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The real George Thorogood

September 14, 2011
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Beyond 'Bad'

One of the things I have always appreciated about George Thorogood is that he has never been a bandwagon jumper. As trends in popular music evolve, George and his band, The Destroyers, have essentially remained unchanged.

When the Top 40 charts of the 80s and 90s were populated with synthesizer-driven fly-by-night pop groups, spandex-wearing "hair bands," dance-oriented Hip Hop or "soft verse/loud chorus" Nirvana-rip offs, George Thorogood kept pumping out roots-based bluesy rock that seldom varied from what his fans expected.

George and The Destroyers will bring their show to the Bangor Waterfront on Friday, Sept. 23 in support of a new album, "2120 South Michigan Avenue." That's the address of the legendary Chess Records recording studio. Thorogood's new album, a tribute to some of his heroes who recorded at Chess, wasn't originally his idea. "It was Capitol Records' idea," Thorogood told me last week. "They asked my manager, 'Would George be interested in doing a tribute album to Chess?' I said, 'On Capitol Records? Are you crazy? Of course I'd be interested in that.'"

Recordings made at Chess studios in the 40s, 50s and 60s are now considered sacred by blues and R&B lovers. I asked Thorogood how the songs for his new record were selected. "I had a complete set of the Chess Records catalog," Thorogood said. "I said to myself, 'This is not going to be easy,' and it wasn't. We listened to material for about seven months. I've always been into Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, who hasn't? That's standard, right there."

A highlight of the new album is an appearance by a legend who contributed to many of those original Chess classics, Buddy Guy. "I had heard Buddy do a brilliant version of that song live," Thorogood said. "It was like Wilson Pickett jamming with Jeff Beck - just fantastic. Tom Hambridge produced our album and earlier this year, he won a Grammy Award for Buddy Guy's album 'Living Proof.' I asked and Tom made it happen."

In person, George Thorogood is funny, unpredictable and surprisingly honest.

Dow: You've played in Maine over the years but it's been a while since you've played in Bangor. When you think of this area, what comes to mind?

Thorogood: I remember going backstage at the Bangor Auditorium and bumping into Stephen King. He was quite a character. Let's put it this way, it was memorable but not repeatable.

Dow: Some listeners of Classic Rock Radio are convinced that you primarily do songs about alcohol, but drinking songs make up only a tiny portion of your catalog. You have so much more going on there. Do you care to set the record straight about that?

Thorogood: Mike! You are my "Maine man!" Get it? Bet you've never heard that before! I would love to set the record straight. I'm glad you said that. You're the first person to ever bring that up and I've been doing interviews for more than 30 years. How do you like that? Those "drinking songs" are the songs radio selected to play. It would be like Turner Classic Movies only showing Bogart's gangster movies. That was just a fraction of what he did. The same with James Cagney. It's the same with us and I had nothing to do with that. One of those songs, "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," has a lot more to do with the guy losing his job and money for rent than it does about drinking. But you're right. We've put out 15 albums, that's about 180 songs. Three of 'em have something to do with drinking. It just happens that two of them get played on the radio all the time. The catalog is much deeper than that.


On Aug. 24, the Federal Government sent armed agents to raid four Gibson factories in Nashville and Memphis. They walked out with guitars, computers, records and wood that they claim was imported illegally from India and finished by Americans. If the wood had been finished by Indian workers, the Feds claim the material would be legal. Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz claims to have a letter from the government essentially telling him that Gibson's problems would go away if they simply outsource the construction of their guitars and employ foreign laborers.

Dow: You've been playing Gibson guitars since the 70s. What's your take on the recent Department of Justice raid on Gibson guitars?

Thorogood: I think it's a plot by the government to stop rock and roll and to stop music. You know as well as I do, the acoustic guitar has always been the symbol of protest. The Harley Davidson has always been the symbol of freedom. The electric guitar has always been the symbol of rebellion! Especially the Gibson Les Paul. Go, Johnny, Go! That's what they're trying to do, and they're using the excuse of the wood as a front. They've been trying to stop rock since it started. They can't have those guitars built over there. Blues and rock and roll were made in America. The Department of Justice? It doesn't sound like justice to me. Sounds like injustice.

Dow: What were you like as a kid growing up in Delaware?

Thorogood: You really want to know? Do you really want to hear this? OK, I'll tell you. I was the middle kid in a middle class family in the middle of nowhere. I wasn't a big kid, I wasn't a little kid. I wasn't fat, I wasn't skinny. I wasn't tall and I wasn't short. I wasn't a good student, I wasn't a bad student. I wasn't a good athlete, I wasn't a bad athlete. I was a straight "C" student. I was as outrageous as Wonderbread. And I hated every minute of it. Just like anybody else, I wanted to look like Bernardo (the leader of the Sharks) in "West Side Story." I wanted to look like Zorro. I wanted to look like Mick Jagger! I was just a kid ... you wouldn't notice me twice. All this stuff I created, like "Bad To The Bone," "Born To Be Bad;" it's a fantasy. Everybody wants to be James Bond, right? Most of the people in the world are not that person. It's like Richard Dreyfuss in the movie "Stakeout," when the girl said, "You're nice," and he goes "Oh, don't use that word!" I always wanted to be bad. Willy DeVille is bad, right? Howlin' Wolf is bad. George Thorogood is not. If you look at any of my pictures when I was in the 6th grade, you'd say, "This guy?" I was like every other kid. It wasn't like I was insecure and had something to prove. Every guy saw Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. What did they say? "I want to be that guy!" And all the girls said "I want to be with that guy!" I came from Delaware - the state with the lowest profile of all. If I had been from Texas or England, I would have been a legend [laughing].

Tickets for George Thorogood and The Destroyers' Sept. 23 concert on the Bangor Waterfront are available at www.WaterfrontConcerts.com and in person at Mark's Music in Brewer.

Mike Dow is part of 'The Mike and Mike Show' airing each morning on Kiss 94.5. Check him out at www.facebook.com/mikeandmike and www.mikedow.net.

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 December 2011 14:37

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