Classic Tracks: Creedence Clearwater Revival "Fortunate Son"
Mar 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Matt Hurwitz
“Fortunate Son,” like the rest of the album, was recorded in a manner Gary and producer Fogerty had nailed down during the previous album's sessions, cementing the Creedence sound for good. “In my opinion,” Gary says, “Willy and the Poor Boys is the most consistent album, technically, of all of them. As a friend of mine says who has mastered the album, they just ran it.”
The first part of the process, of course, was rehearsing. “More than anybody else, they had the tunes together when they came over,” Gary notes. “They rehearsed every day. Then, when they came to record, they had it. We had albums done in two-and-a-half weeks.”
The bandmembers lived in the East Bay and they rehearsed in an industrial area of Berkeley in a large industrial building that drummer Doug Clifford nicknamed “Cosmo's Factory.” (It's the rehearsal area of that 22,000-square-foot building that is pictured on the cover of the album that bears that name.) The building later became home to a studio, DSR, which Gary created along with Clifford and CCR bassist Stu Cook.
Fogerty also rehearsed at home, with a small recording system Gary had helped assemble. “I'm sure he even rehearsed the tape delays because he had machines that had the same head gap as the Ampex recorders at Heider,” Gary says.
Once ready, the group assembled across the Bay in Studio C at Heider's — their home, with rare exception, for the remainder of their recording career. “That was a good room,” Gary recalls. “You could put a lot of instruments in there and you didn't have to worry about baffling.”
Gary set up his mics in a consistent manner, one that Fogerty took to immediately from the first “Green River” session. “He came in, I got everything miked up and listened to them play a little bit, then John came into the booth and we went through it. My approach was not to add any EQ; just bring it up and go from there.”
The main workhorse mic for Gary's Creedence sessions was the Shure SM56, which was applied to nearly every instrument and, on one occasion only — the “Green River” single — to Fogerty's vocal. “Those were nice mics,” the engineer notes, “because they had a natural peak at around 2k or 4k. I don't know why, but that mic made instruments sparkle a little bit without funny EQ.”
Gary placed an SM56 on both Fogerty's guitar amp (alternately a Kustom or tweaked Fender Vibrolux) and on brother Tom Fogerty's Kustom. “I'd use close-miking — not directly in the center of the cone, but off, just so it wouldn't be so trebly,” he says. Cook's bass was recorded direct and with an SM56 on the speaker cabinet.
Each piece of Clifford's Camco drum kit was also miked with an SM56, though the snare required a second mic, a Sony C37 condenser. “Doug used a big Camco snare. It was a big wooden snare, and the rattles were so far down below that the mics could barely hear it. By the time we got to Cosmo's Factory, I did start putting an SM56 underneath the snare to get some more of the rattles in.” At Fogerty's request, the snare was recorded through one of Heider's echo chamber returns — from Chamber 4, Gary's favorite. “I printed the return right in with the snare,” he says. “If we wanted something and we knew it was right, we'd do it.”
Another unique part of the CCR drum sound was Clifford's large-diameter hi-hat. “That was an 18-inch hi-hat,” Gary says. “I've never recorded anyone who used cymbals that large. And if you hear Doug and Stu play with their band today, you can really tell that identifying sound between those guys.” Gary placed a Sony C37A on the crash and a U87 on the ride. Another U87 was placed about six feet behind the drum kit for ambience. “When you're close-miking, everything sounds real up-front. Not only did the room mic capture ambience from the drums, it captured some of the other instruments, as well.”
The mics led to the Frank DeMedio custom-built recording console. “That thing was built like a tank,” Gary recalls. “It was just a beautifully made board. The harnesses were like the Golden Gate Bridge, it was made so well.” The desk was built with Universal Audio components, including UA 550 rackmount equalizer/filter sets normaled to the first eight faders, but otherwise very little EQ was available on the console. “It had some 5k and some 10k and a little something around 100, and then maybe 50,” a situation both Gary and Fogerty were quite comfortable with. Outboard Lang and Pultec equalizers were available, but rarely used. “When I was recording in my garage, I never had any EQ. I just kind of moved the mics around to get what I was after. So I had that same mindset when I recorded at Heider's. John worked hard to get the source that the microphones heard sounding really good, so he liked it, as well. There was not a lot of EQ on Creedence music. You just put good microphones out there and put them in the right spot.”
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