Blues rock legend George Thorogood is calling from…somewhere. “I’ve sworn an oath to the government not to give the whereabouts of my location,” he says amiably. “You know how it is. When you’re a fugitive from injustice, you’ve got to be careful.” In conversation, he is just as jovial and cheeky as he often comes across in hits such as “Bad to the Bone,” “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” and “I Drink Alone.”
Thorogood is more forthcoming when talking about the latest George Thorogood and the Destroyers release, a reissue of Live in Boston, 1982 via Craft Recordings. It first came out in 2010, but this time around, it’s expanded to included all of the songs that the band performed that evening, along with Thorogood’s affable between-song patter.
The palpable energy captured on this album, Thorogood says, is partially due to the fact that the show was recorded at the Bradford Ballroom in the band’s then-hometown of Boston. “That area was known as the combat zone,” he says of the venue’s location. “It was very dangerous. You had to really watch yourself. If you went down there and you said to the police something happened, they’d say, ‘Well, if you’re dumb enough to go to the combat zone, we can’t help you.’” Thorogood says it meant a lot that audiences still showed up despite the risk. “We played at that room more than a few times. That gave us a little bit of an extra push.”
Of course, the high-energy songs that Thorogood and his band played were probably an even bigger factor in that show’s success. By that concert, Thorogood had already led the Destroyers to significant chart success, with their signature hit, “Bad to the Bone,” soaring up the charts that same year.
Looking back on that time, Thorogood recalls how he went about his songwriting process. “My general way of doing it was, I’d have to spend a lot of time alone with no distractions,” he says. “I would generally get up in the morning – or afternoon or whatever – and work on a song and get some exercise, then go bowling alone, and I’d come home alone. Then that night I’d go out and see a band. Just checking things out and letting the ideas flow. And then come home and work on the song some more.
“I’d be banging on the guitar and a lick would happen. I put some words around it or I’d have an interesting title and try to make some music to it,” Thorogood continues. “There’s all different ways to approach this. You can put together a song in two hours, or you can spend a whole month on it.”
Besides his own original songs, Thorogood is also known as a particularly memorable interpreter of other artists’ songs. His versions of “Who Do You Love?” (by Bo Diddly), “Move It On Over” (Hank Williams), “My Way” (Eddie Cochran), and “Nobody But Me” (The Isley Brothers), among others, have become as famous as the originals (and in some cases, even more so). Thorogood says fans’ reactions have often guided the decisions on which songs to perform and record.
“After you do a couple of albums and you get that under your belt, and you play live night after night after night, you get a sense of what your audience enjoys hearing,” Thorogood says, “so we would select songs or write songs according to the taste of the Destroyers fans. It’s not unlike having a restaurant: you have steady customers, and you put something new on the menu you think they would like.”
As for why Thorogood has never strayed from his blues rock style, he says with a laugh, “It’s easy: I can’t play anything else! George Thorogood knows two songs, and about a hundred variations of those two songs.” He does have a more serious answer about what attracted him to playing blues in the first place, though: “I dug it. There are certain areas of it that I adapted to very quickly. John Lee Hooker style of guitar and the slide guitar of Elmore James. And I also know a lot of Robert Johnson. John Hammond was a big influence, too. I just thought that was a natural way to go.”
Thorogood admits he only got serious about a career in music when he was already a couple of years out of high school – and he did so at his parents’ urging. “They came up and said one word to me: ‘When?’” he says. “They meant to say, ‘When are you going to do this, George? It’s all you talk about. You dress like a rock star. You sleep ‘til four in the afternoon like a rock star. You may as well go out and be one – but you can’t just lay on the couch all the time dreaming of it.’
Thorogood put together his band, the Delaware Destroyers (later shortened to the Destroyers) in the mid-‘70s, and they found their footing after relocating to Boston later in that decade. Their debut album, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, came out in 1977 and gave them their first hit single with “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” Their next album, 1978’s Move It On Over, was just as successful thanks to the title track. They continued this momentum with subsequent releases, finally gaining international stardom 1982 with “Bad to the Bone” (the title track from their fifth album). In all, they’ve released fifteen studio albums (and Thorogood also released a solo album, Party of One, in 2017).
By now, many George Thorogood and the Destroyers songs have become cultural touchstones that audiences expect to hear at every show the band plays. Thorogood says he doesn’t mind performing them again and again, though, because “We play for a different audience every night. That’s the excitement of it. There could be somebody out there who’s never heard us live or never will hear us again, so that’s the inspiration of laying it on them,” he says. “And if they dig it, I can’t find a bigger rush than that. I mean, come on, you walk out there [and] maybe there’s fifteen hundred people and they’re digging the hell out of what you’re doing. Who could ask for more than that?”
Thorogood and his band are known for touring relentlessly throughout the past four decades – so being forced off the road due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an abrupt shift for them. Thorogood takes it in stride, though. He says he’s spending this time “Just doing what I usually do. The pandemic has not really interfered with my lifestyle that much because when I’m not working, I’m basically just exercising, playing my guitar, staying out of everybody’s way. So I try to stick with that. That way, I can stay out of trouble, you know.”
Keeping a positive attitude – in life, as well as in his music – is something that Thorogood says he does deliberately. “My thing is based on pleasure,” he says. “Pleasure I share with the world. Pain I keep to myself. I look at it this way – people say, ‘How are you doing, George?’ And I go, ‘Well, I’m not in prison and I’m not in a hospital with a stick in my eye!’ I just check out the basics. As long as those functions are there, then anything on top of that is a bonus.”
Check out the review of the new, Live album.