Interview: George Thorogood


George Thorogood has been cranking it up for over four decades, with a catalog that encompasses smokin’ covers of classic songs like “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer”, “Move It On Over”, and “Who Do You Love?”, and blues-rock originals like “I Drink Alone” and “Bad to the Bone”. Along the way, he has sold over 15 millions albums and performed over 8000 concerts.

This interview was for a preview article for for the George Thorogood and The Destroyers concert on 3/2/17 at the Chumash Casino. It was done by phone on 2/21/17. (David Dobson photo)

Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at your upcoming show?

George Thorogood: They can look forward to seeing the greatest rock and roll show they’ve ever seen in the history of their life! How’s that? Let’s set the bar high [laughs].

JM: No pressure!

GT: Yeah, exactly.

JM: Your first album came out 40 years ago this year. What are your reflections on that album?

GT: They’re kind of mixed emotions. It was an album that was long overdue. I had been planning on that album ever since ’71, ’72, and we didn’t get together and record until ’76, and it didn’t come out until late ’77. So I was kind of mixed about it when people responded to it. I would say I could’ve recorded that about three years earlier.

JM: But it ended up doing well, right? Was it worth the wait?

GT: Well, I guess it was. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer” is still played on the radio, isn’t it?

JM: That’s true! What inspired you to do that song?

GT: Well, the song was a hit. I saw John Lee Hooker doing that, and I saw Brownie McGhee doing it, and I said, “This song’s a hit.” I was playing that song even before I put the band together, and Rounder Records came along and they said, “Well, if we’re going to make a record, that’s the song that we have to record.” And they were right. It’s a great song, and it would’ve been a great song no matter who did it. If Dean Martin had done it, or if Tom Waits had done it, or Aerosmith or J. Geils, the song’s a hit. I’m not a hit. The song’s a hit.

JM: You pasted the backstory onto the beginning of that song. I don’t think John Lee Hooker was doing it that way, was he?

GT: Well, no. I included that intro from another John Lee Hooker song “House Rent Blues”. So I just connected the two. I thought one just would blend into the other.

JM: Jumping forward a little bit. How did the song “Bad to the Bone” come together?

GT: Well, we fooled around with that arrangement for a while. I remember I thought the title itself was something that was very Americana street slang, like “Born to Be Wild” or “Born to Run”, “I Fought the Law”, “Bad to the Bone”. I thought it would be a great song for someone like Bo Diddley or Muddy Waters. I figured if I don’t record a song with this title, somebody else might.

JM: That had a great video where you’re playing pool against Bo Diddley. Who was the better pool player in real life, you or Bo?

GT: Neither of us. Willie Mosconi was the only good pool player [laughs].

JM: Did you pick up any tricks from Willie?

GT: Nah… He showed me a few things, but I’m not real heavy duty on pool playing. I’m more about guitar playing.

JM: And that’s worked out pretty well. As part of the early days of MTV, what are your thoughts on that era and what effect MTV had on the music business?

GT: Well, it had a great effect. It was like a visual commercial for your songs. We started with underground radio with FM, and then when MTV came along that did a lot for a lot of artists, including me. After that came classic rock radio. MTV was a big plug for The Destroyers, as well as everybody else.

JM: I know that you were part of the Live Aid concert. What are your memories from that experience?

GT: Well, they were very brief because we didn’t have any sleep. At the last minute there were two other bands that canceled for the slot that we were going to play. Bill Graham’s people kept saying, “We’ve gotta get George Thorogood and Albert Collins and Bo Diddley to do this slot.” It was about 200 degrees and I was very tired. It was very brief. But it really was wonderful. George Segal introduced us, and I got to meet Jack Nicholson. It was really wonderful for us. And then after that we had to get out because there were just so many people to do the show. I was relieved to get out of there because of the heat [laughs].

JM: You mentioned Albert Collins and Bo Diddley, and I know you’ve played with a bunch of other people over the years. Who stands out to you the most that you’ve played with?

GT: All of them. But I think being onstage and doing a jam session with Mick Jagger, that’s pretty heavy. And being onstage at the same time with Bob Dylan… I was onstage at the same time with Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and George Harrison. How much farther can I take it than that? They might not have known that I was onstage with them, but I knew I was.

JM: What was that for?

GT: It was a Bob Dylan thing in Madison Square Garden where they were celebrating Bob Dylan’s 30th year in show business. So I got to go onstage and play “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” with everybody.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

GT: Always play for fun. When it stops being fun, stop playing.

JM: I assume it’s still fun for you?

GT: Well, I wouldn’t still be doing it if it wasn’t.

JM: What are your plans for the near future? Any chance of any new recordings?

GT: Yeah, we have something coming out with Rounder this year, me playing a solo album. Me alone.

JM: Cool. When you say you alone, does that mean an acoustic thing?

GT: I can’t remember if it was just acoustic, or I might’ve played electric guitar once or twice. But it’s me by myself.

JM: That sounds cool.

GT: I hope it sounds cool!

JM: I know you’re a big baseball fan. Last year was a big year, at least for me, because the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Is that something that you were happy about?

GT: I’m a Mets fan, sir.

JM: When was the last time the Mets won? It’s been a while, hasn’t it [laughs]?

GT: You didn’t have to say that, did you?

JM: Hey, I was a long suffering Cubs fan for my whole life. One last question for you, a guitar question. What’s the secret to playing slide guitar?:

GT: What’s my secret? There is no secret [laughs]. There’s no secret to it. You either can play slide guitar or you can’t. There’s no secret to it.


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