In 1973, Hank Aaron was within one home run of Babe Ruth’s MLB all-time record; President Nixon announced that he wasn’t a crook; A gallon of gas cost 39 cents; MTV was still 8 years away, and a young Wilmington guitar-slinger and his band played their first electrifying gig at a University of Delaware residence hall.
Today, home run records are performance-enhanced; Watergate seems quaint, while gas prices veer to insane. Few remember what the ‘M’ in MTV once stood for. But over 8,000 live shows and 15 million albums sold worldwide later, George Thorogood is still making explosive music, still thrilling audiences, and still the baddest-to-the-bone performer in rock.
That’s 40 Years Strong.
For George Thorogood and his longtime band The Destroyers – Jeff Simon (drums, percussion), Bill Blough (bass guitar), Jim Suhler (rhythm guitar) and Buddy Leach (saxophone) – their 40th anniversary is indestructible proof that staying true to yourself and the music can still mean something. And with a catalog of iconic hits that includes “Who Do You Love”, “I Drink Alone”, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”, “Move It On Over”, “Bad To The Bone” and more, being able to share it with audiences is what will always matter.
“When I first started messing around with this thing in the early ‘70s, none of us even knew if rock & roll itself was going to last,” George says. “There were no music videos, no classic rock radio. Only acts like Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones were doing big arena shows. Casino gigs were for performers like Joey Bishop and Dean Martin. I thought to myself, ‘I just want to put out a couple of records before the whole thing goes away.’ Every performer of my generation – Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt – thought the same way. We didn’t get into this because it felt like the thing of the future. I was afraid that rock would be over, and I’d miss my chance to be a part of it.”
Surprisingly, Thorogood began his career as a solo acoustic act. “I was more of a Robert Johnson/Elmore James country-blues player,” he explains. “That soon petered out, but I’d gotten enough feedback from artists like Brownie McGhee and Willie Dixon who thought I had something going. I knew I needed more.” George called high-school friend and drummer Jeff Simon, and with the addition of a bass player – as well as Jeff’s van – the electric trio soon graduated from basement rehearsals to local gigs. “We knew there was still time for one hardcore high-energy boogie-blues band to make it. We relocated to Boston, and toured the Delaware Valley, Philly and New England non-stop. Crowds loved us. The acts we were opening for, like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, loved us. We were playing great, but still couldn’t get a record deal and didn’t earn more than $200 a night.”
Like an old blues song, the hard times kept coming. “1974 to 1977 was rough,” George remembers. “Everything seemed stacked against us. We were always getting ripped off, our gear got stolen, our rent was doubled and we were evicted from our
band house.” By this time, Bill Blough had joined The Destroyers on bass and the band signed a deal with bluegrass label Rounder Records. “But the album sat on the shelf for 18 months,” George says with a laugh. “And the day it was finally released was the day Elvis died.”
Their 1977 debut George Thorogood & The Destroyers would soon be certified Gold. And for audiences and radio alike, the band instantly embodied – and
continues to define – powerhouse rock with bar band roots, unchained attitude and a fierce love of its country and blues history. Over the course of sixteen studio albums (including six Gold and two Platinum), they would storm the charts by putting their own stamp on nuggets by Hank Williams, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James and more, while simultaneously bashing out smash GT originals that crackle with humor and swagger. “I’ve always balanced one against the other,” George explains. “Back when we were playing clubs before we had original material, I’d say ‘Hey, let’s play that Willie Dixon song.’ We played them our way and
audiences loved ‘em.
In terms of my writing, you find what you’re good at and stick to it. My lyrics have a good sense of humor and I can play a mean guitar. Let’s face it; ‘Get A Haircut’ isn’t a song for Carly Simon to do. It’s for Thorogood.” As for his signature certified classic “Bad To The Bone”, George knows the simple truth of the soundtrack staple and definitive badass anthem. “It’s the ultimate fantasy of the cool tough guy,” he says. “I wrote ‘Bad To The Bone’ to perform it live for the rest of my life.”
In fact, ask anyone who’s seen a GT&D performance – from that first show at Lane Hall, through legendary appearances on SNL and Live Aid, the opening slot on the Rolling Stones historic ’81 tour, their own record-breaking 50/50 tour, or any of their current 100+ shows per year – and it’s undisputed that their reputation as worldwide road warriors is stronger than ever. “I love to perform live,” George says. “I consider my job description to be ‘live rock performer’. When we play, whether it’s a great old theater, a brand new casino, an outdoor festival, wherever, we’re making a living doing what we love to do. And people love what it is we're doing. We’ve worked hard over the past 40 years to get to this point, and we’re proud to be here.”
Ultimately, the 40 Years Strong Tour is 50% celebration, 50% declaration and 100% Thorogood throwdown. But after 4 decades as one of the most consistent – and consistently unique – careers in rock, can a guitar-slinger still at the top of his game choose a moment that sums it all up? “Stan Musial was once asked, ‘What was the greatest day of your career?’ And Stan said ‘Every day when I walk onto the field is the greatest day.’ I feel the same way,” George says. “Every night when I walk out on that stage is the highlight of my career. I hit that first chord, the band kicks in, and we hear the audience respond. That’s the rush. 40 years into this, and every night, that's still the only moment that matters.”
For George Thorogood & The Destroyers – and for rock & roll – it doesn’t get stronger than that.