During the late ’70s and ’80s, while new wave was taking over the radio, George Thorogood found success by melding Chicago blues with rock ’n’ roll.
Thorogood, turning 67 on Feb. 24, is still rocking today. He puts on one a hell of a show and will be performing a sold-out concert at Morongo Casino Resort Spa on Friday, March 3.
During a recent phone interview, Thorogood said he already knew what he wanted to do with his life as he grew up in Wilmington, Del.
“When I first played as a young boy in school, I was in a band, and we played a birthday party for one of my sisters,” Thorogood said. “That was pretty much my first gig. From that day, I knew what I was going to do for a living. I had been thinking about it for months before that. It wasn’t a hobby or something I was just trying to get out of my system: I knew what I wanted to do.”
George Thorogood and the Destroyers released their first album in 1977 and quickly had a hit with a cover of John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” The group’s second album, Move It on Over, released in 1978, had no original material, and found success with covers of Hank Williams’ “Move It on Over” and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”
In 1981, he and the Destroyers opened for the Rolling Stones.
“I thought it was overdue, to tell you the truth,” Thorogood said. “I had seen other bands work with the Stones, and I had grown up in an era when Bill Graham used to put on shows, and the bands were compatible with each other. Quicksilver Messenger Service would work with the Grateful Dead; the Paul Butterfield Blues Band would work with the Allman Brothers. I thought we cut our teeth on blues such as Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, so we should we on the bill. But the whole world had changed at that time. People didn’t book gigs because of that; they would book gigs because they could fill the arenas. They would put Guns N’ Roses and ZZ Top with the Rolling Stones to fill stadiums. I wasn’t aware of that at the time; I thought our credentials were right for the gig, because we listened to the same music they did. They tried us out one night in Philadelphia, and it worked.”
In 1982, he and the Destroyers put out Bad to the Bone, which included fewer covers than previous albums. Of course, the song “Bad to the Bone” was a huge hit. Does Thorogood ever get tired of playing it?
“Never,” he replied. “These songs, whether we wrote them or not, we thought of them as songs an audience would go for. Everybody wants a song they’re going to play for the rest of their life, because that’s how you make a living. Where would B.B. King be without ‘The Thrill is Gone’? You think Jerry Lee Lewis would stop playing ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’? You select material because you want it to be popular. It’s secondary whether or not I like it. As long as the audience likes it, I like it, and if they like it, I will keep playing it.”
The blues genre is in trouble—some people say it’s dying, and many well-known blues establishments have closed their doors—and Thorogood credits classic-rock radio for keeping his audience thriving.
“My perspective is that 75 to 80 percent of the people who come to my shows are people coming to see a classic-rock act,” he said. “We’re on classic-rock radio, and that’s where we’ve been for the past 20 to 30 years, maybe even longer. There are a few other people who say, ‘They used to be a blues band,’ or, ‘George is a blues man.’ But they come to see us because we’re a rock band. Blues acts aren’t selling out Madison Square Garden, and that’s just the way it is. Aerosmith does. I think our success has a lot to do with rock-classic radio.”
There’s a new album in the works—a solo album just featuring Thorogood.
“I think there might be one or two electric songs on it, but I think it’s pretty much acoustic stuff, and it’s me alone,” he said. “There will be a lot of new material, but I might cover a few tunes.
“You have to understand that there were songs I played alone before I had a band, so I’m going backwards to go forwards. There are tunes that I did in my very brief career as a solo artist, for what that’s worth,” he added with a laugh.
A George Thorogood and the Destroyers show always includes the hits—as well as some material you may have never heard before.
“I’m not big on surprises, but we will try to do different material,” he said. “It has to be something that works, and it depends on how much time we have. We might have to stick to something short and sweet, or we get an extended night and throw some extras in there.”
George Thorogood and the Destroyers will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, March 3, at Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. The show was listed as sold out as of our press deadline. For more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit www.morongocasinoresort.com.