George Thorogood Does The Q&A
Since playing their first gig in late 1973, George Thorogood & The Destroyers have traveled the globe several times over. This year, while celebrating four decades of rock ’n’ roll, Thorogood and the band are touring in relation to a couple of recent releases.
One is the Icon album released by Universal Music Enterprises. Filled with such fan favorites as “Bad To The Bone,” and “I Drink Alone,” as well as live versions of “Who Do You Love” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” Icon is sure to bring smiles to longtime fans as well as attract new followers.
The other release is the Eagle Rock Entertainment-issued DVD / Blu-ray, “Live At Montreux,” featuring Thorogood and The Destroyers doing what they do best – rockin’ the night away.
While speaking with Pollstar, Thorogood offered observations about record companies, the labels that have been applied to his music through the years, and his passion for bona fide rock festivals. Oh, and a future where he can spend as much time as possible in a horizontal position.
What’s the story behind the guitar with all the signatures?
I have a guitar that I’ve had artists [I’ve worked with] sign over the years. … I started working in ’73 with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee [and] got into the habit that anyone who I was associated with in any kind of a business activity, I’d have them autograph my guitar.
Have you kept the tradition going?
Yes, I have. I missed Bob Dylan. Unfortunately I didn’t have the guitar with me. I did two engagements with him. I still gotta get a hold of Brian Setzer, too, and get him on there. I have just about everybody else.
How’s the tour going?
I can’t complain. I ask my manager every night after the show and he seems pleased. The promoters are pleased and the fans are pleased. I generally look at this thing and when people say, “How was this? How was the venue? How many people came? What was the response to what we played?” – on those terms everything is going good.
An item from Cleveland Scene is posted on your website in which the writer complains that too many people were sitting down at the show he attended. He said he loved the show but was disappointed that people weren’t on their feet. When one person told him to sit down so that they could watch the show, he asked her, “Why don’t you stand up and let that electric guitar flow through your soul?”
I don’t know what this gentleman was talking about because there were a lot of people up and rockin’. You also got to understand something – rock ’n’ roll is getting older, now. People are not 22 years old [anymore]and don’t have the energy to bounce around for two or three hours. The average person who goes to a rock show is probably 50 years old now, because rock itself is older than that. … We played a place in Toronto where the average person was probably 55-years-old.
In a recent intervIew you said that you want to play a rock festival but you don’t have the chance to do it.
Yeah, because there aren’t very many of them. They just don’t call them [rock] much anymore. My point is that they have jazz festivals, blues festivals, and I go “We don’t play blues. We don’t play jazz. How come we can’t play a rock festival?” And they usually call it something else, like Moondance Jam, or something like that. I was very tongue-in-cheek, saying it used to be all rock festivals back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. When you went to see Jeff Beck or Ten Years After, they played a rock festival. So [when someone says] “This is a jazz festival.” I say, “I don’t play any jazz.” If they say “it’s a blues festival,” I’ll say, “I don’t play any blues. We play rock.” That just wouldn’t call it that.
But you’re often described as a blues or a blues/rock musician. Do you think those labels have been a handicap?
No because I get to play at the rock festivals and the blues festivals. If I had known that I would have called ourselves a rock/jazz/blues/country band. Then I could play everywhere.
But you seem to play everywhere anyway.
We do. We’re lucky we have a broad enough appeal. We do Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues” and “Move It On Over” by Hank Williams. You can always throw in “The Sky Is Crying,” which is a blues song. The rest of the stuff is classic rock. Classic rock radio, anyway.
Back in 1978 when “Move It On Over” started getting airplay, it seemed as if the record just jumped out of radio and demanded that people listen to it. It was a big change from arena rock or the softer music that was all over the radio at the time.
We were lucky we got a hold of it before Linda Ronstadt did. … We were concerned that might happen. I said if she gets a hold of this with a tight band behind her, then she’d scoop us. “Move It On Over” would have been great if Asleep At The Wheel did it, or REO Speedwagon. It wasn’t me, it was the song.
You’re known for your covers of other people’s songs yet you emerged at a time when people expected artists to write all of their own material. Did the label ever give you any grief about the amount of covers on your albums?
It was Rounder Records [and] they had no concerns. Linda Ronstadt did not write one song on her record. Neither did Joe Cocker. The record companies don’t care about that. They care about selling records. The critics and reviewers get very uptight. “Well, there’s no originals on it.”
“Yeah, but it sold 800,000 copies. Everybody is dancing to it. What’s your beef?” A good album is a good album is a good album, right? People don’t care about that. Do people really know who wrote “A Boy Named Sue”?
Yeah, you do and I do but most people don’t, and don’t care. That’s the point I’m trying to make.
What do you do for fun these days?
I try to get myself in a horizontal position as much as possible. … I don’t have time for hobbies. … The way the world is now, there’s hardly any time to do anything. People have been commenting on that – think you have to change the system, make it a 36-hour day. There are not enough hours in a day to get anything done. You know that in your business and in every business. And, as time goes on, people are getting older and not retiring as early. … And it takes you 20 minutes just to find your car keys.
Do you think you’ll ever retire?
I hope so. It’s got to happen someday, doesn’t it?
It’s hard to tell in rock ’n’ roll. Especially when you see a band like The Rolling Stones performing in their 70s.
Yeah, but The Stones play once every eight years. … that’s a whole different animal you’re shooting at there. I don’t think that’s a fair assumption. When you’re talking about retiring, you’re talking about somebody who goes to work every day. … Those guys have millions and millions of dollars. They kick back for five, six, seven years and then go out and do something. I don’t think that’s the same as what B.B. King does.
So if you were to retire, would you spend more days horizontally?
I don’t know about that but I’ve always been a person who values a good night’s sleep. That’s what people do when they retire. They sit around in chairs and talk about the old days, don’t they?
What moves George Thorogood & The Destroyers from town to town?
We have 19 people, including the band members. [We have] three buses and one truck.
Do you look out at the crowd before show time to size up the audience and get a feel for what they’re like?
I ask people about that now and again, “What’s the house like?” I put feelers out there. “Is it a good crowd, light crowd … older crowd?” I ask a lot of questions.
If you could send some advice back to your younger self, what would you say?
I’d say, “You’re going to be successful. Prepare for that.” We were prepared for failure, not success.
When did you feel you were successful?
When “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” got on the radio. We knew it before, because we knew the song was a hit but we couldn’t put the thing into operation until the song got established. It’s like saying, “I know I have a good product” but I couldn’t do anything until the customers come by the store.
I would have told [my younger self] “Expand. You have a coffee shop that holds 125 people but 2,000 will want to come in here.” We were unprepared for the amount of attention we got.
So success was a big surprise.
Yes, a shock. I went into a whole different tax bracket. I had to go and get an accountant. We didn’t have a tour manager, we didn’t even have a manager. So if I had to look back, I’d say, “Hold on. Before you put this record out, you’ve got to be prepared for it because it’s going to be a hit.”
Upcoming dates for George Thorogood & The Destroyers:
July 18 – Sioux Falls, S.D., Yankton Trail Park (Sioux Falls Jazz & Blues Festival, JazzFest)
July 19 – Walker, Minn., Moondance Events (Moondance Jam)
July 20 – Mankato, Minn., Vetter Stone Amphitheater
July 22 – Janesville, Wis., Rock County Fairgrounds (Rock County 4-H Fair)
Sept. 18 – Rochester, Wash., Lucky Eagle Casino
Sept. 19 – Yakima, Wash., State Fair Park (Central Washington State Fair)
Sept. 20 – Manson, Wash., Mill Bay Casino
Sept. 21 – Airway Heights, Wash., Northern Quest Casino
Sept. 23 – San Francisco, Calif., The Fillmore
Sept. 25 – Folsom, Calif., Harris Center For The Arts
Sept. 26 – Bakersfield, Calif., Kern County Fairgrounds (Kern County Fair)
Sept. 27 – Anaheim, Calif., House Of Blues
Sept. 28 – Las Vegas, Nev., Riviera Hotel & Casino (Big Blues Bender)
Sept. 30 – Salt Lake City, Utah, The Depot
Oct. 1 – Grand Junction, Colo., Avalon Theatre
Oct. 2 – Boulder, Colo., Boulder Theater
Oct. 3 – Colorado Springs, Colo., Pikes Peak Center
Oct. 4 – Wichita, Kan., Orpheum Theatre
Oct. 7 – Effingham, Ill., Effingham Performance Center
Oct. 8 – St. Louis, Mo., The Pageant
Oct. 9 – Springfield, Mo., Gillioz Theatre
Oct. 10 – Little Rock, Ark., Arkansas State Fair Complex (Arkansas State Fair)
Oct. 11 – Tulsa, Okla., River Spirit Casino
Please visit GeorgeThorogood.com for more information.