George Thorogood and the Destroyers bring bar-blues hits to Mandalay Bay

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- Las Vegas Review Journal -

By DOUG ELFMAN
REVIEW-JOURNAL

George Thorogood admits that he's not afraid to run from a fight.

George Thorogood and the Destroyers have earned a 30-year career by performing such gruff bar-blues songs as "Bad to the Bone," "I Drink Alone" and "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer." Thorogood calls his stuff "American music."

As a guitar player, Thorogood makes no bones about playing a fundamental style (one-chord songs in an open-G-string tuning). He's never even played with a guitar that wasn't a Gibson ES-125.

"My music is very basic," he says. "It might be one chord, but it's still difficult to make that one chord, and make it last for seven minutes, and make it interesting. Like, some of the James Brown songs might be one chord, but he stretches them out 45 minutes. It's a fantastic thing he does."

Thorogood says mastering a chord in a song is a worthy endeavor, and musicians shouldn't feel pressured to strike new ground all the time.

"Why does something have to be inventive? Why does something have to be progressive?" Thorogood says. "Some people go into the forest and they look at a beautiful tree that's been there for 200 years, and they don't say, `It's nothin' new,' " he says. "There's something to be said for doing something well, and people enjoy it. I mean, go to the strip club and say, `There's nothing new! There's nothing progressive there!' "

With his band playing the House of Blues on Saturday, and promoting a new album called "Ride 'Til I Die," Thorogood remains in what sounds like good spirits. And he answers a few more obvious questions about his extinct guitar and the way many people perceive him to be.

Elfman: You've got a certain kind of image. You seem like somebody who could take care of himself in a fight.

Thorogood: Oh, easily. You know how I do that? ... Take off in the other direction fast. That's how I handle myself. Do you know what I tell the guy who says he's gonna fight me? I say, "Hold on a second, I'll be right back." I don't tell him when I'm comin' back. He's still standin' there three hours later. That's how I kept all the teeth in my head. (He laughs.) So if somebody wants to tangle with me, I know how to handle it, Doug.

Elfman: It's been 30 years with the Destroyers, but you were rockin' before that, though, right?

Thorogood: I was trying to make it as an acoustic act. ... It just wasn't goin' anywhere. ... And people were coming to me and saying, "Why don't you form a band?"

Elfman: (As an acoustic guitarist), you weren't doing "Me and Bobby McGhee" or anything like that, were you?

Thorogood: No, I was doin' "Bourbon, Scotch and Beer." I was doing the same kind of material. I was just doing it alone.

Elfman: When you first started, were you right on that Gibson ES-125?

Thorogood: Yeah.

Elfman: Did you ever experiment with anything else?

Thorogood: I tried, but nothin' works for me. See, I'm basically an acoustic guitar-type picker. ... A 125 is set up like an acoustic. I used to call it a semi-electric. The other guitars are a flat-out electric, and I can't play with a flatpick. I can't flat-pick at all. I can't play a solid-body guitar to save myself.

Elfman: Your picks are obsolete now, too, right?

Thorogood: Yeah! The guitar's obsolete. The picks are obsolete. The amps I use are obsolete. I'm obsolete. It's like they're running me out of the business, Doug! You know what I mean?

Elfman (laughing): What's gonna happen when everything runs out?

Thorogood: Well, then that's the end of me. I say to people, "Please, don't steal my guitars, because they don't make 'em anymore."

Elfman: How many do you have?

Thorogood: I have a few, but I could use a few more.

Elfman: Maybe you should make a public pitch to have people send you some.

Thorogood: Yeah, "Go up into your attic ..."

Elfman: Did Gibson ever make any replicas?

Thorogood: Yeah, they made one that I use in concert. They made if for me. They tried to make a few zzs, but they weren't very good.

Elfman: What about the picks?

Thorogood: The picks -- you know what we did? We went and bought the machine and made them. We bought the blueprint for the machine, but we used it so much, it broke down. And then we found the (picks) weren't right, because we weren't using the right kinda plastic. So then we went to get the plastic to make the pick, and they had stopped making the plastic, too! ... Somebody's trying to tell me something.

Elfman: So I saw this great interview with you in Guitar Magazine where you said (that a Harvard musician claimed) you aren't playing slide guitar right. So, you were trying to correct that notion.

Thorogood: Well, I had one person tell me I was playing it right, and his name was Muddy Waters. That's good enough for me. I was sitting in a room with him, and he was listening to me play. And ... Hound Dog Taylor heard me play. And one time Bonnie Raitt handed me a guitar. And I was sittin', playin' with Fred McDowell. ... And Robert Lockwood is the guy who taught me how to play it, and he's Robert Johnson's stepson. So what better authorities can I have, Doug, at this point in my life?

Elfman: What are they saying you're doing wrong?

Thorogood: I don't know, hitting the strings wrong, something. And I was just saying I learned from the best. ... And Muddy Waters listened to me and said I had mastered it. He actually told me, on one song, I played better than he did. So I was just, like, well you can't do better than that.

Elfman: Do you remember what song that was?

Thorogood: It's called "I Can't Be Satisfied." So I just say, Well, it's too late now to change!

Elfman: Yeah, you might as well stick with Muddy Waters.

Thorogood: Yeah, you know what I mean?

Elfman: But you still say that you only give yourself a five on a scale from one to 10.

Thorogood: Well, 10 is a long way to go. Ten is like getting up to where Carlos Santana is, or Jeff Beck, Elvin Bishop. Those are the greatest guitar players on the planet. It's like saying I bat sixth for the New York Yankees. It's, like: "I play on the New York Yankees, but we got a guy named Willie Mays battin' cleanup." ... You also gotta look at guys who are just amateur guitarists. I'm considering them, as well.

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