A conversation with George Thorogood

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By PETE TATTERSALL
ptattersall@sunherald.com

Through the years, blues rocker George Thorogood and his band, The Destroyers, have gained a loyal following of like-minded individuals. To whit, folks who like their music simple, witty and, well, rockin'. Thorogood, a minor-league baseball player who devoted himself to music full time in 1970, has cranked out enduring hit songs with titles like "Bad To The Bone," "One Bourbon, One Shot, One Beer" and "Move It On Over."

Rollingstone.com describes him as "one of the preeminent jukebox heroes," while allmusic.com reports that "Thorogood's music was always loud, simple and direct - his riffs and licks were taken straight out of '50s Chicago blues and rock & roll - but his formulaic approach helped him gain a rather large audience in the '80s, when his albums regularly went gold."

Thorogood, who performs 8 p.m. Saturday with the Destroyers at Hard Rock Live in Biloxi, spoke recently with the Sun Herald by telephone. The following excerpts of that conversation:

George Thorogood:

"Pete, how's my favorite newspaperman?"

PT:

Hey Mr. Thorogood, how you doing?

GT:

"Bad."

PT:

Bad to the bone, huh? Thank you for taking a few minutes.

GT:

"I just saw a really great movie the other day, called 'Deadline U.S.A.' You ever seen it?"

PT:

I have not, actually.

GT:

"It's one of Bogart's best. Although I don't know him personally, I think Ronnie Howard made a movie, 'The Paper'?"

PT:

I know it well.

GT:

"And I think he watched this movie 'Deadline U.S.A.' quite a few times. If you ever get the chance, see 'Deadline U.S.A.' with Humphrey Bogart."

PT:

I will, because I'm kind of interested in that older stuff. Used to watch a lot with my grandfather.

GT:

"Yeah! Great picture, made in the early or mid-'50s. Fantastic piece of work."

PT:

That's cool. Thanks for the heads up.

GT:

"Yeah, it's heavy."

PT:

What would you like to talk about?

GT:

"Gee, I'm a very, uh, as long as we stay out of the American League."

PT:

What have you been up to lately?

GT:

"Well, just minding my own business, Pete."

PT:

There you go.

GT:

"Well, you know, I've been doing just what I've been doing for the last 30 years. Just try to keep the weight down and the keep the chops up, and stay out of the joint. You know what I'm saying?"

PT:

I do.

GT:

"Yeah. Trying to stay out of the hospital, stay out of the joint. You know, just trying to keep my head above water. Like most people."

PT:

Who did you grow up listening to? Who would you describe as your important musical influences?

GT:

"Well, it was one guy from England, and I never got his name straight. Maybe you can help me out. His name was either Mick Richards or Keith Jaggar. Whoever that guy is. I'm talking about 1965, '66, around that time, I was very, very heavy into Bob Dylan. Like the whole rest of the world, I really got turned on by the Beatles. But the Rolling Stones were somebody that offered me hope. Because Dylan represented the truth, the Beatles represented freedom, but the Stones represented hope. Because, well, first of all look at them. I mean, they don't have anybody in the band exactly is going to blow away, you know, Warren Beatty. You know what I'm saying?"

PT:

Yeah.

GT:

"And as far as their singing goes, well, you know, Mick Jaggar is a very clever rhythm and blues singer. And they were doing covers of very unique, and catchy, blues tunes at the time when I was turned on by them. So I put that in my head and said, 'There's a chance for you. A slim chance, but nevertheless a chance.' When Zeppelin came out, and Jimi Hendrix, I thought my chances were absolutely gone. I just said, 'Well that's it, I'm never going to break the scene.' Then I went to see John Hammond play, and I said, 'There it is. Don't set you sights up so high. Look what he's doing. He's making a living, he's got a record deal, you know, he's doing it.' If you can't hit a home run, bunt. You know what I'm saying?"

PT:

You're still in the game.

GT:

"Yes, you got it. And I said 'There it is. There it is. Now go to work. Pick up that guitar, play the slide and pick some very funny, rockin' tunes and you'll make it.' I had no doubt then."

PT:

Well, that formula seems to have worked well for you, for a long time.

GT:

"Well, I've stuck with it. You know what I mean, Pete? I didn't want, you know when I first went to EMI and they said, 'Well, you know, George is just coming in to his thing.' I said, 'No, this is it.' What I did with Rounder on those first two records, that's the real George. The songs that I've written are just, what you call a reflection on that. Some people can't tell our originals from the masters, you know what I'm saying? I wrote in that form, because that's pretty much all I know.

"You know, what's his name? Dennis Leary, a man I really admire, he created a bag and he stuck with it. That's his bag. I said, 'I'm going to catch Dennis Leary, and (we'll) be the two most obnoxious men in show business.' For better or for worse, that's what I'm going to be. And, if I hadn't of done it, I'd have never got the chance to talk to you."

PT:

Flattery aside, that's interesting. Because Dennis Leary has kind of had a real resurgence with the show he's on, with huge critical praise ("Rescue Me").

GT:

"I'm talking about prior to that."

PT:

I know, but what I mean is, in 2005 you were named Billboard Blues Musician of the Year. So both you guys have been doing your thing for a long time, and yet you're both, now, as you were then, getting critical and popular praise. So obviously you guys are doing something right.

GT:

"You know, I went to a ball game one time, and Pete Rose came to bat. It was about the 17th year of his career, and he came to the plate and everybody in the park booed him. And then he got a base hit, a meaningless base hit. He didn't break any records. And all of a sudden everybody, me too, just started to stand up and applaud the guy. Then I realized why. I said, 'For 17 years this guy will not quit. He's in your face.' You know what I mean? For better or for worse. You got to hand it to the guy. Even though I didn't really like him, I said you got to give it to him. He's done it his way, and nothing's going to deter him from being Pete Rose. And I admired that. So did everybody in the stadium. It was like, 'We don't like you but we respect you.'

PT:

That's almost more important.

GT:

"Yeah. And the next time he came up, everybody booed him again. Then he got another hit."

PT:

Was it always the blues for you. Or did you dabble, or were tempted, by other forms of music?

GT:

"I went after the blues because I knew it was a foundation. Someone comes up to me and says, 'Oh, you stuck to your guns, you stuck to the blues.' I would like nothing more than have the success of Led Zeppelin. I would love nothing more than to have the success of a Jimi Hendrix. But I can't sing like Plant. I can't play like Jimmy Page or Hendrix. I can't write like Tom Petty or Jackson Browne or Joni Mitchell. So I do what I can do...

PT:

A true working musician. I guess what you're saying is we can't all be superstars, even if some people would describe you as borderline.

GT:

"Like one of these guys who's one of the top leaders in one-base percentage. You never see him at the All-Star Game, he doesn't break any records, but he's in the line-up. He's doing the job, day in and day out, day in and day out. And the promoters don't hire you back because you're a nice guy. They hire you back because you make money. Let's face it, that's what they do. As much as they might like you and say you're great and a nice person and all that, but that's what they do. And years ago I knew I was limited. So that was my strength. See what I'm saying?"

PT:

How would you describe your music?

GT:

"Loud. It's dirty. It's dirty. That's us."

PT:

It works.

GT:

"Some people like loud and dirty. You know, some people like that. Some people like champagne, some people like Budweiser."

PT:

Or, you know, one shot, one bourbon, one beer.

GT:

"Yeah, you know. But it's a quality shot. It's a shot of single barrel Jack Daniels. The guy that discovered ketchup, Heinz Ketchup. Mr. Heinz? He had a saying that I learned at a very early age, and I'll lay it on you, Pete. He said, 'Take something ordinary, and make it the best of something ordinary, and you'll go far.' Hear what I'm saying?"

PT:

That's pretty profound, actually.

GT:

"That's us, man, in a nutshell."

PT:

If the music career hadn't panned out, did you have a safety net. Something else you wanted to do?

GT:

"That's why it panned out. I had no safety net, that's why it panned out."

PT:

It was that or bust, huh?

GT:

"It was that or bust. But I do remember, when I was about 18, I was out of high school and my mother of all people came to me with an ad in the paper that said this, if you can believe this, 'A young man wanted for a job, that has a high school diploma and can talk baseball 24 hours a day.' And my mother and I look at each other, and we say, 'I wonder what would happen if I went down and applied for that job.' And I have fun because whenever I run into Bobby Costas, who's a friend of mine, you know Bob?"

PT:

I do.

GT:

"I'd say, 'Bob, I can do what you do, but you could never do what I do.'

PT:

Where did you grow up?

GT:

"Northern Delaware."

PT:

And where do you live now?

GT:

"Well, I swore under oath with the government not to reveal the whereabouts of my location. You understand?"

PT:

I do. Which might render this next question moot. Are you married, kids, anything like that?

GT:

"Well, there's certain things that they say, 'Keep your politics, how much money you make and your sex life to yourself. And you won't get in trouble.'

PT:

Put like that, how can I argue.

GT:

"There you go."

PT:

Well, maybe this leads to the answer to those questions, but how did you get the nickname "Lonesome George"?

GT:

"There was a cat in our neighborhood. He was a couple of years younger than me, and he had all sorts of girls around him all the time. And I never did. And he'd half tease me and call me that for some reason. I don't know why, he just always had girlfriends, and girls interested in him. He'd have two or three of them, and he'd say, 'Why don't you go over there and be with Lonesome George.' And of course, none of them ever would. And I think to this day, that's probably why I got somewhere in music and he didn't."

PT:

That's right. no distractions.

GT:

"Exactly."

Well it works for a blues musician. Blues music, what do you think is the allure of the blues. It's endured, and appealed to so many people around the world. Why do you think that is?

GT:

"Well, I think it's, everybody in the world, Pete, every person that ever walked on the planet has known pain at some time. Am I wrong?"

PT:

No.

GT:

"But you can't say every person in the world has known joy, at one time. Sadness will always, unfortunately, prevail. There's many, many people in the world that say, 'I know what it's like to be sad. I know what it's like to be hurt. I know what the blues is.' But there's not that many people who can all say, 'I've been happy every day of my life.' Now, you can say I've been happy, considering. But you can't say there hasn't been one time when you were sad about something, you had the blues. That's something everybody's got in common...

.Look at all the great comics in the world. Most of them talk about how miserable their life has been. And everybody laughs. Sam Kennison, Rodney Dangerfield, Henny Youngman, all of them...So the blues is always going to be with us, in some way, shape of form.

"Some things, you know, people would say to me, when I put out a record that had mediocre or conservative distribution, and then say, 'Aren't you worried about that.' And I'd say, 'No, the people that are supposed to hear it will hear it. It will get to the people who need it, or want it.' Some way, shape or form, it'll get there. If it's any good. If it's meant to be."

PT:

Do you have hobbies, things that you enjoy doing?

GT:

"I have no hobbies. No, my time is limited. I'm only on this planet for a short period of time, and my time goes into my wife, my daughter and my guitar. There's nothing else that means anything else to me... ."

PT:

So you get your pleasure from your work.

GT:

"That's where I apply them. When I'm not doing that, I'm either in the bathroom or sleeping or running on a treadmill or going to the doctor. If I'm not playing my music, I'm with my wife or my daughter or both. And if I'm not with them, I'm on the road with the band."

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This page contains a single entry by fountainhead published on March 20, 2008 1:30 PM.

Thorogood still a heavy hitter was the previous entry in this blog.

Thoroughly George Thorogood: Blues-rocker is blunt, funny and all about the music is the next entry in this blog.

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