George Thorogood and the Destroyers have been rockin' since the '70s and show no signs of stopping. They will be at the South Okanagan Events Centre on May 20 for what will probably be a sold out show.
I had the privilege of speaking to George Thorogood, and I must say, he can be a very funny guy. He set the tone for the interview when I asked him how he was doing and he replied, "I'm doing bad."
He was of course, making fun of the popularity of Bad to the Bone. Those first five notes are as recognizable as the first four in Beethoven's Fifth. According to Thorogood, that is what keeps their profile going. "Most people write songs for that purpose, it happened by coincidence for us. There was no MTV back then - no rock music at sporting events. It accumulated over the years and has kept our head above water."
Then he laughed as he recalled time he spent with Hank Williams Jr. "Hank is one of those people who puts his face right up against your nose and you have to push them back a couple inches. The first time I saw him he stuck his nose right up to mine. He just stared at me for about four seconds and then went 'dun da da dun dun'. After that, whenever there was a lull in the day he'd just look at me and go 'dun da da dun dun'."
Thorogood knew from the age of 15 he would make his living as a performer. Back then he just sang and didn't play any musical instruments. "I never thought I would achieve anything as a guitarist. At the time I was listening to everything: Zeppelin, the Stones, Howling Wolf. Then one day I went and saw John Hammond and realized it [playing guitar] was something I could do. It was like that scene in the Blues Brothers movie when the light hits him. That was me when I saw John Hammond. I had to start somewhere and the blues was a great place to start."
Thorogood instinctively knew the song One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer would be a hit; in fact, it was the premise for putting his band together. "When I heard Bourbon, Scotch, Beer, I knew that if I didn't cut it, J. Geils Band or the Allman brothers would. Dean Martin could have done it and made it a hit."
That song, originally written by Rudy Toombs, was recorded by Amos Milburn in 1953. Then in 1966 it was made popular by John Lee Hooker. "I went to see John Lee play for the first time back when the blues was gospel," Thorogood paused. "Back then white people sat at the feet of black bluesmen and nobody moved an inch. Then I go see John Lee Hooker and people were dancing. I thought 'Dancing to the blues? It's just not done!' When he played people danced and those people were all women. The song they danced to was One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One beer. They weren't even smilin' when they danced… they meant business! I went home and learned that song because you know, in music, if chicks get behind you, you are in."
George Thorogood and the Destroyers have been in for some time now; however, it took several years and a chance meeting to convince Thorogood he'd made it. Even though they'd opened for the Stones in '81, he still didn't realize how high up the music ladder he and the Destroyers had climbed.
"It was long after we opened for the Stones that I got it," said Thorogood. "We had been touring about 15 years and I was still just boogieing around and trying to make a living. I went into a hotel and was just sitting there. Eric Clapton was there too and I noticed he was smiling at me. I had to be convinced to go over and talk to him. After all it was Eric Clapton, there was no way he was going to come over and talk to me. So I went over and introduced myself. I said something like 'umm, aaahhh, ummmm,' I really didn't know what to say. This was Eric Clapton. He got very serious and looked me in the eye and said 'You're George Thorogood, don't ever forget that.' Before that it never sank in."
Thorogood also admires Tom Jones as a performer. "I've seen Tom Jones four times and he is better each time. He is a confident heterosexual." He paused and I asked what he meant by that.
"Tom has an incredible passion for what he does. He came from a hard-core, working-class, coal miner background in Wales. He got his break at 25 or so yet he still has that edge. That thing that says 'I don't want to go back to the mines'. [Paul] McCartney has that too. They don't want to go back to where the came from. They still have that edge. I put every ounce of energy into my shows. I used to work in a car wash and work at the produce stand. You take that with you onto the stage. I'm not going back. It's confidence with an edge."
George Thorogood and the Destroyers were recently nominated in the Rock Blues Album category for the 2012 Blues Music Awards. The album pays homage to Chess Records (thus the address) and the men who made the music that had such an influence on his life. Thorogood's favourite song on the album is Bo Diddley.
"Bo Diddley is everywhere. Everyone agrees," said Thorogood. "Listen to classic rock, he emerges every time; listen to Magic Carpet Ride or Hush, listen to the organ. He's everywhere! Listen to the Doors. You can't deny the man. Sympathy for the Devil, Magic Bus… the Bo Diddley rhythm is everywhere. Once that Bo Diddley beat hits, everyone goes crazy. "
Thorogood is not thrilled with being nominated for the album. He once called nominations and awards a curse. "We are not supposed to be nominated. That's the charm of the Destroyers. It's like when Dennis Leary got his television show. Then he went legit. He broke my heart. I told him it was up to me to be the guy that never goes to the prom," he laughed, "and now I've been invited to the prom - not me!"
Despite the nomination curse, Thorogood, now in his 60s is still a touring artist. Anyone who has seen him knows he gives 100% to his fans. I asked how he could keep his energy so high with such a busy touring schedule.
"I have never underestimated the value of a good nights sleep. I advocate plenty of rest. Tom Seaver trained himself to sleep for 12 hours a night and on days before he pitched he slept for 14 hours. [Roberto] Clemente used to sleep for 17 hours before a game. Tom Jones was like that too; he gets his rest. He'll sleep up until eight o'clock and hit the stage at nine - then look out!"
Thorogood also got similar advice from his parents. "My father taught me that whenever you can get out of work – take it. And Mom always said whenever you can get horizontal – do it. My Dad is almost 100 and mom made it to 94. I get as much rest as I can especially since I've gotten older. It's not just the rule on tour – it's the law."
The rhythm section of the Destroyers, (Jeff Simon on drums and Billy Blough on bass) have been with Thorogood since the beginning in 1973. Guitarist Jim Suhler has been with the band since 1999 and sax player Buddy Leach since 2003. Thorogood let me in on his secret to keeping a good band together.
"I respect them," he said and then added, "Do you know what that means?" He had me on the spot. I thought I knew what he meant but I could tell by his tone that I didn't. He let me stew for a moment and then laughed. "It means I pay well. If you want the best people you've got to pay them."
Thorogood has produced about 25 albums to date; even he couldn't tell me the exact number. That's a lot of music and a lot of memories for his fans.
"You know, once you get to the end of the line, all you've got is your memories," he said. "You listen to the old people talk, they don't talk about money. They talk about memories. Memories are the gems of your life. I read Robert Redford's book and I was disappointed. All he does is complain," Thorogood laughed. "Hey Bob, what about how many people you've made happy!? That's what you are about when you are an entertainer. You want people to say I'll never forget that. That's your job… to entertain."
He paused and added, "Life is short. Your memories are all you've got. McCartney is that guy – the one who creates the big memories. Me, I am just making a small contribution."
It may be small in Thorogood's eyes, but in the eyes of his fans, it is huge and they'll be showing him just how huge on May 20th at the SOEC. For tickets, click here.