Still bad to the bone

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By MIKE ROSS -- Edmonton Sun

In light of my adverse reaction to the Chemical Brothers concert last month, a reader suggested that perhaps I "should sign up for the George Thorogood tour."

Well, it just so happens the Delaware Streak is in town this week, playing tonight and tomorrow in Red's - "I'm looking forward to seeing the biggest mall in the world," he says. But I think he's got all the people he needs.

Besides, he just about punched my lights out when I talked to him in 1993. That is, he would have if I hadn't been safely on the other end of a telephone line. I asked an innocent question: was a song he recorded called Killer's Blaze perhaps a wee bit over the line? George sang it convincingly, "I'm going to kill you if you don't start treating me nice/you gonna wake up one mornin' baby and find yourself cold as ice."

He said no, it wasn't. One b-b-bad dude, that George.

Six years later, fans might be dismayed to catch a glimpse of his sensitive side on his latest album, Half a Boy, Half a Man. It's a heartfelt, cry-in-yer-beer country ballad called Not Tonight, one of only two original tunes on the record. He buried it at the end, but it's a winner. Could this be a new direction for the man, the manliest man in rock 'n' roll, no less, who can knock down all that bourbon, scotch and beer?

"Naw, I wrote that song about 15 years ago," he says in a recent phone interview. "This is the first record company that wanted it. (He's now with CMC International, home of many a dinosaur rock band.) I did it this time and it seemed to stick. I was hoping Dolly Parton would record that song."

He's kidding, I think. In any case, the song doesn't seem to go with Thorogood's hard-drinking, hard-living vagabond image.

"Well, ya know, Mick Jagger wrote Brown Sugar. He also wrote Fool to Cry. I don't know what that means, so, uh, don't worry, I'm not going to dwell on it or anything."

Addressing the notion - for the 1,000th time, I'm sure - that he ought to write more of his own stuff rather than always covering songs by Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker, he insists that, damn it, Jim, he's a performer, not a songwriter.

"I'm a ham-and-egger when it comes to rock 'n' roll. I have to rely on my wits. I just can't go into the studio and let the creative juices flow. I gotta hustle. There are geniuses liked Bob Dylan or Paul Simon and then there are people like me who are just, uh, clever.

"I tell it like it is. I might be a lifetime .290 hitter but I had to work really hard to do it. I have to really pump at it. I'm proud of it but at the same, it's a tough gig."

Sure, he's worked hard. He had to. With everyone from Eric Clapton to ZZ Top to the Rolling Stones picking over the old blues catalogue many times over, Thorogood had to hunt for stuff that hadn't been done before. For instance, there's a simple reason why there's no John Lee Hooker on Half a Boy, Half a Man - "We've done them all. There are none left to do."

He goes on, "Selecting material is not as easy as people may think. It's a very hard process to find material that hasn't been covered by anybody ... but I got a little bit more of an inside track to that. I can hear a song and go, well, the recording's bad but nobody's ever made a good song out of it. We've done that quite successfully over the years. Besides, Tower Records carries all that stuff now. Twenty-five years ago, it was obscure material. You really had to dig and come up with tunes. Now it's easy. Now it's like getting laid in a whorehouse."

And how, one may wonder, can he sing Bad to the Bone every single night and make it sound so convincing?

The secret, he says, is "not to overdo it - that's what keeps it fresh. If you stay fresh the whole thing will stay fresh. Putting new material into the show every other year, a few new songs from the new record, that's what's keeps the older songs fresh as well. The people keep it fresh. I don't see any people looking bored at our shows."

Drunk, maybe, but never bored.

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This page contains a single entry by fountainhead published on November 15, 1999 12:14 AM.

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