Ride ‘Till I Die
Eagle Records

“I take songs and make them classics”
George Thorogood

A première performer, George Thorogood and his merry band of Destroyers are a resilient bunch. Hailing from Wilmington Delaware, Thorogood has been preaching his brand of bottle-neck, blues rock for nearly 30 years. Though his career had a bumpy start he has consistently delivered a trademark sound that he can claim as his own. In 2003 he returns with a new disc, evenly balanced, superbly played and uniquely George. The title bares the name of a song he recorded during a sound check in Ft. Worth, TX…a song that defines a band still determined to follow the white lines on the highway, a slave to the open road - ready to play anywhere, to anyone, for the pure love of the blues.

"Ride Till I Die" is raking in overwhelming reviews. "A return to the classic Thorogood sound," says one reviewer. "Another hit for Thorogood, a must for his fans," says another. With the help of "American Made," the records leading single, Thorogood is seeing renewed interest in a formula that has worked for him for years. The familiar slide is there as well as his powerful rhythm section, one that is coveted by many a band. Several songs could easily see their way to the charts - the roadhouse "Devil In Disguise," Eddie Shaw's "Greedy Man" and the infectious "She's Gone" leave their stamp long after the CD has left the player.

Though George’s name sells the record, enough can’t be said about his backing band, the Destroyers, the majority of which have been with him since his early Boston days. They are easily as much a part of the Delaware sound as the axe man himself. Jeff Simon and Bill Blough seamlessly tie up the rhythm section. Texan Jimmy Suhler (from Jimmy Suhler & Monkey Beat) is ever-present with a fist full of tasty licks ripe for the picking. Hank Carter lends his sax to several of the tunes, yet for the touring outfit legendary Eddie Shaw steps in. Check out “The Fixer”, “You Don’t Love me” and the soul-shakin’ “Move It” for greater conviction.

We sat down with George before his recent show at the Clark County Fair to reminisce about the old days. These are the stories he told.

The Cutting Edge: No one can get your birthday right. I checked five sources and they all gave different dates.

George Thorogood: Pick a date…that will do.

TCE: So you’re ageless?

GT: Ageless and timeless.

TCE: A blues guy from Delaware?

GT: I was born in the suburbs, just like Stevie Ray Vaughan, just like The Stones and Johnny Winter but they are from Texas or England. If I’d been born in Texas or Chicago I’d be a legend right now.

TCE: So your saying, success, at least as a blues artist, is defined by where you were born?

GT: No, but it helps. Ha!

TCE: Was that cause for trouble in the early days?

GT: In all the years I’ve been at this game I’ve seen it happen where you call a club to book a show and you say, “Hey we’re a blues band from Delaware” and the club says, “Not interested” but if you say, “We’re a blues band from Chicago,” bam you got a gig!

TCE: I wanted to dig into you’re career a bit…for the record.

GT: Sure man, shoot.

TCE: The first record, George Thorogood & The Delaware Destroyers is now considered a classic.

GT: You know that record was held up for almost 18 months because Rounder (Records) would not pay for a picture. It sat on the shelf for months because they couldn’t come up with a cover. We recorded it in the spring of ’76 and finished it in the fall of the same year. But it didn’t come out until the fall of ’77. I knew ‘Bourbon Scotch and Beer’ was going to be our one shot at it. You know what kind of mood I was in for that year the record just sat there?

I knew if some one else cut ‘Bourbon, Scotch and Beer’ I was dead. Done. Career over. If the Allman Brother or Tom Waits had put out that song out first it would have been over for me. You know how hard it was to find a blues song that hadn’t already been covered in ’75? Almost impossible – this was my ticket and the record company wouldn’t put the thing out. Finally a fan took the picture on the cover and I said, “Here’s the picture now put the damn record out!

TCE: A lot of your hits are covers. Even on the new record only one song has your name in the credits.

GT: This is what I do best. I only cover classics. Unknown songs that we find like “Greedy Man” and “The Fixer” on this record – we take those songs and make them classics. My song writing is only about 25 songs but I really bust my ass on them. And you remember them “Bad To The Bone” , “I Drink Alone”, “Born To Be Bad”, “Gear Jammer” – all classics. I do that with every song I do. If it’s unknown the Destroyers turn it into a classic.

TCE: Is that consistent with every record?

GT: We usually do one ‘60s song on every record. I was raised in the ‘60s – it’s my time. I love that stuff. This record has “Wash My Hands In Muddy Water” by Stone Wall Jackson. I’m not saying we do it well but it’s a Destroyers trademark.

TCE: Do you take the songs out on the road before you record them in the studio?

GT: We used to. When we had the time and the places we did that. We were working on “I Drink Alone” and when we first wrote it we did it in a country style. But that wasn’t working out. So we were at a live gig and we rocked it up. Half way through the song everybody was singing it. They’d never heard it and they were all singing it.

The label came back and said, “We don’t think that song is very good.” I’m like, “What are you talking about, I’ve tested it and the crowd loves it. The people are already singing it, they’re standing in line ready to buy it and your telling me it’s no good?” That’s where record companies and I have trouble.

TCE: But that’s the way bands did it – they tested out their song live first and then recorded them.

GT: My first record I had played those songs for four years before we recorded them. It was tried and tested material. Those songs worked. I played them every night - JC Dobbs in Philadelphia, John and Peters in New Hope. People were coming to the shows with tape recorders in their hands. That’s when I said, “It’s time to put out a record.” Some people were even taking tapes of our shows and putting them on the radio.

TCE: You had quite a start. You were a street performer/singer in San Francisco, then you went to New York and worked at Max’s Kansas City where you played with Bonnie Raitt and Little Feat. How did you end up in Boston?

GT: I was hired by a guy to do a gig up there and just stayed. It was week to week at first but then we were opening for Howlin’ Wolf and Hound Dog Taylor. I was getting an education and I occasionally got invited up to play a little guest set. Jeff (Simon) moved up and we stayed. We ended up doing the record with Rounder (Bluegrass label in Boston) because they were the only ones that said, “Maybe” – everyone else said, “No.”

TCE: Who would you have wanted to sign with?

GT: I wanted to be on Capricorn. I even made a demo tape. They had all my favorites – Elvin Bishop, Allman Brothers, John Hammond – they knew what slide guitar was about. And they like Southern-Blues boogie, which is what I do. It was the natural place for me. I thought I’d open for the Allman Brothers. But one of the owners got thrown in jail and that killed it for me. But, man I would have loved to have been signed to that label during their heyday - even if it was just one record.

TCE: There for a time you left the music business to pursue your love of baseball.

GT: Here’s what happened. After “Move It Over” (1978) someone got a hold of my demo tape from years back, real inferior quality stuff, and decided to sell it to MCA. It was sold against our wishes and led to a huge legal battle. They put an injunction on the Rounder records and made it almost impossible for me to work. So I quit. I walked away and went and played semi-pro ball.

TCE: What brought you back?

GT: The Rolling Stones. My manager got me a gig opening for The Stones. We went over huge, 8 to 10 encores. It was amazing. After the show Bill Graham (the infamous promoter) said, “What are you doing tomorrow night” and asked me to open for The Stones again. This went on till the end of the tour. Then we got asked to do Europe. The buzz on us was really starting to happen. Now, I had written “Bad To The Bone” and I knew it was a hit. EMI came up to us, offered us a deal and the rest is history.

GT: It all came down to the fans. They wouldn’t let us die. So I do this every night for them and it’s been 30 years.

George Thorogood

Clark County Fair

It was in that same spirit that Thorogood and the Destroyers took the stage right next to the bull pin at the Clark County Fair. Many in attendance had been fans for years proudly wearing their faded T-Shirts and fully equipped to play air-guitar. The band stormed through a set of new and soon to be classics, before jumping into their hits. Years of midnight club shows have trained this band to breath fire and spit nails. They were one of the tightest acts touring, complete with dead on pit stops and full-throttle boogie rock.

Thorogood’s smile was infectious as he raised his Les Paul hollow body over his head and ripped into “The Fixer”, “Greedy Man” and “Get A Haircut”. His connection with the crowd was immediately evident especially when he brought out a half dozen youngsters to shake rattlers with famed bluesman Eddie Shaw (Howlin Wolf). Though his presence was constant, Thorogood allowed his band an equal share in the limelight. Jimmy Suhler stepped forward for a number of solos and spotlight appearances. His Stevie Ray Vaughan style worked well with the show’s confident strut especially during “Bad To The Bone,” “Madison Blues” and “I Drink Alone”

Part Mick Jagger, part Steven Tyler and posed by the spirit of Elmore James, Thorogood coaxed, gyrated and resurrected an unstoppable set. “One Bourbon, One Scotch One Beer” had the crowd surging forward as did “Who Do You Love.” Only after two hours did he finally succumb and collapsed on stage eventually helped to his feet by the rest of the band. If you weren’t a fan going into the night’s performance you were when you left. For Thorogood, that’s reason enough to climb back on the bus and head for the next town 260 nights a year.