By Lorraine Kay
In April 2007, George Thorogood was winding up his tour in Southern California at the House of Blues in Anaheim. He played to a sold-out crowd that went wild throughout the concert, including a totally wild redhead in front of us that caused much frustration to ourselves and those seated around us. She just couldn’t get it when the security guys asked her politely to not stand up and dance in the balcony area in front of the handicapped section in front of us and the fans seated in wheelchairs. She was totally unable to control her enthusiasm. That is the effect Mr. Thorogood has on his fans.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers can still pack a wallop with their music. Covering the vocals and guitar work, George was joined on stage by Jeff Simon on drums, Bill Blough on bass, Jim Suhler on guitars and back up vocals and Buddy Leach on Sax. The band delivered a 14 song set that included classic Destroyer tunes and some new songs from their latest CD “Hard Stuff”. In fact the show opened with one of the new tunes, “Rock Party” from “Hard Stuff. It was followed by the classics; “Who Do You Love” from “Move It On Over”, “The Fixer” from “Ride ‘Til I Die”, “Nighttime” from “More George Thorogood & The Destroyers”, “I Drink Alone” from “Maverick”, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” from “George Thorogood & The Destroyers” and “Cocaine Blues” from “Move It On Over”. Then the band introduced another new track from “Hard Stuff” – “I Got My Eyes On You” before breaking out another classic “Bad To The Bone” from “Bad To The Bone” followed bt a couple more classics – “Gear Jammer” from Maverick and “Move It On Over” from “Move It On Over”. Another new tune from “Hard Stuff” – “Love Doctor”, also proved to be a crowd pleaser. For an encore, the crowd continued to go wild for “You Talk Too Much”, from “Born To Be Bad” and “Madison Blues” from “George Thorogood & The Destroyers”.
After the concert I chatted with George on the phone.
LK. Hi George
LK. How Are you?
LK. Are you rested up from your tour, I understand you’ve been on vacation?
GT. Well I don’t really take vacations but I take breaks in -between tours. Usually Oct. to March is my weekend.
LK. Well, I saw that you have more gigs coming up
GT. Well, you know I have been trying to get away from this thing but they keep calling up and I go, “Hey! I got things to do, I have to watch the Love Boat and I have a new couch I gotta break in.” But they go, “Well, we want you to come over here and play “Bourbon, Scotch and Beer.” And I go, “But I already played there,” But they say, “But we want you again.” So, you know, I ain’t cheap but I can be had. You know how it works.
LK. Well, I for one am glad you are stil playing. It’s been a while but it just doesn’t seem that the new players have an understanding of rock and roll or the blues.
GT. You’d be surprised, from day one how few people did have an understanding of rock and roll. There was a brief period. From 1975 on generally most of the buying public saw somebody with long hair playing loud with a guitar in a band and thought it was the real thing. And then you go – “well it’s there in volume”. But its not there in substance. I mean I’ve actually had people come to me and say, Thin Lizzy or Molly Hatchet – they’re just as good as Led Zeppelin or better. And I go “What?”Are you out of your mind? Led Zeppelin? Because they hear the sound and the look. And I say, I know the difference between who is better Buddy Guy or some clown just making a mockery of it. 90% of the people don’t. They don’t quite get it. I always say, Led Zeppelin became great to the edge. They are R rated. After that became X rated. That’s all it was after that.
LK. But, bless their hearts, some of these kids are going out there and they have three chords down and they have the 12 bar pattern down and a pentatonic scale, but can you really play the blues if you haven’t lived it?
GT. Or unless you’ve witnessed as our band has been fortunate to do only because of our age. Witnessed, worked with, or somehow mingled with the original blues greats like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howling Wolf, Now we’re the last band that really had any exposure to that. That’s why I say we’re the last band. And they go, “Well, you‘re not the last band.” And I go, “Wait a minute, yes, we are.” I’ve talked to Johnny Lang and I’ve talked to Kenny Wayne Shepard and they never saw Muddy Waters live. They never saw Howling Wolf. We opened for those people. So when I run iinto Fogerty or Santana or Steve Miller they are almost shocked that I know who those people are let alone that I have worked with them. They’re going “YOU?” Well what do you think I am? 18 years old? I mean come on?
LK. Well that should make you feel good they think you’re young.
GT. Yeah, but on the other hand I went to learn from the knees of the masters what they did. And until you do that … It’s nobody’s fault. That’s why I tell every budding, up and coming guitarist coming up, “Go see Buddy Guy, Go see B.B. King or Taj Mahal. They’re the last of that breed.” There will never be another after that. I mean B.B. King… I sat two feet in front of Muddy Waters and heard him play “Walking Blues” by Robert Johnson. You can’t get any closer to it than that. He was playing in a room with about 80 people in it and his whole band was there. That was when Blues was not exactly at its peak and I was fortunate enough to hear that. And I mean Robert Johnson is the ultimate end of it all. He’s where it all came from. I’ll give you an interesting story.
I did a gig with Sonny Terry and Randy McGee. I opened for them. And Randy McGee said, “You sound pretty good. Where have you been playing?” I said, “I’ve been playing on street corners.” And he said, “There’s no money playing on the street, you have to play in a club.” And I said, “Yeah…” And then he said, “You know who told me that story?” And I said, “No”. He said, “I was playing on a street corner. I was a street musician in New York City and a man walked right by me with his wife and he was dressed like a millionaire, and the guy pointed to me and said, “You’re not going to make any money out here, you gotta go in the club.” That guy was Lead Belly. And so Lead Belly said that to Randy McGee and Randy McGee said it to me. So that’s a connection.
It’s like, you know what Ellen Barkin can tell her children? She worked in a movie with James Cagney. She worked in a movie with Robert DeNiro. She worked in a movie with Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson. You see what I am saying. She got connected to the stuff that’s connected. And that’s a valuable thing to have. And I see people playing and I go, “You can’t play rock and roll right because you can’t even play the blues right and that’s where it comes from. So any band that doesn’t get that… I mean Robert Plant and Jimmy Paige are two of the biggest blues freaks in the world, So is Keith Richards. And that’s what I can’t impress on these young people. They go,”Well, I want to play like Keith Richards”. And I say, “Well, then you gotta learn to play like the people he dug or you ain’t gonna get there. That’s just standard. Acting is not like that. You say the name Marlon Brando or James Cagney to young actos today and it means something. They perk up and listen. You say certain things to people. I just talked to a guy and mentioned the name Ralph Cramden. He didn’t know who I was talking about. And I said “The Honeymooners? Jackie Gleason? What are you talking about?” So there are things you keep and others you move on. Granted over the generations it gets watered down a little bit but I’m still fortunate that I have these things to draw from. Besides if I hadn’t played with Howling Wolf or Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker, Elvin Bishop and Eric Clapton would never talk to me. It’s as simple as that. You know, Steve Miller’s now my buddy. I was standing on the stage one time and I said, to Elvin Bishop – (I was watching Steve Miller) and I said “You know man, all I could dream of was when I was 20 years old was to learn the blues, learn the roots of rock and roll and learn it properly so I could just dare to dream to be a part of this fraternity. And Elvin Bishop put his arm around me and said “Not only do you belong – you’re one of us.” Do you know what that made me feel like.? Come on. Think about that. What if Robert DeNiro put his arm around Edward Norton and said, “Hey you’re one of us, Pal.” That’s the greatest reward you could possibly have. Money pays the bills, but that’s a true reward that you can walk with the masters. Would you want to walk with Joni Mitchell? Well, there you go.
LK. Now you joke about only knowing one chord, but I have played your songs and I know you know more than three chords.
GT. Sometimes a writer or an actor will blow you away with three chords. I was watching a movie called “Flesh and Bone” starring James Caan and Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid. It’s Gwenyth Paltrows’s first movie and she’re riding in the car. It’s her first scene in the movie – she get’s picked up – she’s a hitchhiker. Meg Ryan is chatting on about what a good person she is. And she says, “See I’m a good person”. And the camera goes over to Gweneth Paltrow and she takes a drag off her cigarette and she says, “I’m not.” It blew me away – two words. You see what I’m saying. Sometimes it’s all it takes to get the job done.
LK. Well you definitely get the job done and I thoroughly enjoy your music. It’s raw. It’s gritty. It has attitude.
GT. Yeah it has that.
LK. You have energy and you’re fun. I like your stuff. And Destroyers is a good name.
GT. Our motto is “Uneasy Listening.” No one is going to mistake us for Barry Manilow.
LK. Is it hard to maintain all that energy or do you ever feel like – Oh I don’t think I want to do it tonight?
GT. Not so much. If you get your rest you’re going to be able to do it. I look at people and say if you can’t get up – you got 1,000 to 4,000 people out there screaming their heads off before you even step on stage and if that doesn’t get your adrenalin going and make you want to get out there and perform then you are in the wrong business. I look at it this way, you have three ways to go – the three Ds I call them. Demand, which is of course how much money are they gonna pay me. Delivery – you gotta play great and the main thing – the Desire. When any one of those three elements goes, I’m going. Sure, a hitter goes 0 for 4 and he goes I’m retiring. He goes out the next night and hits a grand slam and he says I’m never gonna quit. That’s just human nature.
LK. So brag to me a bit about the new CD.
GT. It’s called ‘The Hard Stuff” on Eagle records. We do about three to four of those songs in the show. There are worst records out. I stand behind it like I stand behind all our records. I won’t say it’s the best thing we’ve ever done, but I won’t say it’s the worst thing we’ve ever done. It’s worth the price you pay.
LK. Yes, it does have that good ol’ George Thorogood signature all over it, but is there anything different that you want to point out?
GT. Well it has that accordion thing in the Fats Domino song “Hello Josephine” which is not our expertise really. It has a kind of nice little acoustic piece that Jeff and I do. And Johnny Shines’ does a take off of Robert Johnson’s “Terra Plane Blues”. It’s got a comedy song called “I DIDN”T KNOW?” Then it has a couple of standard songs that were tailor made for the Destroyers such as “Rock Party”. “Love Doctor” is a very nice little tongue and cheek type of deal. Then we gave a Bob Dylan song a shot. So I didn’t stretch it out on purpose. I just kept going and they kept adding song after song. I’m not very fond of records with a lot of songs on them. I’m fond of ones that have 10 or 11 that are all really good songs – whether one is an extreme hit or not. It’s very tough for me to listen to blood on the tracks by Dylan and pick out my favorite song. They’re all good. I can’t pick out my favorite song from “Moondance”. That’s the way I like to do an album. I’ve had people listen to it and they’ll say, “Oh, I like that one or I like this one.” The next one will go, “Oh, this is my favorite one.” And the next one wll say, “Oh, this is the one I like the best.” And after about eight songs… I will go, “Wait a minute. You said every one was your favorite.” That’s what you go for. It’s kind of like the menu when you get your meal. The salad should compliment the steak and the steak should compliment the dessert. It should all run together.
LK. How did you get into this crazy music business? Did you play music as a child or come from a musical family?
GT. No, I started when I was about 21. I sure as hell knew that congress wasn’t going to hire me to work at the Pentagon and I wasn’t sitting there waiting for Marlon Brando to call me. It was inevitable that’s where I was going to make my living. Everybody knew it – my family, my friends, my neighborhood. It finally came to me when they were all going – “When are you going to do it? This is what you were made to do.” And I knew how much hard work was ahead of me. When I started Led Zeppelin was all the rage, so was Rod Stewart. Rock had become so progressive that I knew it was going to be a hard market to crack because the talent at the time was just massive. The number one album at the time was “Moondance”. The number one band at the time was Zeppelin. Rod Stewart was the main hot new kid on the block. I knew I couldn’t sing like those people. I knew I couldn’t play guitar like Hendrix or Santana And I certainly couldn’t write like Dylan. And let’s face it, I don’t exactly look like Warren Beatty, Ok? So you make it on three things, either your looks or your talent. All right. So I said I have a hard road to hoe here but I knew I was cut out for nothing else but this. So when I started it was all business – from day one. And it’s going to be all business for another couple of years and then I’m gonna start playing for fun. Like Chuck Berry says, “When you get older you can do it for fun. Then all you gotta do is play your hits.”
LK. Were there other bands before the Destroyers?
GT. A few.
LK. How did the Destroyers first get together.
GT. Pretty much out of necessity. I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a soloist and I needed a band. I knew a couple of cats. One of the guys was a drummer that didn’t have anything else to do with his time. I used to see him all the time and I heard him play at a party once and I said, “This guy is as good as anybody or he will be some day.” So we decided to start a band and all we needed was a third person – a bass player. Kind of a trio Canned Heat type of thing or a Delaware version of ZZ Top. Not that we were copying ZZ Top. I didn’t even know they existed then. We were just a three-piece boogie band. We had to do that to get off the ground. It was tough. It’s starting to lighten up a little bit now.
LK. You seem like the type of performer that thrives on live gigs over studio work, is that so?
GT. Oh, God yes. Oh man. Don’t let anyone tell you that studio work isn’t difficult. Cause they’re lying to you. They may enjoy it. But I’ve never really enjoyed it. There’s time when it’s tolerable. There are times when I have said, “I had a lot of fun today.” It depends on the tune. If I’m doing a tune I’m knocked out about – sure I’ll do take after take just because I like the song. It’s like an actor will do take after take cause he likes the scene. But in general, I know it’s a means to an end. I know I need those records to keep current and to keep the show on the road, but there’s many people in this business that are not all sane. There are certain people that have made very good records but their notoriety is their life statement. Like Tom Jones or Madonna. That’s what people remember them for. And that’s what I’m about. And I didn’t really choose that. That’s just the way it works out. There are some people that make these incredibly great records and snooze on stage. And that’s not their fault. They just don’t have it. I get into the studio and I go, “Man this is really tough to do.” When I get in front of an audience my brain wakes up and I become more creative when I’m on the stage. If I was an actor I would have to be a stage actor. To be a stage actor and be in front of a live audience and get the line right – perfect with the double take. A second take or third take cause you didn’t say this word right, that would be very hard on my nerves, as it is in the studio. “Let me hear you sing this one line again.” And I say, “All the lines are important.” I can’t sing one line. I have to sing the whole song. You can’t just sing one word. And that happens sometimes. And that’s not something I enjoy. It’s like going up to a woman and saying “I love you” and having her say, “Just say the word ‘’you’ again.” Well, I can’t do that. I have to say it all at once.
LK. What would you do with yourself if you couldn’t play live anymore?
GT. Stand-up Comedy.