John Fogerty was still in his pajamas on Christmas morning when he noticed that the last remaining present under the tree was unusually large and covered up in one of his trademark plaid shirts. On his wife’s urging, he removed the shirt and began peeling back the wrapping paper, revealing a Rickenbacker guitar case. Tears began welling up as he realized what he was about to see. “I was immediately struck dumb,” Fogerty says. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘Am I about to get overwhelmed here?'” He opened the guitar case and began sobbing uncontrollably.
Inside was a 1969 Rickenbacker 325 Sunburst guitar with the word “ACME” written on the head in yellow paint. The guitar was Fogerty’s main instrument during the peak of his Creedence Clearwater Revival days and the one he played onstage at Woodstock, The Ed Sullivan Show and countless concerts all over the world. Many of his most famous tunes were written and recorded on it, including “Green River,” “Travelin’ Band” and “Up Around The Bend,” but it had been out of his hands for 43 years. “I never imagined I’d see it again,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Eventually these things, like works of art, end up getting bought by some billionaire and go into some secret closet so nobody can know about it.” Now, Fogerty has been reunited with the long-lost instrument.
Fogerty first got a Rickenbacker in 1967 when he was still on active duty in the Army. His brother Tom traded in a couple of Fenders and a Supro for a black 325 Rickenbacker, which was loosely known as the John Lennon Model. Fogerty played it on “Suzie Q,” “I Put A Spell On You” and nearly every other song on CCR’s 1968 debut LP, but he quickly grew frustrated with the whammy bar. During a show at New York’s Fillmore East, he saw a 12-year-old boy hanging around backstage. He called him onstage, played a final song on the guitar and then handed it to him.
When he got back to Los Angeles, he headed to the Rickenbacker showroom, carefully examined seven or eight new 325 guitars and selected a Sunburst that he customized with a Bigsby whammy bar and Gibson Humbucker pickup. Feeling that he’d altered it to the point that it needed a new name, he took it to the backyard, got some yellow paint and scrawled “ACME” on top of it, inspired by the omnipresent fictional corporation in the Warner Bros. cartoons he loved as a child. For the next few years it was his main axe, used whenever he recorded a song in regular tuning on every Creedence album from 1969’s Bayou Country through their final LP in 1972.
But sometime in 1973 or 1974 – Fogerty can’t quite recall – he was at the band’s San Francisco rehearsal space. The group had just dissolved and Fogerty faced a very uncertain future, especially when he learned that Fantasy Records owned all of his publishing. Two 12-year-olds named Rick and Louie were hanging around and Fogerty wound up giving Louie the guitar. (He recalls handing it over for free, but others remember $200 trading hands.) “I was just detached and numb at that point,” says Fogerty. “I think I gave it away to sort of end that chapter of my life.”
Twenty years later, John was beginning to put back the pieces of his life and get his career back on track when he stumbled across Norm’s Rare Guitars in Tarzana, California. He and his wife Julie were taking their two young boys to a video game arcade and the guitar store was nearby. Norm told them he had one of John’s guitars in the back and out came the ACME Rickenbacker 325. “He quoted a price to my wife that I think was something like $40,000,” says Fogerty. “I just looked at him and the guitar, shook my head and said, ‘I’m not doing that.’ Again, I was in some sort of denial and numb about that whole period of my life. I had to develop a callus after going through that episode with Fantasy Records.”
Not long afterwards, he began playing CCR songs in concert and coming to terms with his past, letting go of the seemingly bottomless well of anger he felt towards Fantasy Records owner Saul Zaentz and his surviving bandmates. But it wasn’t until last year that he casually mentioned to his wife that he’d like the ACME guitar back. Without telling him, she launched an extensive search to track it down that ultimately led to Gary’s Classic Guitars in Loveland, Ohio. Proprietor Gary Dick had acquired it about 10 years ago, though it seems like Julie Fogerty masked her identity when buying it. “She made herself anonymous,” says Fogerty. “How’s that?”
When he got over the shock of seeing it under his Christmas tree a couple of months ago, Fogerty plugged it in and played it for the first time in over four decades. “I started playing the solo in ‘Green River’ and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck,” he says. “It was exactly that sound, 100 percent. I dare say I haven’t heard that sound since those days when I had the guitar.”
The guitar will make its reappearance onstage when Fogerty resumes his John Fogerty: Fortunate Son In Concert residency at the Wynn Las Vegas on March 3rd. He hasn’t released an album of original material since 2007’s Revival, but he plans to begin writing new songs on the Rickenbacker. “It’s crying out for me to make some new music on it,” he says. “This guitar has had a journey with me and that will close the circle.”