fountainhead: November 1999 Archives

Humble, not bad, to bone

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Thorogood puts career in perspective

By DAVE VEITCH -- Calgary Sun

In George Thorogood's world, people can be divided into those who love the Mets and those who love the Yankees.

Thorogood, the baseball-loving, blues-rock guitar slinger, belongs to the former camp.

"These Mets are like me," says Thorogood, who performs tonight at The Palace with his longtime backing band The Destroyers.

"First of all, nobody likes the Mets. Number 2: They're like these little pests that won't go away. They could win the World Series

10 years in a row and they would still be the underdog scum of the National League. They never do anything smoothly.

"Nothing in my life has come easy. I wasn't born good-looking. I wasn't good at sports. I was average at best."

Although the 46-year-old native of Wilmington, Del., likes to cast himself in the role of the underdog -- "I'm a Chevy Nova in a world of Rolls Royces," he says -- one shouldn't make the mistake of short-changing what he's accomplished during his 22-year recording career.

He has released 13 albums -- his 14th, Live In '99, comes out later this month -- which have sold more than 15 million copies. Not at all shabby, especially considering these records consist mainly of other writers' material and all offer just slight variations of the same raucous blues-rock style inspired by the likes of Elmore James and Chuck Berry.

It ain't fancy, but for a certain constituency that likes high-octane, blues-based party rock, Thorogood and the Destroyers have a reputation for delivering the goods every time.

"It's all that I can do," he says matter-of-factly. "Don't overrate me. I'm not that versatile."

One thing's for sure: He's not exactly prolific, especially considering he doesn't have to write a full album's worth of material before entering the studio.

"Albums are torture," Thorogood says.

"Especially the last two or three. It gets harder as time goes on.

"Everything's torture: Finding the material, being able to play it, being able to play it well, being able to record it, making sure it comes out good, making sure the record company understands your vision, having the radio stations play it.... It's a long, hard process.

"I wish they'd go back to a six-song format, or something like that. That would be a lot easier to do.

"First of all, how many times do you listen to a CD and listen to it all the way through? Then radio is going to play two songs at best. And then you're maybe going to be able to squeeze three of them in your live show. It's like the other songs are going to waste."

Thorogood says he gets pitched songs all the time, but admits "99 percent of the stuff I get is junk.... Every song I get, the lyrics usually go: 'I'm bad, I'm bad, I drink a lot, drive around in cars, (make love to) a lot of girls, I'm bad.' "

Gee, George, you never do songs like that.

"Yeah, right, exactly," he laughs.

While we're on the subject, how bad are you, really?

"Some songs are reality; others are fantasy," he says.

"Bad to the Bone? Fantasy. Born To Be Bad? Fantasy? Blue Highway? Reality. That's how I look at the songs. We all want to be James Bond. We all want to be Errol Flynn. But we're not. Nobody is, the least-wise me. I'm more like Beaver Cleaver."

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Still bad to the bone

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By MIKE ROSS -- Edmonton Sun

In light of my adverse reaction to the Chemical Brothers concert last month, a reader suggested that perhaps I "should sign up for the George Thorogood tour."

Well, it just so happens the Delaware Streak is in town this week, playing tonight and tomorrow in Red's - "I'm looking forward to seeing the biggest mall in the world," he says. But I think he's got all the people he needs.

Besides, he just about punched my lights out when I talked to him in 1993. That is, he would have if I hadn't been safely on the other end of a telephone line. I asked an innocent question: was a song he recorded called Killer's Blaze perhaps a wee bit over the line? George sang it convincingly, "I'm going to kill you if you don't start treating me nice/you gonna wake up one mornin' baby and find yourself cold as ice."

He said no, it wasn't. One b-b-bad dude, that George.

Six years later, fans might be dismayed to catch a glimpse of his sensitive side on his latest album, Half a Boy, Half a Man. It's a heartfelt, cry-in-yer-beer country ballad called Not Tonight, one of only two original tunes on the record. He buried it at the end, but it's a winner. Could this be a new direction for the man, the manliest man in rock 'n' roll, no less, who can knock down all that bourbon, scotch and beer?

"Naw, I wrote that song about 15 years ago," he says in a recent phone interview. "This is the first record company that wanted it. (He's now with CMC International, home of many a dinosaur rock band.) I did it this time and it seemed to stick. I was hoping Dolly Parton would record that song."

He's kidding, I think. In any case, the song doesn't seem to go with Thorogood's hard-drinking, hard-living vagabond image.

"Well, ya know, Mick Jagger wrote Brown Sugar. He also wrote Fool to Cry. I don't know what that means, so, uh, don't worry, I'm not going to dwell on it or anything."

Addressing the notion - for the 1,000th time, I'm sure - that he ought to write more of his own stuff rather than always covering songs by Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker, he insists that, damn it, Jim, he's a performer, not a songwriter.

"I'm a ham-and-egger when it comes to rock 'n' roll. I have to rely on my wits. I just can't go into the studio and let the creative juices flow. I gotta hustle. There are geniuses liked Bob Dylan or Paul Simon and then there are people like me who are just, uh, clever.

"I tell it like it is. I might be a lifetime .290 hitter but I had to work really hard to do it. I have to really pump at it. I'm proud of it but at the same, it's a tough gig."

Sure, he's worked hard. He had to. With everyone from Eric Clapton to ZZ Top to the Rolling Stones picking over the old blues catalogue many times over, Thorogood had to hunt for stuff that hadn't been done before. For instance, there's a simple reason why there's no John Lee Hooker on Half a Boy, Half a Man - "We've done them all. There are none left to do."

He goes on, "Selecting material is not as easy as people may think. It's a very hard process to find material that hasn't been covered by anybody ... but I got a little bit more of an inside track to that. I can hear a song and go, well, the recording's bad but nobody's ever made a good song out of it. We've done that quite successfully over the years. Besides, Tower Records carries all that stuff now. Twenty-five years ago, it was obscure material. You really had to dig and come up with tunes. Now it's easy. Now it's like getting laid in a whorehouse."

And how, one may wonder, can he sing Bad to the Bone every single night and make it sound so convincing?

The secret, he says, is "not to overdo it - that's what keeps it fresh. If you stay fresh the whole thing will stay fresh. Putting new material into the show every other year, a few new songs from the new record, that's what's keeps the older songs fresh as well. The people keep it fresh. I don't see any people looking bored at our shows."

Drunk, maybe, but never bored.

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