George Thorogood occupies a unique space in the history of blues. To my knowledge, he may be the only rocker to not only record and tour but also alternate as a semi-professional baseball player. This was in the ’70’s at the height of his popularity, don’t know if he’s still doing it. (He’s a NY Mets fan.)
Thorogood started out as a solo performer in the ’70’s and went on to form a band with some high school friends who called themselves the Delaware Destroyers. (George is from Wilmington.) The band became known for their incredibly high-energy blues-rock fests, largely consisting of jacked-up versions of old blues tunes.
George traveled the blues circuit in the ’70’s and was friends with Jimmy Thackery of the Nighthawks. One night in D.C, per Wikipedia, “At midnight, by prior arrangement, while both bands played Elmore James’ “Madison Blues, Thorogood and Thackery left their clubs, met in the middle of M Street, exchanged guitar patch cords and went on to play with the opposite band in the other club.” It was that kinda scene.
Famously, George signed up with Rounder Records, a Massachusetts-based label founded by three college friends who had a love of folk, old country, and bluegrass music. (Since moved to Nashville.) I recall at the time that some accused Rounder of selling out as the Destroyers could not have been further from their stated genre. Their defense, if you will, is that George was trafficking in blues which fit their label.
“We’d released a few blues records, mainly field recordings, but George was as electrifying on stage back then as he is now,” says Rounder Music Group Vice President of A&R Scott Billington. “It was the same time that punk rock was becoming popular, and it was the right time for someone to come along with a true back-to-basics approach.
George was so passionate about the music he played and the musicians he respected so much, whether it was John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed or Hank Williams. Like the British Invasion before, he brought these songs to new audiences and made them come alive in a whole new way.”
Whatever the reason, George made Rounder and Rounder made George. Recorded in 1977 in Boston, where George and band were then located, the Destroyers hit the ground running with their eponymous debut album.
Radio back then was a mix of punk, disco, and bands like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. Relatively speaking, blues was nowhere. But George put it back on the map and his cover of John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” was an FM staple. George combined it with another Hooker song, “House Rent Boogie.”
I tell you George was HOT back then. We saw him play at the now-defunct Harvard Square Theater one fine night. (Same place where Jon Landau a few years prior said he’d seen the future of rock and roll and his name was Bruce Springsteen.) The guy puts on a Springsteen-level show, not necessarily in terms of duration but every bit his equal in energy and showmanship. The two best live performers I think I’ve ever seen.
In a never-to-be-repeated situation, as we were leaving the show that night long ago, some guy working there said, “Hey I have some tickets for the second show. Want ’em?” So we bought them and went right back in and danced on the seats for another hour and a half. If I did that today I’d need a respirator, a nurse and a box of Wheaties.
Like AC/DC, George has two speeds – fast and faster. Hard and harder. Here’s George and company updating Hank Willams’ “Move It On Over.” To quote the Stones he is live’r than you’ll ever be:
In fact, George was fishing in the same pond as the British rockers and so it wasn’t too long before he came to the attention of the Stones. The Stones have (mostly) always had good instincts in who to have as their opening act and in 1981, brought the Destroyers on their US tour.
I didn’t go to this show for some stupid reason but I recall it being broadcast on pay-per-view and going over to some guy’s house to party and watch it. In that same year, George did his 50/50 tour, fifty cities in fifty days. And lived to tell about it.
If Lonesome George has a signature song it’s one he wrote called, “Bad to the Bone.” Let Thorogood tell the story: “I wrote that song for Muddy Waters. I thought it was perfect for him. I’m bad to the bone? What could be better for Muddy? But he passed on it, so I gave it to Bo Diddley. He didn’t record it because he didn’t have a deal with a label at the time.
Finally I recorded it myself, and eventually, it turned into what it’s become. But you don’t think I would have loved to have one of those do it? I never saw it as a song for me. As for how successful it became, well, I don’t know why. I mean, there was no “Terminator 2” when I wrote it. Hell, there wasn’t even a “Terminator 1!” (Also used in Steven King’s Christine.)
I make a rich woman beg, I’ll make a good woman steal
I’ll make an old woman blush, and make a young woman squeal
I wanna be yours pretty baby, yours and yours alone
I’m here to tell ya honey, that I’m bad to the bone
George Thorogood, at the ripe old age of 67 is still out there on the road. According to his website, he’s hittin’ the road in the spring from Rhode Island up to the Great White North. I haven’t seen him in years but I think I might catch him this time. Hell, if he can stand up there and do it for a couple of hours, I guess I can boogie like it’s 1999.
Oh, one more thing. Can he do Chuck Berry? Please. “It Wasn’t Me.” Play loud for maximum impact: