George Thorogood is a larger than life character, who with his band The Destroyers have a number of songs that remain not only popular but revered after all these years. When you hear the phrase, “Bad to the Bone”, the first thing that pops in to your head is the name George Thorogood. That song as well as “Move It On Over”, “Bourbon, Scotch, Beer” always gets everyone’s attention when played on the radio, a TV commercial, a sporting event, or even a movie. After more than 30 years of playing and recording George Thorogood remains as relevant today as ever.
Playing out and writing songs for over 30 years now is there any particular song of yours that’s a particular favorite?
I like them all. That would be difficult. As my mom once said, “I’m proud of all my children”. I would have to say that the one that brought us the most success was probably “Bad to the Bone”. The one that got us noticed was “Bourbon, Scotch and Beer”. Those two are probably the most popular amongst the people who purchased our CDs and bought tickets to see us play. But for me personally, no, I don’t think there’s one particular song that’s a particular favorite.
My experience in doing interviews is that most artists say the blues have been a major influence on them. Why do you think that is so?
I think that was all there was to begin with. If you’re going to play rock music properly, especially rock guitar – that’s what it comes from. It’s a shame, because Jimmy Page and JimiHendrix who are probably two of the highest profile rock guitarists of all time and turned on a whole generation – the kids that listened to them just plug in the guitar and what they don’t have in substance they make up in volume. They don’t study the same things Hendrix and Page did. Therefore you get bands that are really not connected. I really don’t have time for that kind of music and those kind of people. It’s like an actor who has never heard of Tennessee Williams or a writer who has never heard of Hemingway or Steinbeck. So how can you call yourself a rock musician if you know nothing of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, or Bo Diddley? It’s like a stepping stone of a learning process that if – not that I’ve mastered, mind you – I’m just saying that the greats before me that’s what they cut their teeth on. I’ve followed in their footsteps in that fashion. Like country people who have listened to Johnny Cash or Hank Williams. You follow what I’m saying?
Yes. A lot of bands and recording artists seem to have animosity towards commercial radio – even hatred. What has been your relationship or feelings towards commercial radio?
I don’t have any feelings about it one way or another. Commercial radio? You man like Top 40? I don’t even know what commercial radio is any more. Like commercials for Pepsi?
Right, as compared to satellite, college or internet radio. Back in the 60s and 70s there seemed to be less corporate control over music compared to today. Now there are three or four radio groups that control most of the airwaves.
Well, we’re gonna have to get used to it. Corporate things are going to take over everything. Not just radio, but television. MTV sold out to a corporation, didn’t they?
At one time they were an independent station. They were on 24 hours. I don’t know who bought them. That’s just the way of the world. Once a corporation gets wind of something that people enjoy or something that’s a potential moneymaker the corporations are going to move in and buy it out. Probably, eventually there will be a whole chain of House of Blues and they’ll sell to some huge corporation. That’s just the way of the world. I have no say in that. As far as it being a problem, they don’t care for that sort of thing. It’s just the way of the world – especially the Western world – especially in America. That’s just the American way. I’m not saying it’s good or bad. Why are they so upset about it? They still play their music.
Some think that they don’t play their music.
That’s why they’re pissed off. (laughs) If they were playing their music they wouldn’t care, would they? (laughs) You see what I’m saying? It’s like saying as long as you sell my product you’re okay.
Where did you pick up your appreciation for music?
Just like anybody else. I just heard something and I liked it. When I started out listening to music all music was good. (laughs) So I heard Ray Charles on the radio. Everything I heard was on the radio. If it was on the radio it was good. I wasn’t aware of anything that wasn’t top quality. If you looked at people that cracked AM radio between 1955 and 1965, which was the bulk of the time I listened to the radio, you had some of the greatest names ever. Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley – it was all quality stuff. If it wasn’t, why are all of those people in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? And how come that’s all you hear on the radio today? Mostly these classic rock radio stations, all you hear is the stuff 1955 to 1980 because that’s the best stuff there ever was. Let’s face it.
Do you feel radio has become too departmentalized where it’s divided into so many niches?
There’s too much of it now not to do that. When I first started listening to radio in 1958/59 there was a Top 10, not even a Top 20. So there wasn’t that many people doing it. So they had to divide it up into sections. Just like they divided the Major Leagues into divisions. One time there was no division. There was just one league, remember? So they had to divide it up because there was so many. That’s the reason, I think.
Was there a particular song or album that left an impression on you growing up?
Not one particular one. It was a collection of everything. Everything I listened to had an impact on me. I’d be knocked out listening to Hank Williams as I was listening to the Rolling Stones, or just as knocked out listening to Chuck Berry as I was listening to Bob Dylan. I can’t pinpoint the one, though.
Was it difficult for you to leave Delaware to go on and pursue what would eventually become George Thorogood and the Destroyers?
To leave Delaware? No. I was booted out. (laughs) I was ordered to leave by the city council. Unanimously.
I guess they welcome you back now as a favorite son.
I’m sure they do. Everybody is forgiving.
Who told you this?
I’ve done a little bit of research.
Oh really? Who have you been talking to?
I can’t reveal my sources.
Oh… alright. Okay, alright.
They’re not going to pull you over or anything like that.
I don’t think unless you’ve got some outstanding warrants.
I’ll just have to take your word for it.
I appreciate that. In the years that you’ve been playing, how have you managed to stay contemporary and not become a nostalgia act like a lot of the bands that were around when you started?
I think that certain songs that you play and the style that you play them, you have certain material that works for every generation. Say like Danny and the Juniors are locked in a 50’s like sound, or as someone like a Dean Martin, his style is not locked into any generation or any decade. It just keeps going on. I think we have two or three songs like that. People are always going to dance. People are always going to drink. People are always going to laugh. Our music is a combination of all three of those things. That’s what keeps it going. That’s the appeal. It’s not a monster appeal like say, Paul McCartney’s music. When I got in this business I said I was going to get into something that’s like selling cheeseburgers, French fries, or selling Chevys – something that will be around forever – something that will never go out of style, That was a conscious plan on my part. I think that’s what’s made us last. Plus the fact that I’m extremely good looking and a sexy performer. You can’t leave that out, can you?
Oh, of course not.
There you go.
I think that’ll be the title of this article.
What goes through your mind when you see a commercial or attend a sporting event and you heard “Bad to the Bone” as accompanying music?
It’s pretty much a universal statement. It’s the saying more than the song, isn’t it?
Sure it’s a saying, but when you hear the phrase “bad to the bone” you automatically think of George Thorogood.
There’s nothing I can do about that It’s not a bad thing.
Not at all.
It can fit into just about anything. That’s why we did it, so it would have universal appeal.
What keeps you motivated these days?
Well, many things. I have a family to support. I love what I do. And I’m too young to retire.
What is your favorite part of being a musician?
The fact to be able to do it. Even when I’m not on stage I can pick up a guitar and sit and play it and entertain myself. A football player can’t do that. Even an actor can’t do that. I think that’s why music stands alone. I think that’s why musicians in general are almost unreachable. I think that’s why they have so much appeal to the opposite sex too, because they think wow, even with a woman or a man it doesn’t make any difference. I can’t reach this person – they’ll always have the music. I think that’s the appeal of being a musician. You’re never lonely as long as there’s a guitar around or a piano, or whatever it is. You can haul it around with you. It’s something that’s very accessible. When you’re at a party or alone you can’t day, “I think I’ll set up a 38’ field goal and make myself feel good” if you’re in a hotel room. (laughs) You can’t do that kind of thing, can you? If you’re a comic do you go in front of a mirror and tell a few jokes to yourself? In music it’s different. You’re safe there, so to speak.
Do you enjoy touring as much today as you did when you first started?
I didn’t like it at all when I first started. I like it much better now. It was terrible when I first started. Terrible. We didn’t have a crew. I had only one guitar. And the amps were always blowing up. We had to drive ourselves. The places we played weren’t very good. The P.A.s were terrible. The only thing that kept us going were the people. We had great fans from day one. And I don’t understand how they stuck with us all those years. Things were pretty rough in the old days. I’m talking about between 1977 and about 1985. It was all hit or miss. Most of the time it was miss, let me tell ya’. (laughs)
How have you handled the digital age with all of the new technology that is coming into the music business?
I don’t. I usually have other people doing that for me. I actually play through an amp. The digital age in a lot of ways has not reached me yet. You know, it’s good when you have things like going to the dentist or you get a check up, in medicine, things like that, flying an airplane – it makes things easier, so to speak. But for the things I need to do, it’s not quite as necessary. I still have to pick up the guitar and it has to have strings on it. It’s not digital – I can’t just push a button and out comes the song.
– Dave Weinthal