t really think a lot about it for years and years. I think some of that was because at the time it was right as the band was breaking up; it was right as I was discovering what a horrific recording contract I had with the record label. Things were turning very sour very quickly for me. And I think there was some sort of fog that I was in. And so I gave away the guitar to this young boy and really didn’t think a lot about it. Once in awhile it would cross my mind. But as time went on I sort of slowly became aware that it had been my main guitar during the height of my career. It was a little Rickenbacker guitar that I had modified — I put a Bigsby whammy bar on it; I put a new Humbucker pickup on the bridge position, like a Les Paul. At the time I was hearing about the guys from England — Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton among many others — and so I modified this guitar because of that. And in the midst of doing it I renamed the guitar. It was a Rickenbacker but I felt I had changed it so much I wanted to give it a new name.
You named it ACME, correct?
JF: Yes. I was a big fan of the old Warner Brothers cartoons, notably Roadrunner and Bugs Bunny. And you were constantly seeing the name ACME. I figured it was just letters that stood for something. When the coyote was trying to trap the roadrunner and he wanted to blow up a bridge he’d call up for some dynamite and a big truck would pull up and on the side of the truck it would say ACME Dynamite. They used that a lot. So that was what I decided to write on my guitar. It being kind of generic was the idea. So I scratched off where it said Rickenbacker and hand-lettered the letters ACME. It’s kind of folk art or something that might have been done in a hut somewhere. It by no means looks professional. But that was the guitar I had all through ’69 and a lot of 1970. So songs like “Green River” and “Up Around The Bend” were written on that guitar. And I didn’t even really realize it until quite recently.
So how did you come to recover it?
JF: I was doing an article recently and my wife had gotten a lot of my guitars out and one of them was the twin of the ACME guitar I’d had since way back in the day. It was really meant to be the backup in case something went wrong. All I knew was that she had a bunch of these guitars put out for a photo shoot and a week later the gal that was doing the interview said, “John, was that Rickenbacker at Woodstock?” And the best I could remember was “That was my guitar doing those days so it probably went to Woodstock.” That was as factual as I could be because either I played it or it was in the case as backup. But for the first time I was willing to deal with the facts, the reality. I wasn’t hiding or afraid of the story. I wasn’t in denial. In fact now I wanted to know. So I looked up some of my performances online and lo and behold there I am playing the ACME guitar during that time. At one moment I was very excited and at the other moment I was a bit depressed. Like “Oh man, what did I do?” I told my wife “That guitar I played in Woodstock — I should really try and find that.” I didn’t know but a few years before that she had already tried to look it up and she said she had a lead on it but it was very expensive. But now I was telling her to do it. It’s like that big fish that’s been getting away for decades and finally the guy says “I’m gonna catch that fish!” She now knew I really wanted it so she had renewed interest. And she tracked it down and gave it to me on this past Christmas Day. It just blew my mind. I have wonderful feelings about it now. It’s like everything’s finally OK. A lot of the hurt from the old days, now having the guitar come back to me is gone in a way.
And now you’re going to be playing it at Wynn!
JF: Yes! I’m bringing it to Wynn and am going to be playing it for the first time in over 40 years.
Speaking of your performances, when you hit the stage nowadays I’m sure you see multiple generations in the audience. That must be quite a trip.
JF: It’s probably not something I’ve realized could even be possible 40 or 50 years ago. I just tried to be good musically.
What does “good” in that sense mean to you?
JF: Being good doesn’t just mean you can play the notes fast or slow or whatever. And it isn’t because you’re the loudest or softest; it’s hard to describe but we all seem to know and understand when something is good. But I just wanted to be making and performing what I thought and understood to be good music. A lot of times I’ve succeeded but I’m not perfect. I look at some of the performances and think ‘Oh well!” But you live and learn and keep trying to do better.
It’s such an interesting thing for a musician like you to essentially revisit their youth every night. How does it feel to trot out these hit songs like “Proud Mary” or “Born on the Bayou,” among countless others, you wrote decades ago?
JF: This is a really mystical subject and very hard to verbalize. I do really enjoy playing these older songs like “Proud Mary” and “Green River.” When I’m onstage performing them, or even when I sit here and talk to you and think about them, they definitely fall in the realm of “good” [laughs]. I really do still like the good songs. There’s a few clunkers I’ve written along the way. But the ones that are really good I’m very proud of because, at least by my own measuring stick, they feel like something I would proudly be judged by. “Proud Mary” I’m still very proud of and somewhat mystified now when I look back at how that came out of me. It’s like “Wow! I wish I could push a button and another one of those would happen.” But I’m still constantly thinking about writing. I’m actually back in a writing mode and am gearing up to record some new songs. And of course you have something like “Proud Mary” to compare everything to.
That’s a tough standard to reach.
JF: Yes, but “Proud Mary” is within me. It’s full of musical references that are my personality and reflect my influences. So it isn’t strange to me at all. It isn’t like somebody took me out and got me drunk or something and when I woke up that song was there [laughs]. It was something that was very familiar as I created it and now when I look at it it’s still very familiar. It almost seems like just yesterday when I think about that morning when I was writing it and all the things came together. So it’s not daunting at all. It’s just a challenge.
Creating new music seems to bring you back to simpler times.
JF: When I watch twentysomethings or teenagers becoming famous it’s really a time in your life where you don’t know all the big complex issues of the world. And yet you can be a genius at music. Some of that is probably because your brain is unfettered with worrying about all the big issues of humankind. It’s just amazing to me that you can be Beethoven or Einstein of the music world at the age of 19. But yet if you live, if you survive, you grow up and you get married and you have children and you have insurance payments and mortgages and car payments and maybe lawsuits and lawyers and all that in life. And that just gets so much more busy and complex and is not necessarily fun. It’s kind of the boring tasks of being an adult. But music is just a lot simpler. So I have a place where I can go in a room and close the door behind me and once again everything is simple.