New season, same game

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Here is an older article I've had bookmarked for quite awhile and for some reason never got around to posting...

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New season, same game for veteran Thorogood

Joel Selvin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, April 5, 2003

George Thorogood doesn't suffer for his art.

"There's nothing wrong with being happy," the rock 'n' roll guitarist said, "as droll as it may be to walk down the street with a smile on your face. Especially in the art world or the music world, I see all these angst-ridden artists. I say, 'Hey, there's only one Van Morrison -- can't you guys cheer up? You're playing rock 'n' roll for a living, for God's sake.' You know what I mean?"

Little changes in the world of Thorogood, who burst on the scene with a stripped-down 1977 debut album that mixed Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker.

He's just released his 16th album, "Ride 'Til I Die," which mixes Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker. He still plays slashing, driving slide guitar with the same two Delaware Destroyers, Billy Blough on bass and Jeff Simon on drums. "We haven't changed much, but we try to do it better every time," Lonesome George said.

Thorogood, who performs next week at the Fillmore Auditorium, added a second guitarist in 1999, Jimmy Suhler of Dallas rockers Monkey Beat. Suhler handled

most of the fiery leads on the new album, although Thorogood still plays plenty. "I'm rhythm and I'm slide -- that's what I do," he said. Last month, Arno Hecht replaced Hank Carter on saxophone, who had joined the band in 1980 and spent nearly 20 years as "the new guy."

"It's a relatively new lineup, but the same base," he said, "Billy, Jeff and I pumping out the pulse of the whole thing. Easily over a quarter of a century. Just out of high school. It's quite unbelievable. I don't know what the deal is, but Blough and Jeff, I just can't shake 'em."

"Ride 'Til I Die" breaks no new ground for Thorogood, although it is a particularly fine example of what he and the Destroyers do. "This was the record I intended to make years ago," he said. "I was a big fan of the first Steppenwolf record, the second J. Geils record, 'The Morning After,' and of course the first three Stones albums. They were a blues band before they did 'Satisfaction.' Of course, the first Buffalo Springfield album is an awesome record. . . .

"So that was what I was all about, kind of like the Bob Seger System, before he was the Silver Bullet Band. The Bob Seger System, Creedence Clearwater, those kind of bands. I just couldn't afford another guitar or sax. It took me a while to put all the right things in place. This is the one. I think every band has what you call a capsule record or a definitive record -- is that what you writers call it?"

One of the record's highlights is a fine version of the overlooked Elvin Bishop song "Don't Let the Boss Man Get You Down." Bishop contributed guitar on the track. "You gotta love Elvin," Thorogood said. "You look in the dictionary under 'fun,' they show you his picture. That song needed to have exposure. England has Jeff Beck. America has Elvin Bishop."

"Ride 'Til I Die" producer Jim Gaines worked for a number of years in the '80s as an engineer and producer around Bay Area studios, making "Sports" with Huey Lewis and the News, working on records with Steve Miller, Van Morrison, Tower of Power and others, although it would be his experience with blues players such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Luther Allison and Tommy Castro that probably proved most relevant to working with Thorogood.

"When I first had the Destroyers, I had a very easy vision of what I wanted to do," Thorogood said. "Now it's like we've just honed it. You see the early Woody Allen movies and you see the later ones and how good he keeps getting. But he had a basic vision he does with his movies. They're similar, but they're not the same, and he gets better at it every time."

A onetime minor-league baseball player who decided to play blues guitar after seeing John Hammond perform, Thorogood, 52, grew up in Wilmington, Del., although he and his band really came up in the Boston scene of the early '70s. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 18 years and their 5-year-old daughter.

But he stays with the basics -- old blues records, good cigars and baseball.

"What else is there?" he said. "What do you think of the two greatest things to come out of America -- Chuck Berry and Willie Mays? Can't beat it. They keep looking around and say what has America produced that is any good? And I say our music. That's the only reason the Europeans will talk to us. If you walk off a plane and say I manufacture cars or I'm in the oil business, they don't want to speak to you. But if you say I play in a band -- even a lousy blues band -- then they welcome you with open arms. Am I right? That's it, baby."

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