It’s been a year since the release of George Thorogood’s last record, the highly acclaimed back-to-Chess-roots salute 2120 South Michigan Avenue, featuring snazzy rocking interpretations of songs by Sonny Boy Williamson, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, yet the guitar player remains on the road, playing songs that have been a part of his repertoire for many years. And this is the very reason that Thorogood has been able to lay these tracks down and do them justice. They are in his blood and a part of his inner chemical balance. His gravelly bad ass vocals with a 50’s kick come alive on such humdingers as “Help Me,” “Mama Talk To Your Daughter” and “Willie Dixon’s Gone.”
Thorogood recently took a day from his rock & roll ramblings to talk about the record and the 30th anniversary of one of his most famous songs, “Bad To The Bone.” Be forewarned, Thorogood has a healthy sense of humor that makes for an interesting
interview. So buckle up and get ready for a fun ride with the rascally George Thorogood.
George Thorogood at your service
Great, wonderful …
You said great and wonderful. I’ll take that.
So what are you doing today? I don’t know why you’re doing all these interviews all day long …
You and me both. I don’t understand either. I mean, I got Scorsese calling, Nicholson, Streisand, you know how it is.
Yeah, but it’s the middle of baseball season
Well, you see, rock & roll never sleeps. It just passes out.
Are you out there on the road?
No, I’m doing PR work right now. I work for a major record label doing public relations, promoting one of the hottest acts in rock & roll history right now – George Thorogood & The Destroyers. And it’s a full time job, let me tell you. But the pay is good.
I hear that we’re coming up on the 30th anniversary of Bad To The Bone. Can you believe it?
It’s funny you should ask because it wasn’t that popular when we first did it. It was ok but it didn’t catch on till rock classic radio picked it up in the 90’s. Before that it was just kind of dormant. We did it in a show and people were kind of like, eh ok. But they wanted to hear “One Bourbon, One Scotch” and “Move It On Over.” “Bad To the Bone” was kind of like in there but rock classic radio got created and put that on their medium rotation or whatever and that is when the song took off.
I remember and I don’t think you could go anywhere in the past 20 years where you didn’t hear that song somewhere.
Yes, I’m like an incurable rampant disease. An innocuous one but I’m still there.
Your last recording was the wonderful 2120 South Michigan Avenue, which came out last year. Those are some great songs you picked to be on there.
Well, I’ve been listening to them for so long, and off and on playing most of them, so it was kind of second nature to get them recorded; most of them anyway. The song “2120 South Michigan,” I used to be in a band in high school, like back in 1967, and we used to do it in a battle of the bands. We used to lead off with it. Another one is “Let It Rock,” everybody has done that and it’s a great sound check song. Everybody’s done “Spoonful” somewhere along the line. And “Seventh Son” is kind of a natural for us. I’m just so glad Elvis Presley didn’t do that first (laughs). He would have done that great.
I’ve heard you talk about Johnny Rivers when talking about 2120 South Michigan Avenue. My dad used to play his records a lot when I was very young. “Memphis” was a favorite.
Yeah, I’m a Johnny Rivers freak myself. He’s got some other great ones too – “Poor Side Of Town” and “Summer Rain.” He’s just a great artist. He makes an impression on you: Johnny Rivers Live At The Whisky a Go Go.
You grew up in Delaware, correct?
Yeah, northern Delaware
How did you discover that old nasty blues music? Was there a radio station that you could pick up?
No, no, I just listened to top 40 like everybody else. I got the first couple of Rolling Stones records and on the back they kept referring to artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. And I started thinking, aha, so this is where they got their sound from. So I started listening to those people and I said, well, who did Chuck Berry listen to? Well, he listened to Muddy Waters. So who did Muddy Waters listen to? And they said Robert Johnson and people like that. So one thing led to another and that’s how I got into that kind of music, through the Rolling Stones.
Who would you say was the biggest blues player to influence you?
Probably John Lee Hooker more than anything. His style was so primitive, and I won’t say it’s easy to play, but it wasn’t complicated. Therefore I was able to, and I won’t say master it, but I was able to get on top of his style. He really influenced me a lot.
Who was the first blues artist that you met?
Well, I met him in 1966, I met Chuck Berry. That was pretty cool. I figured this is the man that The Beatles and the Rolling Stones looked up to so this was the biggest thing that could ever happen to me, meeting this man. And he was the first recording artist I ever saw so I was ruined after that. I was only sixteen when I saw him and I was hooked after that. There was no looking back. I didn’t really do anything about it until another four or five years. I said, you’re out of high school now, what are you going to do? Dig ditches for the rest of your life? You going to work at the car wash? You going to sell produce? Or are you going to put some effort into this thing and become a rock artist? And that’s when I started to go to work. But it was pretty much meeting Chuck Berry where I said, this is what I want to do with my life. I was very, very lazy for my late-teen years; just hung out listening and all that. Finally, my parents came to me and said, “When?” (laughs) That’s the word they used, “When?”
When did you get your first guitar? How old were you?
Fifteen, as a Christmas gift
Were you happy with it?
No, I wanted a case of Encyclopedia Britannica instead (laughs). No, I wanted a science kit. I got an electric guitar and the album Rubber Soul by The Beatles and I was very pissed off (laughs). What do you think – it was the greatest Christmas gift a guy could get.
How long did it take you to learn how to play the guitar?
About two years. I started playing when I was twenty-one. I got the guitar and I played it for about a month and I put it down and decided I just wanted to be a singer and didn’t fool around with the guitar again till I was twenty or twenty-one years old. Then I did a crash course on the guitar and it took about two years to get on top of it.
You seem like a very personable guy, always having a good time. Was it comfortable when you were first getting on a stage performing?
Yeah always. It was comfortable for me, not always comfortable for others.
Is there anyone left that you would like to jam with on stage?
I don’t like to jam at all (laughs). I like to perform. I’m not much of a jammer.
Ok, who would you like to perform with?
My list is the same as anybody else’s: McCartney, Dylan, Tom Jones (laughs). I’m not like anybody else, you know.
Back in the early 1980’s, you got to open for the Rolling Stones on their tour. What was it like being on tour with them?
It felt very natural to me. It was exciting but at the same time, I felt like it was my destiny to begin with. After all, you got to understand, Leslie, I’ve been honing my act since 1966/1967, to be the opening act for the Rolling Stones. I mean, that was my whole gig. So when it happened, I was a little shocked that it didn’t happen sooner, cause our first record came out in 1977 and it wasn’t till 1981, which is a good four or five years later, that we ended up touring with them and the J Geils Band. I said, this is my destiny, this is where I belong. Like James Caan being in a movie with Marlon Brando. It’s what it was all about. It was a thrill but at the same time I was, I could handle it.
You played New Orleans on that tour but I was grounded and didn’t get to go.
Yeah, we had the dubious distinction of going on after the Neville Brothers in New Orleans and before the Rolling Stones. And I had a 105 degree temperature with one hour’s sleep. Lucky me, right. And it was our forty-fourth day in a row. And that was the first night that Mick Jagger came out to hear us play. Boy, I’ve got great timing, don’t I?
So what are you going to do for the rest of the year?
I’m on stage for the rest of the year. When I get to go back in the studio is anybody’s guess.
It’s well-known that you are a big Mets fan. How long have you liked them and why the Mets?
I started to become a Mets fan in 1968. They were pretty bad and I didn’t have any expectations. It made it easy to watch them. They won two games in a row and I was happy for the rest of the year.
Last question: What is your all-time favorite song to play?
To play on stage? All of them.
So you don’t just have one that you get really excited about?
How could a mother choose their favorite child?
Sevendust guitar player John Connolly spent his break time recording songs with some of his buddies, resulting in the band Projected and the new CD, Human. MY ROOTS sat down in the midst of hurricane Isaac to chat with Connolly about his youth, his new music and what it was like playing for the troops in the danger zone of Iraq & Afghanistan.