Inquiring Minds: Batting Practice With George Thorogood, Bad As He Ever Was

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George Thorogood is a funny, talkative fellow. In this week's print edition, he told us how the Rolling Stones turned him onto the blues, how playing in a strip club helped his band the Delaware Destroyers "claw our way to the middle" and his amusement at how often the familiar riff from 1982's "Bad to the Bone" shows up in trailers for children's movies. That's not all we talked about...

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Rocks Off: How are you doing today?

George Thorogood: I'm sneaking by.

RO: Where are you calling from?

GT: It's hard to say.

RO: What? Where you are?

GT: You want to know where I am?

RO: Yeah.

GT: Well, I swore under oath to the government not to give the whereabouts of my location. But I'll make an exception with you. I'm in a state that's on the Pacific Coast. Fair enough?

RO: OK. What have you been up to lately?

GT: Well, you know. Working on the Great American Novel. I'm also working on my changeup. But there's no money in it, so I'm trying to keep the rock band together. Coming down to the House of Blues.

RO: When's the last time you were in Houston?

GT: October 21st.

RO: Of...?

GT: Of '09.

RO: Was that also at House of Blues?

GT: Yeah. It was a private show.

RO: What's the first song you learned on guitar?

GT: I think the very first thing I figured out was "Honest I Do" by Jimmy Reed.

RO: About how old were you?

GT: About 21.

RO: What's the best piece of musical advice anyone ever gave you, and who was it?

GT: Musical advice? The best musical advice I ever heard came from multiple places, and that was to learn to play the guitar. I had no idea or confidence with the guitar, and when I first started fooling around with it, a few people that I knew had heard me play, that I had known for a long time.

They heard me and they said, "George, I think you've got something going there. You should stick with the guitar." I had never even really thought of that. I thought, "I'm a lead singer, I'm not a guitarist." I think that's the best musical advice I ever had. I stuck with it.

RO: Was it difficult for you to learn to play the guitar?

GT: You know, I was kind of shocked at how fast I picked it up. But you've gotta understand, the style I was after was kind of a John Lee Hooker/Elmore James type thing, Bo Diddley. I was alarmed at how fast that happened for me. People said, "How long you been doing that?" and I'd go, "About a week." They'd go, "What?!"

I was always so intimidated by the guitar that I never wanted to get close to it. The guitar players in my time were Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards and Elvin Bishop and people like that. Those guys are the greatest guitar players ever. So I said, "I'm not going to get involved with the guitar. With these guys, there's no way." And then it was like, "Well, this isn't as hard as I thought it was."

RO: How surprised were you that such a hardcore blues-rocker like "Bad to the Bone" turned into such a big hit?

GT: Actually it didn't take off right away. We released it in'82, and it wasn't until about 1992 that people really started to jump on it. They started something called rock classic radio, and prior to that it got little to no attention. It was just another song in the show. And then when [classic] rock radio started happening in the early '90s, that became one of the staples. There were other tunes like "Rock'n Me Baby" by Steve Miller, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and a few others. Do you remember when rock classic radio first started? Maybe you don't.

RO: I was around back then. I remember when it changed from just rock radio to classic rock.

GT: Yeah, but it wasn't that old a song at the time. Classic rock to me was something that was 25 years old. What radio did psychologically was put it in the kids' minds that this was a classic. I have to accept that. It probably made at least 50 to 60 percent of our career.


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