Happy birthday to the one and only George Thorogood, who turned 72 years old today (Feb. 24, 2022). Back in 2010, I had the chance to interviewe him to preview his umpteenth Canadian tour. Talking to him was exactly what you might expect from listening to his albums: He was a wisecracking, motormouthed quote machine. But he was also more candid and self-aware about his work and career than a lot of artists. He ended our interview by saying, “Most of what I’ve said has been true — you pick out what is and what isn’t.” Here’s the whole (slightly edited) story:
Nobody needs a new album by George Thorogood and The Destroyers.
That’s how he sees it, anyway. After more than 35 years and 15 discs — including 2009’s Dirty Dozen — the blues-rock vet is ready to pull the plug on his recording career. “That part of my life is over,” claims the singer-guitarist. “That’s done. Dirty Dozen was the last of it. Maybe I’ll make one more live album. And maybe an album where I play alone on acoustic guitar. That might work. And I’d like to get an ultimate box set. But aside from that, there’s nothing I haven’t done already. Do you need another Rolling Stones album? Does John Fogerty really need to record more songs? No. Neither do I.”
In fact, if he had his way, his discography would be shorter than it is. “I didn’t need to make as many albums as I did; a lot of them are kind of watered down,” he says candidly. “If you take all my best material, you probably only have seven or eight really good albums. In the moment, you think, ‘This one’s going to be great.’ But I haven’t even thought that for the last two or three albums. After (1993’s) Haircut, I thought, ‘Well, that’s it.’ At that point, I knew we had enough material to fill out a live show for the rest of our lives, and do songs that no one will be disappointed to hear.”
For the Delaware rocker, that was the culmination of a lifelong labour of love. “For 30 years, I’ve been painstakingly building a set of 12 tunes that I can’t go wrong playing,” he says. “Between 1970 and 1975 I did a ton of research, finding obscure material no one had covered. I knew there were groovy tunes out there that I didn’t write and people want to hear. So we made people aware of those songs and put them into the rock consciousness.”
Rudy Toombs‘ One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, Bo Diddley‘s Ride on Josephine and Hank Williams‘ Move it On Over are just a few of the gems Thorogood unearthed for a new generation of fans. Delivered with his gruff growl and juke-joint guitar licks, those meat-and-potatoes blues-rockers remain staples of classic-rock radio, along with his signature song Bad to the Bone.
“A guy asked me once: ‘How does it feel to be a one-hit wonder?’ I said, ‘Better than being a no-hit wonder,’ ” he laughs. “You got one song, you got a job. You got three songs, you got a career. You got five, you’re a legend.”
“A guy asked me once: ‘How does it feel to be a one-hit wonder?’ I said, ‘Better than being a no-hit wonder.”
He may not be a legend yet, but Thorogood isn’t getting a haircut and a real job anytime soon. He and his “obnoxious boogie band” are back on the road, barnstorming across most of the country over the next few weeks.
“I love Canada, man — it’s my second home,” he says, rattling off a list of his favourite cities and clubs from coast to coast. “We could be the house band up there. We could start in Vancouver, go all the way to Halifax, turn around and go all the way back. It wouldn’t bother me a bit.”
And while Thorogood maintains rock ’n’ roll is just a job to him — “I’m like a musical waiter; I take orders and then I deliver” — it’s clearly more. When asked about carrying on the legacy of the bluesmen who inspired and mentored him, he briefly turns serious.
“You’re the first person who’s ever brought that up and I’m glad you did,” he says. “I want to have that recognized. We’re the last of the card-carrying blues boogie bands. The last of a breed. We saw Muddy Waters play. We opened for him. We opened for Howling Wolf. I opened for Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee at my first gig. We got in there at the tail end before they died. But we were the last ones. We’re the class of ’73 — and after us, they closed the college. And after our band, there will be no more.”
Even Thorogood doesn’t know when that end will come. But he doesn’t intend to live up to the title of his 2003 CD Ride ‘Til I Die. “You can’t do anything forever. There’s the three D’s: Desire, demand and delivery. I have to have desire, I’m not gonna play for free, and I want to play better than I did last night. I don’t want anybody saying, ‘You should have seen him five years ago.’ If I hear that, I’ll say, ‘Congratulations; you just retired the great George Thorogood.’ If that happens tomorrow, that’s when it will be.”
And if it does, it will all have been worth the trip, he says. “Everybody born after 1950 dreamed of being a rock star, and to some degree I pulled it off. With a limited amount of talent, I clawed my way to the middle. I scrounged my way into something that I dreamed of. And when I walk away, I can say, ‘Jeff Beck came to see me. Who came to see you?’ I can say that forever and no one will ever take that away from me.”
After that, who needs another album?