by Blake Maddux –
The Delaware-born George Thorogood released his first album with his band The Destroyers in 1977. This was the first taste that the record-buying public would have of a singer and guitarist who was as capable of putting his own stamp on songs by legendary blues, folk, and country artists as he was of composing musical calling cards like “I Drink Alone” and “Bad to the Bone.”
Now in his fourth decade as a professional performer, Thorogood will be bringing his Badder Than Ever Tour to Lynn Auditorium on Saturday, February 28. Among those joining him on stage will be Jeff Simon (drums) and Bill Blough (bass guitar), Destroyers since 1973 and 1977, respectively. (Opening the evening will be soul/R&B/rock ‘n’ roll vocalist Barrence Whitfield.)
Mr. Thorogood, who addressed me as *“Bad Blake,” spoke to me by phone in advance of his visit to town.
Blake Maddux: I presume that the weather is much nicer where you are, which is where?
George Thorogood: I swore under oath with the government not to give the whereabouts of my location.
Maddux: Fair enough. Let’s talk about your music, then. When you cover classic blues songs, do you hope to create new fans for the original artist as much as you hope to entertain your own crowd?
Thorogood: No, because most of the time when we do a tune, Bad Blake, it’s a tune no one’s heard of to begin with. The [2012 covers album] 2120 [South Michigan Ave.] was different. We covered a lot of classics there. But most of the time when we did it I always prided myself on digging up obscure songs that no one knew of. It was a project of mine to find these good tunes and bring them to the attention of the rock consciousness.
Maddux: Do you hope that people dig up the original versions and hear what great stuff they’ve been missing?
Thorogood: I hope not because the original versions, most of them weren’t that good. That’s why I re-did ‘em.
Maddux: People frequently write that your sound was deliberately in stark contrast to the prevailing trends of new wave and synth pop. We you actually a fan of either of those genres?
Thorogood: Well, anything that’s new wave is new. As far as punk rock goes, I’ve never really been exposed to any. I saw the movie Sid & Nancy. It was a pretty good movie. It didn’t really make me a punk rock fan. But anything that’s new, as long as it’s good I enjoy it. I mean, you could have said Elvis Presley was new wave when it happened. I heard Willy DeVille and Tom Petty and to me they were new wave really because they were new.
Maddux: Who would you say are some of the great blues guitarists of generations subsequent to yours, i.e., of the past two decades?
Thorogood: I don’t know. I haven’t really heard any because I’ve been a little busy. That Gary Clark, Jr.’s pretty good, but I only saw him once on Austin City Limits and you know, he was very good, but I can’t give up a total critique on a (laughs) 8-minute performance.
Maddux: Do you have a favorite instance of the use of one of your songs in commercial, television show, or movie?
Thorogood: All of them, yeah.
Maddux: In 2012, DelawareToday ranked you among the Most Influential Delawareans of the Past 50 Years. Do you know any of the other 49?
Thorogood: No, I never knew any of them personally, but I think there was a couple of them that they missed. I don’t understand why they didn’t put Dallas Greene in there. After all, he did win the world championship for the Phillies, their first [World Series] championship for the Phillies. I don’t understand how he was missed. And Randy White wasn’t in there either, who won the MVP for the Super Bowl one year. Not to say that I’m just a sports fan, but they’re very high-profile individuals who achieved something and they’re from Delaware. Why was I selected over top of those two? That kinda shocks me.
I mean, I’ve never met Mr. Green, I’ve never met Randy, but you can’t deny that they’ve achieved something. Just getting to the Super Bowl, winning MVP and just getting to the big leagues, a manager in the big leagues and winning the first world championship for the Philadelphia Phillies is a hell of an accomplishment.
Rock music is stronger than sports. That’s why. Rock rules. Around the world, who’s more famous: Willie Mays or Paul McCartney?
Maddux: What were some of the venues that you used to play in the 1970s when you were based in Boston?
Thorogood: We didn’t play very many venues in Boston, to tell you the truth. We played mostly in Connecticut. We played around the Massachusetts area. We played the SpeakEasy once but they didn’t like us. We played Bunratty’s once but they didn’t like us. (laughs) That’s about it.
Maddux: Where was the Live in Boston (recorded in 1982, released in 2010) album recorded?
Thorogood: Yeah, Bradford Hotel. In the combat zone. What used to be the combat zone. There is not combat zone anymore. Thank god!
Maddux: Do you think that some of the dedicated fans who were at that 1982 show will be at the Lynn Auditorium on February 28?
Thorogood: If they’re still alive, that’d be nice! That was a long time ago. (laughs)
Maddux: Well you don’t get to play rock music for 40 years without having a loyal, devoted audience.
Thorogood: That’s true. You have a fan base. You got that correct.
Maddux: Did you have a lot of blues records around the house growing up or did you discover that music on your own?
Thorogood: I did that on my own. It wasn’t my family that had anything to do with it. My father had a couple of Mitch Miller records and a Spike Jones record, and that was it. My older brother had two or three Elvis Presley singles, and that was about it. The rest of it I did on my own.
I figured if you want to get to where John Hammond is or Billy Gibbons is or Peter Wolf is, you have to start listening to the same stuff they did, and learn from that, and that’s what I did.
Maddux: I think that Bob Dylan once said that if you want to be the next Bob Dylan, listen to what I listened to, not to me.
Thorogood: Exactly. I said if you want to be Keith Richards, you’ve got to listen to Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. Then I thought, “What did Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry listen to?” I said, “They listened to Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.” Well who’d they listen to? They listened to Robert Johnson. I said, “Ok, we’ll start with that.”
Maddux: Who are some of your favorite musicians other than the many bluesmen whom you have covered?
Thorogood: I’m a big Marty Robbins fan. I love Marty Robbins. Of course, everybody does. That’s not such a big shock. I love Willy DeVille. He’s very missed. And I’m a Dylan freak, like everybody else. I love Hank Williams. Who doesn’t love Hank Williams? So my choices are not that surprising.
You see, I hate categories. Hank Williams is a great artist, period. Bob Dylan is a great artist, so is Marty Robbins. They just classify these people and put them in categories so they can sell the thing easier. How would you define Dylan? You can’t. That’s a true artist. How about Ray Charles? Can you classify Ray Charles? No, you can’t. He’s just great, period.
Maddux: How do European audiences differ from American audiences?
Thorogood: They talk different. The ones in Holland speak Dutch. The ones in Switzerland speak Swiss. (laughs) That’s the only difference.
Maddux: That looks like it’s about it. You have given me some very good answers to all of the questions that I had prepared.
Thorogood: Most of what I told you is true. (laughs)
Maddux: Oh, one more thing: How do you feel these days about your long-beloved New York Mets?
Thorogood: They’ve lived up to my expectations by struggling their way up to mediocrity.
Maddux: Great, thank you for your time.
Thorogood: Rock ‘n’ roll never sleeps it just passes out. Goodbye.
*Bad Blake is Jeff Bridges’ character in “Crazy Heart.”