George Thorogood: Destroying To Survive

American singer/guitarist George Thorogood first became interested in music, notably Chicago blues, when he saw John Hammond performing in 1970.

Three years later he put together his band, The Destroyers, and they were soon backing blues stars visiting Boston.

Having released their first album in 1978, George Thorogood & The Destroyers would raise their profile with a steady release of fine, no-frills, blues-based albums during the late 70s and early 80s, including Move It On Over and Better Than The Rest.

But it was 1982’s career-defining Bad To The Bone album that shot Thorogood to fame, when the title track became his first major crossover hit following heavy play of the accompanying video on MTV. (The song appears in the movie Terminator 2). The album subsequently went gold and resided in the US chart for almost a year. In 85 he played the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid with blues legend Albert Collins.

By the 90s Thorogood’s profile, audience and commercial success had diminished, but even now the man who much prefers playing live to recording still draws sizeable enthusiastic audiences to his rootsy, energetic shows.

**What would you say was the best career decision you ever made? **

Oh boy. Probably either hiring Jeff Simon, our drummer, or giving up drinking! Both were pretty smart moves. Actually I think the best move was getting Jeff. This was in 1973. And that wasn’t even really a career move; I didn’t even really have a band at the time. He’d never played drums before. I told him to go get a drum set, and he did.

Which career move would you like the opportunity to be able to go back and change?

Well, you know, there are a few songs on the albums that I wish I hadn’t have cut, that I didn’t think were necessary, but that’s about it. I’m very fortunate to be where I am, and I’m probably not even aware of any decisions that I made that were wrong. That’s not to say I’ve done everything right.

**What’s the most ridiculous thing you ever asked for on a tour rider? **

I don’t do riders, so I’ve never asked for anything.

What’s the worst stunt a record or management company has ever tried to pull on you?

Well, I had an A&R person one time who was supposed to help us gather new material. And this person was so off what our band was about. This person wanted me to cut the song I’m A Man. I said: “You’ve got to be kidding. I’ve taken I’m A Man and created Bad To The Bone from it; what do you think Bad To The Bone is but just another version of I’m A Man?”. That was when I said I’m not making records any more. I’m not dealing with these people any more.

**Which song would you rather never hear again? **

There are acts that I see that have gone on to great popularity that I look at and go: ‘This is fucking garbage. How this person got a record deal I’ll never know’, but not a particular song.

**How many groupies have you slept with in your career – 10, 20, 50…? **

None. Yes, none.

**What would you have liked to have done with your life if you hadn’t become a musician? **

A stand-up comedian, or at least something to do with comedy. Stand-up looks so easy but it’s really hard. I have actually done it a few times. My wife took me to a place. She said: ‘You’ve got a week to prepare’. Because she thinks I’m really funny. I said: ‘A week?!’. And I got up in front of all these tourists from Ohio and places. They gave me a ten-minute spot, and I thought: ‘What the fuck am I doing up here without a guitar?!’.

**Do you think great musicians are born as such rather than made? **

Both. Some are just naturals and have the knack – like Paul McCartney; I worked my way to the middle, I am not one of those people. I mean, I had a knack for music, but I had to work just to get it right. It’s like everything else: some people are born with a break and some people have to work at it. What I was blessed with was that I’m a natural performer, and I needed an outlet for that.

Would you ever have sold your soul to the Devil if the terms had been right_? _

I may have already and not even known it. I doubt it. I think Robert Plant is the only one who has actually done that! But in a way, when you sign on the dotted line with big record companies that’s the price you pay.

Given the increasing importance of image, if the time came when you needed to, would you wear a wig if it would help your career?

No. I might wear one just for a laugh, even though I have hair.

What would we find on the ‘hobbies & interests’ section of your cv?

My interests are few but they’re extremely deep. My interests are my wife, my daughter and my band. That’s all I have time for.

What’s the worst aspect of doing what you do?

Balancing your marriage against your touring schedule. It’s so difficult it’s almost a nightmare. It actually gets to the point where I say I don’t wanna do this any more. It’s that hard.

What goals, musically and otherwise, would you still like to achieve?

We’ve been talking about the idea of doing an album with other celebrities, and that’s not a burning passion but it’s certainly an idea I’ll listen to. I’d like to do a song with Paul McCartney – who else?! I wanna work with the best – Paul McCartney, Jeff Beck, Steve Miller, Bob Dylan…

Outside music, I’d like to test my luck in films. A small part – a sidekick to Peter Fonda. Yeah, I would love to write a comedy film. Right now I am working on a movie project.

Which song or piece of music would you like to be played at your funeral?

I think I’d like the song On Broadway, the original [by The Drifters]. But don’t get your hopes up, I’m not gonna use it real soon!

This was first published in Classic Rock issue 57.

Paul Henderson

Classic Rock’s production editor for the past 22 years, ‘resting’ bass player Paul has been writing for magazines and newspapers, mainly about music, since the mid-80s, contributing to titles including Q, The Times, Music Week, Prog, Billboard, Metal Hammer, Kerrang! and International Musician. He has also written questions for several BBC TV quiz shows. Of the many people he’s interviewed, his favourite interviewee is former Led Zep manager Peter Grant. If you ever want to talk the night away about Ginger Baker, in particular the sound of his drums (“That fourteen-inch Leedy snare, man!”, etc, etc), he’s your man.