George Thorogood at the Mann: Still bad to the bone

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By MICHAEL CHRISTOPHER, Times Music Columnist
08/14/2008

It's so easy, bordering on lazy, to play the "Bad to the Bone" angle when doing an article about George Thorogood. Sure, it was a big hit, and to this day is even bigger as part of the pop culture lexicon, appearing on shirts, license plates and as tattoos for guys usually named Bud or Spike.

But there was a moment of confusion when Thorogood confessed to Rock Music Menu from the outset that he was doing "Baaad" this week.

Bad meaning good or bad meaning bad?

"No! It's an expression, 'Bad to the Bone,' I'm doin' bad!" Thorogood howled. "You get it? It's kind of like a moniker, like a thing you do."

Lesson learned. And if anyone is still allowed to reference "Bad to the Bone," it's the man who coined it, or at least is responsible for the enduring popularity of the phrase.

More than three decades in, the Delaware native and his Destroyers are still tearing up the road, hitting the Mann Music Center tonight with Chicago blues master Buddy Guy. "Buddy is such an incredible entertainer and performer. I have to really pick it up a notch, raise the bar a little bit," Thorogood said. "Playing with Buddy Guy is like a combination of B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix put together. Following that every night, you have to give the people something really special, because that's what they came to see: two dynamite live acts."

Guy is one of the few remaining blues legends, with the likes of Robert Lockwood Jr. and Henry Townsend passing in 2006. Hitting closer to home was the June death of Bo Diddley, whose song "Who Do You Love?" Thorogood covered.

He later featured the guitarist in the video for "Bad to the Bone," which lifted its signature riff in part from the Diddley composed "I'm a Man."

"I like all those effects he used when he started," Thorogood said. "He was pretty much ahead of his time, the way Jimi Hendrix blew everybody's mind in 1967; Bo Diddley was doing that in 1953 with the reverb and the tremolo, and flipping all over the stage and playing the guitar between his legs and all that stuff."

"What really got to me when he passed away. ... I loved the guy; we were partners, we were pals and we got along well. Every time I'd see him, if I hadn't see him in awhile, I'd walk in and say, 'Hiya Bo,' and he'd lean back and give me a suspicious look with those big thick glasses and go, 'Are you crazy?!' That's how he greeted me all the time. He was like that -- a lot of laughs, a fun guy."

Thorogood, at 58, is done trying to carry that old-school blues torch, saying he has, "completed the course." "I did my share," he said. "Now I just go out there and play the fan favorites."

It's a shame, because there isn't really anyone left to carry the blues forward. Sure, guys like John Mayer, Jack White and Jonny Lang can play the riffs, but they don't have the musical pedigree.

"Maybe one or two of them have seen John Lee Hooker play because he didn't pass away until 2001, and he was active right up until his death," Thorogood said. "But a lot of the heavy dudes, Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor and Howlin' Wolf, if a kid is 22, you were 3 years old when they died!

It's not your fault, but we have firsthand experience. It's a limited experience, but firsthand experience nonetheless." "They can learn it off the record, but Jeff (Simon, Destroyers' drummer) and I actually played with Muddy Waters. We opened for him and for Howlin' Wolf and met him and saw him perform. We're the last band to do that, 'cause they all passed away right after we got to know them."

And while Thorogood might just be doing the fan favorites live, he's still got some rocking to put down on wax. The word has slipped that next year, he'll be putting out an album of all blues covers, duplicating the feat of his 30-year-old sophomore classic, "Move It On Over." "The world's not ready for my originals," Thorogood laughed. "Only in small doses."

That might be for the best, as rarely has someone been able to take either a blues classic or a an obscure old record and stamp it with bristling swagger and attitude like Lonesome George can.

"I think I grabbed the maybe one or two left that no one is aware of yet, or that didn't appear on an old Yardbirds record," he said. "There probably might be one or two you've heard before, then there will be some you never heard of, and some you'll probably never want to hear again."

One subject unlikely to be covered, literally, is the time-honored drinking song, which Thorogood has been noted as the master of, despite the fact that they make up only three numbers in his catalog.

"I kinda steer away from that," he said. "Unless the song is really good, but even then; I did 'I Drink Alone,' 'If You Don't Start Drinkin' (I'm Gonna Leave),' 'One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,' which isn't really about drinking, it's about a guy who can't pay his rent."

"I've covered that subject. It was never a dominating idea in my repertoire to begin with; it just happened that way. People will say, 'I got this great song about a real bad guy in a bar,' and I go, 'I think the world has enough songs like that.'"

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