And awaaay we go!

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article from the Sarasota Herald Tribune

By P.J. LEVINE

CORRESPONDENT

To paraphrase an old adage, in the world of rock 'n' roll, some men see things as they are and say "why?"; some dream of things that never were and say "why not?"

George Thorogood sees his guitar and tour bus, and says "why the (expletive) not?"

For more than three decades, Thorogood and his band, The Destroyers, have personified the spirit of roots rock with lengthy, high-energy tours featuring songs about wine, women and, well, more wine and women.

Speaking by phone from Los Angeles as he and his band once again prepare to hit the road, Thorogood is as affable and ingratiating as the music he plays. It's also readily apparent that he's as skilled at playing the media as he is his six-string guitar.

Before the first question can be asked, he's into rock 'n' roll raconteur mode.

"Let me tell you a story about us playing Tampa," he says. "We've played there many times, but one time around 1997, we'd just played the Tampa Theatre -- which I call the people's theater!

"I was getting ready to head into the (tour) bus when a guy runs up to me, shakes my hand, and says 'Hey, George man, I drove for an hour to get here, and I can't wait to see your show.' I told him, 'Sorry, dude, we've just finished.' The guy just smiled at me and said, 'Oh, that's OK, I'll see you next year at the Tampa Theatre!'

"That told me something -- the guy had obviously looked forward to this all year, drove down here, missed the show, and was still ready to drive back again next year!"

Amid laughter, Thorogood added: "Hell, he didn't even see the show and was still happy .... now that's the kind of fans you want!"

It's that Everyman persona -- just a working-class kid from Delaware who made good -- that's been the bedrock of Thorogood's lengthy career.

A proponent and exponent of blues rock, Thorogood began as an opening act for many of the same blues legends whose songs he revered and still frequently performs.

"It was pretty amazing for me, early in my career, to be opening for guys like Howlin' Wolf, Albert Collins and Hound Dog Taylor," he says. "I mean, I was just happy that I got to see all these guys, let alone open for them."

But when pressed on which artists most shaped his musical persona and style, Thorogood quickly slips back into stand-up comic mode.

"Uh, well, it was around 1965 or so, and there was this one guy, not sure I can remember his name -- maybe you can help me here -- it . . . re -- it was like Mick Richards or Keith something or other," he deadpans.

Could he mean Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards?

"Yeah, that's the dude!" Thorogood exclaims. "And later, the cat who really got me focused was (blues guitarist) John Hammond. Like everybody else, there were three heavy influences on me in the '60s -- The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Stones.

"To me, The Beatles represented freedom, while Dylan represented truth. But even more important for a regular guy like me, the Stones represented hope. I could never do what The Beatles or Dylan did, but I thought maybe I could play the blues stuff the Stones did."

He quickly adds with a laugh, "and let's face it, Mick Jagger's a sex symbol, but hey, he's no Warren Beatty, right?"

Over the years, Thorogood has evolved his own distinct musical style, including a signature concert opening line -- a raucous "and awaaay we go!" -- that has its roots in the Sunshine State.

"I started doing that one night, in 1980, when I played the same Florida theater Jackie Gleason did his ('60s) TV show from (the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts in Miami Beach)," he said. "They gave me the same dressing room as him, and when I went on that night, I said, 'I just gotta say it!' And it's stuck ever since.

"Hey, it worked for him, and like I always say, steal from the best, baby!"

If James Brown holds the title of "hardest-working man in show business," Thorogood's a definite contender for the crown. Having performed more than 3,000 shows, The Destroyers also have the distinction of being the only rock band to have played 50 states in 50 days.

Even today, Thorogood maintains a grueling tour schedule, with 21 one-night stands slated for this month.

Asked why he'd schedule so many shows in such a short time, Thorogood initially provides a simple, one-word answer: "Money!" When pressed, however, his blue-collar roots re-emerge.

"Don't you work 21 days in a month?" he asks. "And sure, they're not all in the same place, but, really, how far away is Fort Myers from Tampa? Besides, it's not like I have to do the driving!"

A hardy laugh and an amicable "adios, partner!" later, Thorogood bids adieu.

And, once again, away he goes.

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This page contains a single entry by fountainhead published on March 3, 2006 3:55 PM.

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