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Blues, Entertainment, Music, Rock & Roll

Baaaad To The Bone, Still !

 

George Thorogood has a theory. “In any field, especially the arts, there are always two things—‘genius’ and ‘very clever.’ There’s no in-between. You’re either a genius or very clever. I’m going to throw out two names at you. John Lennon–genius, right? And Mick Jagger? Very clever. See what I’m saying? I’ll give you another example. Einstein–genius. And George Thorogood–very clever.”

When pushed on this George will make small exceptions,  “OK, I’m a genius at being very clever,’’ he says with a hearty laugh. Thorogood loves quips almost as much as he loves the blues, so here’s another: “Let’s put it this way. Dylan has a Rolls-Royce dealership. I have a used Chevy dealership. But I’m in the business. You got it? That’s all I wanted from this thing. A gig, man. And I got a gig.’

George prefers to think of himself as a role-player, much like a utility infielder on a championship team, but that role has been pleasing a couple of generations of rock fans by this point. He retains his innocence and also his self-deprecating humor, and it is quite obvious here in this interview I did with him recently.

————————-

B411:
George how are you ?

GT:
Baaaad ! Chef, hey man, gimme me something to eat !

B411:
OK, my current rage is beer-butt chicken, rub your bird with some spice mix, stick the whole chicken on a can of beer (after drinking half) put it on the grill for an hour or so and whoops there it is !

GT:
Whoa, all right, so what can I do for you today?

B411:
First of all, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. George, probably the most impressive fact about you, to me, is that you played semi-pro baseball. You were a second baseman, turned double plays, made the all-star team, and MVP. That’s pretty cool for a rockin’ blues performer !

GT:
No, not where I lived it wasn’t. We had maybe two good teams in the league and we were not one of them. There was a really good semi-pro league in Wilmington, Delaware, where I grew up. The Roberto Clemente (said with just the right touch of Latino accent) League was created primarily for the Puerto Rican community. It was a minority community so it was hard to get enough talent to fill the rosters for two teams, let alone for six teams. So they started bringing in inferior athletic types, which was me, to fill the rosters.
See if they couldn’t fill-out the teams they had to forfeit the season. So we created a team called the Delaware Destroyers, we were not very good, we were a step above pick-up softball. I did have a pretty solid season, but to make the all-star season it was more political than anything else. ‘Let’s keep George Thorogood in the league, he has all the bucks.’ Ya follow where I’m gong ?

B411:
Yeh, I hear ya, but you said you had a pretty solid season… 

GT:
Well, when I moved to California I switched to a very high level of softball, in the entertainment league. THAT was a very competitive league, great level of play. I was a very good player on a very good team then, heck, I was a better softball player than baseball player. I played for the California Chiefs for two or three years, that was my legacy. I started to get older, and people got injured, and I said I can’t afford to get hurt, hey I’m a guitarist.

B411:
Yes can’t break the hands.

 GT:
Yeh the baseball thing was more like, ya see we played baseball every summer, chef, and one year we decided to make it official and put together a legitimate team. But you can’t put a competitive team out there in one year. There were more walks and errors and than hits back then, and the press always made more of it than it was worth. Now my drummer Jeff Simon, was an incredible center-fielder, but he gets no pub for it, it’s always me. I get all the press. He had a very interesting way to treat a baseball, he had some stroke, could put some distance between him and the ball.

B411:
Dang man, you even sound like a professional ballplayer – blaming the media for everything. Cool, but ya know what I see as great, is that you DID play ball, hell we all did as kids. I relate to the ball player in you cos that’s what I did, and at a decent level also, so it’s another level of connection.

GT:
See another thing is that I had a bootleg album out that I didn’t want to promote. So I wanted to stay off the road, and let it die out, and then pick up the pieces from there. I was very disillusioned with the music industry situation at that point. I had to turn my back on it (the industry) for a couple of years.

B411:
That’s sad, but man it has worked out for you in spades. You have been making some of the finest Rockin Blues for over thirty years now.

 GT:
Well lemme say that I can pay the rent a hell of a lot easier playing guitar then playing second base. It don’t pay anything !
(we laugh at the thought of either of us playing baseball for a non-living)

B411:
Speaking of bootleg releases, you just released Live in Boston 1982. That’s one fine live recording.

GT:
Yeh, you think it’s pretty good?

B411:
Yeh it seems to have captured the Thorogood experience on the disk, all the energy of a live show. I like the stage chatter and all the hamminess that goes with your show. I dig it…

GT:
Hold the presses – the reviews are in ! Thanks

 B411:
My pleasure.  So do you still practice guitar?

GT:
Practice ? I don’t have time to practice. Everybody just plays. The only musician I ever knew that practiced was Sonny Terry. We just don’t have the time.

B411:
So you don’t practice, been playing for thirty plus years, just had a big birthday – Happy Birthday – how do you stay on top of your game. Do you have a rule or a code that you and the Destroyers follow?

 GT:
It’s the same code we have always followed since we started. It’s the 3 D’s, Desire, Demand and Delivery. If the desire is not here, no use in doing it. The price of living goes up all the time so the demand has to be there. Ya know what I’m saying. Then above all is the delivery, I don’t want people walking around saying ‘you shoulda seen this guy play twenty years ago’, I saw Willie Nelson play last night and he was unbelievable, fantastic, hit the ball out of the park. If you don’t have that you should stop.

B411:
Yeh there seems to be a rash of bands playing that appear to be mailing it in, that’s not good for anyone.

GT:
Ya know, Joe DiMaggio said that. Reporters asked him, why are you retiring? In DiMaggios’ last season he hit .302, knocked in like 98 runs, hit 23 homers. They said it was a good year, he replied it’s not a DiMaggio year. Ted Williams did the same thing. Williams hit like .320 in his last year, hit 29 homers, his last year he was like 100 years old then. But it wasn’t a Ted Williams/DiMaggio year. That says it all. It’s not that I am not delivering good, but it’s not to my standards.

B411:
Yes, like so many players have done. Hanging on too long and they dilute their legacy.

GT:
It was James Coburn who said, well if he’s the best then who does he compete with?

B411/GT:
He competes with himself (in unison).

GT:
At one point Lionel Ritchie said to me that he said he still gets ‘insecurity butterflies’, and people say that’s bad, and he said no it’s not bad, it’s good. It keeps you on your game and pushing. I love when people come up tome and say ‘man, you were good last night’, and I go ‘yeh that was LAST night’, I got to do it over again and be at least that good tonight.

B411:
Speaking of Lionel Ritchie, I remember back in the day when you were a fixture on MTV. It almost seemed like George Thorogood and the Destroyer Television. Any regrets associated with the relationship – overexposure issues ?

GT:
Yes, pioneers, innovators, ground-breakers, path finders. Right. MTV – Music Television. Regrets? (he says incredulously) There’s no overexposure – you cannot dictate when you make a record or a video how many times they are going to play it. That’s out of your hands. How many times have you seen the movie Jaws on television? Yet somebody is watching it for the first time.

B411:
Yes there’s the demand you were talking about and even the delivery aspect, cause it’s as good as it ever was. It also harkens back to DiMaggio when asked why he runs out ground balls that are sure outs, he answered that there might be some little kid seeing him for the first time and he wants the kid to know that Joe gives his best every time out.

GT:
Only you know when you are giving your best. I don’t understand why you would get involved with something if you’re not going to give it your best. Why do it in the first place? The most ludicrous question I ever heard anyone ask another person was to Steve Carlton. A reporter asked him why have he never threw a no-hitter, how come ? This was like his last interview, and he answered “I never wanted to throw one”
(laughter from us both, and disbelief)
Is that the most ignorant question you ever heard ? Why didn’t you hit four homers in a game ?

B411:
Yeh, cause I didn’t want to upstage anyone – it’s all about the team.

GT:
Exactly, how crazy is that ? You know people say to me George you stuck to the Blues, very integrity minded, never sold out and do this and that….I say to them wait a minute do you think that if I could have written Bridge Over Troubled Water I would have done it! Sure I wanna spend my whole life in semi-obscurity.

B411:
Well you’ve done just a little better than relative obscurity now, but I get your point, well put. If I could have done that I would have. It’s like if performers had a choice would they be street musicians or better known – what would they choose. If you gotta play Mustang Sally then you do it as a street musician. See what people don’t remember about the Robert Johnsons’, Blind Willie McTells’ is that they were street musicians. If I walked by them and put a dollar in their hat and asked for ‘Gonna Send You Back To Georgia’ if they knew it they would play it cause it’s the money they are playing for – their livelihood – not some utopian perception of what the blues is.

GT:
See I was a street musician, yeh there’s the money, and I play it. Sure I’d be playing slide guitar and folks would ask me to play Delta Dawn or Rocky Mountain High, and if I knew it damn straight I’d play it, cause you give me $5 I’m playing your song.

B411:
Very true. So do you play in open or standard tuning?

GT:
I play in Open D and Open G. That’s been my ticket to success. When you play in Open D or G, the guitar is tuned down not up. So you get a fatter, thicker sound. I have a low voice, and it has worked out good for me cause it sounds like I am singing really strong, in that low key like Johnny Cash. Bonnie Raitt plays in A, John Hammond plays in A but he’s always breaking strings cos the tension is so tight. Mine is down low, like Bo Diddley, has a big thick, full sound so I could play with a trio and get away with it. It’s a little harder to keep it in tune, break less strings.

B411:
OK, I’m just starting to learn from everyone I talk to about open tuning, I usually play in Open E.

GT:
See in Open E the tension is too tight for me – you don’t get the sustain or the notes to ring as much.
Jimi Hendrix played in Eb, he tuned down a half step. That’s why he got all those sounds, those notes. He also had to tune for an hour between songs. He also did it for his voice, he didn’t have the voice of a John Lennon or Roger Daltrey, so he tuned down a half step. Jeff Beck also plays in Eb, but he switches guitars almost every song so he doesn’t spend all that time tuning. Jimi had one guitar, he always did a lot of tuning when he was up there.

B411:
Yes he did, I saw him several times and he did it after every song just about….

GT:
Well then you know what I am talking about. But he was so cool, even Jimi Hendrix tuning was great. It was like, (in a spot on impression of Hendrix speak) ‘ex-schuse me, Ah, just ghotta tune up for this numb-bah‘. And we’d be like YEAAAH ! ! !

B411:
Damn that’s perfect, I hear him saying it just like that – you have an ear for accents and speech patterns, I love it. He would lower the pitch of his voice when he spoke, kinda trail off and get lower…

GT:
Hah, there was nothing hyper about that man, ‘if people will just chill‘…..

B411:
You’ve done so many covers of older Blues songs, but to me they are more than just covers I like to think of them as ‘original covers’. They are not the usual ones, you do them then they almost become standards for many people.

GT:
Well thank you, you are the first one to say that. I am a Rock & roll archeologist. The Indiana Jones of Rock. I always go after obscure pieces, there’s no sense in covering a song that a thousand other bands cover. What’s the point? Why do I do it ? Because I want to expose the tune and share it with the world. If Tom Waits has covered ‘(One) Bourbon, Scotch, and Beer‘, I wouldn’t of had this problem. I had a list of like thirty songs, it really was a project of mine, to expose this great music so that other people would know about it. Now as our records and careers go on, it got harder to do that, so we started to cover more in the public demand. But we dug up ‘Howlin’ For My Baby‘ by Howlin’ Wolf, but did it ZZ Top style. ‘I’ll Change My Style‘ by Jimmy Reed, heck at that point even Elvin Bishop or John Hammond hadn’t heard of that song.

B411:
Well you have always done that, picking up nuggets that others have not seen or known about …

GT:
Well cause I had to chef, I can’t write songs like Neil Young or Joni Mitchell – I can’t compete with that so I’ll do the next best thing, I’ll bunt !
(we laugh at the reference, back to the game)
I’m still in the line up, still on the team. If you can’t be Henry Aaron you can be Ritchie Ashburn. There’s gotta be a Mookie Wilson out there.

B411:
See that’s why you wore #1 on your jersey ! Bobby Richardson, Mookie . . .

GT:
See there you go, #1 is a middle infielder number, has to be. Gotta wear #1 if you play second base. Look at Mark Lemke, couldn’t hit his way outta a wet paper bag, but he got a World Series ring. How bad is that? My man is David Eckstein, Craig Counsell these are the guys I admire, both these guys have two World Series rings, how many does Barry Bonds have ? How many does Bobby Richardson have. A lot.

B411:
Yeh, Bobby was right there all those years. He went on to become a minister afterwards.

GT:
Well whatever church he is at I wanna go there too.

B411:
Church of the .245 hitter !

GT:
Yeah, a .260 lifetime average. The all-mediocre team. Only player to win the World Series MVP trophy from a losing team. Can you believe that. 1960 In 1962 he was runner up for league MVP to Mickey Mantle – Bobby Richardson will be able to go to his grave saying he was runner up to league MVP and the guy who beat him was Mickey Mantle. How good is that !

That’s my story, right guy in the right place,I made a living playing music, sorta like the Bobby Richardson of Rock & Roll. HAH !

B411:
I tried like the devil to find your stats from when you played. Couldn’t turn them up. It’s now my obsession.

GT:
Thanks chef, I gotta go, remember Rock & Roll never sleeps it just passes out !

Post Interview Note:

About a week later I had the opportunity to see George Thorogood and the Destroyers in concert. Just amazing, the stage show was first rate, the energy out of this world. George plays the ham very well, but don’t let his sly smile and ‘oh it’s just ol’ George here’ style fool you. The man is the consummate professional. His band is tight, and very capable of playing for anyone in the business.
He engages the audience with chatter, smiles, seeking approval that he knows will be heaped upon him from young and old alike.

I brought my buddy’s two sons to the George show, 17 year old Nick, and 12 (soon to be 13) year old Dylan, so they could see how the old school does it. Their reaction was ‘wow, that old guy can kick some butt, we totally under estimated him”.  Bah-bah-bah bad !
Thank you George, for the time shared all these years on record, cassette, CD’s MP3’s and live. You might just make the Hall of Fame – I’ll vote for ya !

Until next time,

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
chefjimi

photos:  Leslie K. Joseph, chefjimi
©Blues411, 2010

7 Comments

  1. Keith Patterson February 12, 2012 7:25 pm

    Chef, one of the damn finest interviews I have ever read…bravo….kp

  2. lois October 19, 2010 1:36 pm

    Jimi,

    I enjoyed reading the article!

  3. Michael Duncan September 28, 2010 10:07 pm

    Great job Jimi! Finally got a chance to read this and love the new website. No surprise you and George got along so well! Keep up the great work!

    Crackerboy

  4. Vincent Hayes September 23, 2010 11:20 am

    Great interview Jimi! Just flowed when I read it. The tie-in between the Blues and Baseball put a really cool perspective on the two. I was laughing and nodding my head all the way through!

  5. Len "crazy legs" Crellin September 21, 2010 1:23 am

    Jimi…great interview. Your research was spot on and ability to add depth to his responses was outstanding. Hey maybe you’ll get to play with him someday!

  6. MoheganMike September 20, 2010 8:56 pm

    Well written Jimi, like the baseball chatter.

  7. Lauren Burruto September 20, 2010 10:09 am

    Very nice Jimi!!

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