Music News

George Thorogood's Singular Career Hits 40

Ask George Thorogood how he's doing, he'll likely answer, "Bad." Then, after leaving his interviewer wondering, he'll follow up with "bad to the bone." Somehow, it all seems pretty predictable, even expected, from the Delaware Destroyer some 40 years into a career — and 32 years after his biggest hit, coining said phrase, was released — that's been predicated on a singular style of bluesy rock.

"I didn't think anybody would get used to Thorogood," he offers.

Well, the reality is, for those who like his brand of rough-and-tumble playing full of fat bluesy riffs and power-boogie stomp, it's pretty easy. There's not much difference between Thorogood's first album and the last. Inspired by a bevy of blues and rock slide guitarists, including John Hammond, Duane Allman, and Elvin Bishop, he discovered a style that worked — and stuck with it.

"When I first picked up the guitar and got serious about it, I had to wonder, 'Do you think you could ever play like Carlos Santana or Jeff Beck? No. Did you ever think you could sing like Roger Daltrey or Robert Plant? No, you won't. Would you ever be able to write songs like Bob Dylan can or Joni Mitchell can? . . . I said no. Then what can you do? I can put together a blues band and make a living doing that.' So, that's what I did," he says.

The formula spawned a number of hits, most notably "Bad to the Bone," "Move It On Over," Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love," "I Drink Alone," and Amos Milburn's "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer."

It was the last song that caused Thorogood the most angst. With it slated to appear on his debut album, the record label initially withheld the album's release.

"We had all our chips staked on 'One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer' . . . and it wasn't an original. So if some other . . . established rock act recorded it, I would have had to start all over again," he says, anger still in his voice. "That was our tune, at least at that time. It broke us like 'Time Is on My Side' broke the Stones . . . We had this song and we knew, we knew. And it sat on the Rounder [Records] shelf for 18 months. That's a long time."

Rounder's reasoning? They had issues with the cover photos, one of which had been shot with a Polaroid camera.

"It was all I could do; what could I do?" he asks, the anger rising again. "We were playing for a buck twenty a night, I had no choice. I was drowning."

Eventually, suitable cover images were created, though Thorogood wasn't available to proof the final product. In the pre-Internet era, his drummer could only provide the details over the phone.

"I said, 'You could make it a black cover like Spinal Tap for all I care. Get the motherfucker out there.'"

Thorogood's intuition proved correct; he'd found that something that worked. Moreover, he's still doing that something, pretty much the same as always.

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Glenn BurnSilver
Contact: Glenn BurnSilver