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The Acoustic Storm Interviews

George Thorogood

The Acoustic Storm’s Jeff Parets spoke with George Thorogood by phone on February 7, 2017 from Los Angeles, where Thorogood and his band the Destroyers were preparing for a concert tour.

JEFF PARETS:
You’re going to be kicking off the tour February 28th in Arizona at Fox Tucson Theatre, and it will be “George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Rock Party 2017.”

GEORGE THOROGOOD:
Well, I think it’s very cool that we’re kicking off that tour on the day of Brian Jones’ birthday, the founder of the Rolling Stones. I like rock and roll historical things like that…it gives me inspiration.

PARETS:
Let’s “move it on over” quite a few years ago. What kinds of music were you exposed to at a young age? Also, who were some of the artists that you listened to in those formative years that may have influenced the way that you play music today?

THOROGOOD:
Well you know I was exposed to just about everything, from Elvis Presley to Perry Como. My ears were alert to music no matter where I went. I can remember when I was 6 or 7 years old, all the way back to when Tennessee Williams did “16 Tons,” Elvis Presley did “Don’t Be Cruel,” and Fats Domino did “Bo Weevil,” all the way up until the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. So music was always a part of my life, and just about everything caught my ear.

PARETS:
Obviously most of the music you’re identified with is electric, but when you were in your early 20’s, you were a solo acoustic player in the style of Robert Johnson and Elmore James.

THOROGOOD:
Yeah, I was very much into that. My big hero at that time was John Hammond, but there is only one John Hammond. He was so brilliant at playing acoustic alone, and I could never compete with that. People like Sonny Terry, Robert Lockwood, Jr. and Hound Dog Taylor kept telling me “George you rock, you need a drummer and you need an electric guitar.” So I moved on to that.

PARETS:
Since this is the Acoustic Storm, we’re glad to know that you still appreciate the acoustic guitar.

THOROGOOD:
I appreciate anything that is really good. I mean, Robert Johnson is brilliant, but a lot of people don’t know that just before he passed on, Robert Johnson was working with an electric guitar. Muddy Waters wasn’t the very first person to take acoustic blues electric. Howling Wolf did it, John Lee Hooker did it, and Robert Johnson did it. He just happened to pass away before he got into the studio with other musicians, but they all knew that was the future.

PARETS:
So with the encouragement of blues people like Hound Dog Taylor, you not only went electric, but you put together a band, which at the time was called the Delaware Destroyers. How did you first connect with the guys in your band?

THOROGOOD:
Well, with Jeff Simon we were both mutually musical. He was very much into Johnny Winter, John Hammond and the Allman Brothers, and I was very much into John Hammond, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Elvin Bishop. So we had a strong musical connection that was just so natural. Jeff understood where I was coming from immediately. So when we got together, it happened really fast between the two of us.

PARETS:
It seems that not only did the two of you share a great chemistry, but a camaraderie as well, which is important when you are going out on the road together.

THOROGOOD:
We had a camaraderie anyway, because he lived right up the street, and we agreed that we were never going to make the big leagues in baseball, so we would try our hands at music.

PARETS:
There you go…music and baseball, good stuff. Back when your band was first starting, new wave and punk were all the rage, and the music industry didn’t seem to be looking for blues rockers like you guys. So it took a while for you to get a record deal until you signed with Rounder Records. What was that challenge like, and why was it so difficult, especially knowing how much talent you guys had?

THOROGOOD:
You know, I really don’t know the answer to that Jeff. The industry has changed so much since back then. In the old days, record industry people might have gone to clubs like the Phone Booth where the Young Rascals were playing, or they would see Little Richard or Jimi Hendrix playing in small clubs. But when I was playing small clubs, not a lot of industry people populated those kinds of places. At that time, to get signed, you needed someone to represent you. Brian Epstein represented the Beatles, and they were were tearing it up in Hamburg and Liverpool, but they still needed somebody. I didn’t have representation, but I wish I had.
When one of the people from Rounder came to hear our live show, they said, “we’ve got to sign this guy, it’s hot stuff.”

PARETS:
What is it about playing live that energizes you and your band so much?

THOROGOOD:
When I play a live show it’s like hugging a stranger and hugging an old friend. Some have been with us a long time, and some are newcomers. We’re embracing each other with our music.

PARETS:
That’s a great description.

THOROGOOD:
Thank you.

PARETS:
The Rock Party tour will be raising money to help the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. How did that come about?

THOROGOOD:
Well, unfortunately my father-in-law was stricken with that and I had to witness some of it on a day-to-day basis. So we all do what we can do, and this is an opportunity to help raise some money for research on leukemia.

PARETS:
Absolutely a great cause, and I’m glad you are doing it. Getting back to the music itself, is there any chance that you might consider releasing an album of acoustic versions of some of your better-known material?

THOROGOOD:
Well, that’s what we’re doing now. We’re just about finished up with it and hope to get it out by the fall.

PARETS:
We’ll look forward to that, especially here at the Acoustic Storm. Okay, let’s do some song associations, and find out what inspired you to record some of your most popular tunes, including one of your oldest songs, “Move it on Over.”

THOROGOOD:
Well, if I could take a Hank Williams song and put a Robert Johnson type slide guitar with a rock beat, I might have something. At that time, Linda Ronstadt was going great guns with her country-rock thing, so I figured
If I don’t do this, Linda Ronstadt or someone else will, it’s just too good a song to pass up. So were doing sound-checks and Rounder heard “Move it on Over” and said you’ve got to record that song, that’s the one that’s going to push you over the top.

PARETS:
How about “Bad to the Bone”? Did it just hit you one day, what a great title for a song, and how was it born as a Thorogood tune?

THOROGOOD:
Lets just face facts here…I mean, just the title alone could be the title of every Errol Flynn movie, every Steve McQueen movie and every Sean Connery movie. So I was thinking if I don’t do this, someone else will, and I looked at it almost like a movie title, more than a rock and roll title.

PARETS:
What was the inspiration for “I Drink Alone”?

THOROGOOD:
Originally we were working on it as a Country & Western song, and I wanted to get it to George Jones, since I thought it would be really great if he could record that song because it’s part of George Jones’ image. But then when I went to EMI America, they said no, we didn’t hire George Thorogood to write songs for other people, we want “I Drink Alone” for us, and not other artists. The record company wanted a more hard-core arrangement of it, so we went back into the studio and worked it out.

PARETS:
How about “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” written by John Lee Hooker?

THOROGOOD:
That song was so popular. The first time I heard it was John Lee Hooker doing it live, and then I heard Brownie McGhee do it, and then I started playing it live and saw the response from people, no matter where I played, and I thought this song’s a hit. It would have been a hit if Tom Waits had done it. It would have been a hit if Dean Martin had done it. It would have been a hit if anybody had done it. I’m not the hit, the song is a hit.

PARETS:
Yeah, but you added your own inimitable style and attitude to that song.

THOROGOOD:
Lucky me. Rock and roll never sleeps, it just passes out.