George Thorogood is often characterized by a certain showmanship ethic, regarding his guitar as something of a prop. But it’s his guitar that remains the lifeblood connecting his fans to his musicianship. The style with which he plays and sings, conjoined with a trademark stage charisma, is the kinetic energy that has kept his fans coming back for over 40 years.
Having interviewed George, I got firsthand experience of his charisma. Together we talked about music appreciation and the anticipation of his debut solo album. This latest album, Party of One, is a bare bones yet highly evolved version of himself. It’s George Thorogood as George Thorogood originally intended it: a world where all you need are resonators and roots.
Lauren Leadingham for American Blues Scene:
How are you, Mr. Thorogood?
I see what you did there. I might add you are thoroughly good. But you’ve heard that one before.
Who am I addressing?
I’m Lauren with American Blues Scene.
Lauren Leadingham, American Blues Scene. Alright, I made the right connection.
Ok, good! You have a new album called Party of One.
You’re correct. So far, we’re off to a good start.
40+ years in the game; talk about overdue.
What would you like to know?
This is your debut solo project, correct?
My debut and one and only!
I was going to ask you.
Yeah, it should be called Party of One and Only.
It’s overdue, wouldn’t you say?
If you wanted to look at it that way, you could say it’s overdue. But then, you could also say maybe the timing is perfect to do it now.
It’s not quite the distortion of The Destroyers, but unchained in a different way.
This is the way I started out a long time ago, playing in this fashion before I put this band together. So, I was originally supposed to do that first and then move on to a rock and roll ensemble — however, you want to call it — but it never quite seemed to happen. So, the time is now.
Is that why you mentioned that maybe this should have been your first album ever made?
That was the plan — my plan, anyway. We kind of got sidetracked there. I was turning a few heads playing alone. And I got some great endorsements from people like Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Robert Lockwood, Hound Dog Taylor, and people like that. And I had a pretty good response from audiences, but I knew I didn’t have enough to carry the thing off and do that for the rest of my life. There was just no way I could do that. Very few people can. Once I got that electric guitar in my hand and got a drummer behind me, I put that acoustic guitar down. And I just didn’t pick it up for — until now!
So, full circle! Well, I’m glad you picked up the electric.
Well, there you have it.
What was the prevailing emotion throughout the whole recording process of this album?
The emotions were very high because I had enough interest from people close to me, both personally and professionally. Especially Rounder Records, who was interested in it — very interested. That was something that could get me off of my butt and get me into this thing. Once I did get into it, though, I realized how difficult this really is.
It’s not really me. You know, I played “Get A Haircut” and ‘get a real job.’ That’s what I play, ok? That’s what I do. This is something I did at one time. And I’m putting together a statement and touching base with just about every artist that influenced me to pick up the guitar, to begin with.
This is your big return to Rounder Records.
Yeah. Recently they put out a re-release, so to speak, of our first record without a bass on it, which we originally recorded that way. So yeah, this is our return there, which is great. They’ve been very successful since I first got there. They were successful then; they’re just more successful now. And our level of appreciation has gone up a few notches. So, it’s a wonderful reunion, so to speak.
This seems like sort of the perfect label to do this album.
Well, that’s what they do.
Yeah, they’re roots-oriented.
Yeah, they document roots music and blues and bluegrass and old-timey music, and things like that.
I love that.
So, they’re an obvious and natural choice.
That’s what drew me to your music as a kid: I’ve always been able to relate to your appreciation of different genres.
We’re not unlike a lot of other artists that came before me. I just kind of followed the formula there. I saw what the early Rolling Stones did and Butterfield Band and John Hammond and people like that and said, ‘That’s the way to go.’ That’s the stuff to do. You know, you gotta learn all these things to be able to pull it off. So, I’m just another one of the guys who went to the proper school of rock, school of blues. But people like Clapton and Elvin Bishop and John Hammond, they were there before me. I just kind of took a page out of their example.
I think you made some of these songs your own, though. “Move It On Over,” for example. You obviously have a profound fondness of the blues heritage, but at the same time, you recognize people like Hank and The Stones as sort of the primordial soup of rock and roll.
Try as I may, when I do these songs by other people — and I’m trying as hard as I can to sound like I want to give this song justice — but it never works. It always comes out sounding like me, for better or worse.
You can’t hide — some of these people that duplicate these things — I’m not one of them. People would say, ‘He’s playing the blues funky on purpose.’ I said, ‘I’m not playing funky on purpose! I’m trying to play clean!’ I’m trying to do the right thing; this is just how it comes out.
No, it’s clean! You have this equal appreciation for the country standards and straight up classic rock, and that’s what I’ve always been into. I don’t think that crossover is necessarily typical. And you make it seamless, quite frankly.
Another thing is — “Move It On Over” and the first two records we did — we’ve been playing those songs for so long that our identity is stamped on it. You can’t go backwards once you’ve played it. You know, the first couple times you play you’re kind of sounding like the original artist. And the more you play it, the more you emerge. It’s like trying to imitate another person walking across the room or impersonating an actor or something. You do it for so long, and then your real personality comes out, for better or for worse.
You hear that on your new album; this is you. More you than it’s ever been, right?
That’s a great phrase: your new album. Let’s call it our latest album. There’s not really anything new on it.
You know what I mean.
Yeah, I do. I understand. Our latest release.
Yeah, the new old songs. And you’re revisiting artists you’ve covered on previous records: John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, Hank…
We can only fill it up with so many John Lee Hooker songs, and I was just as heavy into Hank Williams as I was — the artists captured on that record that I got into, all of them share the same spotlight with me. That’s just something some people don’t know. People say, ‘I didn’t know George was a Bob Dylan fan.’
I say, ‘Well, who isn’t?’ You know, who isn’t? Come on.
You gotta know where you came from, you know?
‘Well, I didn’t know George liked Hank Williams.’ Who doesn’t like Hank Williams?
He’s the original punk if you will.
You know? So, I just figured — let’s get a couple of songs in there by these people. Besides, you can’t just do four songs on an album. If you could just do four songs and get away with it, I’d do it.
You’re talking to someone whose favorite singer has been George Jones since I was five.
I’m sorry I didn’t cover him, but his vocal range is a little out of mine.
Well, I don’t know. You do Hank pretty well.
George Thorogood Does George Jones
Tom Jones could do George Jones.
I’d rather hear you do George Jones. This album is just you, the slide, Dobro, and the harmonica. And you’re a one-man band with all these instruments.
Hence the title.
Awesome. I like that you picked “Bad News” by Johnny Cash. It’s sort of an underrated tune of his. Will your version also have the Dobro on it?
Yeah. The original had a Dobro, which got me interested in doing it. And Johnny Cash is, within reason, in my vocal range. And of course, the song — its statement in itself — fits right into the Johnny Cash-George Thorogood bad boy thing. You know what I mean? Which we all learned from Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash the ultimate outlaw, right?
Are there any songs that are not acoustic on this album?
I think one or two; I think there’s an Elmore James piece on there that’s an electric song.
Ok. Will this album be followed by steady tour dates?
Well, I already have a lot of tour dates lined up for the rest of this year.
So, no more 50/50 tours?
No. I’ve already done my 50/50 tour, and I’ve already done my solo album. Now it’s time to party, ok?
Good! Party of one.
Party of one. And when we put the band together, it’ll be rock party. But it won’t be party of one; it’ll be party of five.
You still have all your Destroyers? All your same people?
I sure hope so, because I got a gig next week with them.
This album drops August 4th, which is a special date for me. That’s my due date.
Oh, ok. Well, see? Timing is everything in show business.
Is there anything I may have left out about the new album? It’s really important to me.
I’m impressed by how much you put in. Good work.
Is that right?
I was so nervous all day. I’m trying not to be star-struck.
You be nervous? Never.
What sparked your eclecticism? Because you came from a nondescript part of Delaware, and I can relate to having to expose yourself to the world outside.
Coming from Northern Delaware, it was kind of frightening at first because I didn’t even think anyone was going to pay attention to our first record, which was ok with me. It was on Rounder; we were a small act… People started playing it on the radio all around the world, and it really shocked me. I wasn’t ready. I was prepared for failure, not for success.
Which is good.
Well, we had to regroup in a hurry. You know, I’m shocked at the attention that this record is getting.
I heard a few songs, and it sounds so refined to me.
Well, that was the idea.
Well, I think I have everything I need for my interview.
American Blues Scene. Boy, that’s a catchy title.
Yes, it is.
When I got the opportunity to interview you, I was really excited.
I hope I didn’t let you down.
I hope I didn’t let you down.
Ah, come on. It’s a two-way street.
It’s funny. I was reading a 1985 issue of SPIN, because you can Google those things now.
I remember SPIN, yeah.
Yeah, and you said that playing on street corners early on sort of fine-tuned your slide guitar prowess. The strings getting tight, the long hours of playing the same songs… I imagine you’d perfect some songs.
Well, that’s not why I did it. I was hungry. If they wanted me to play a club opening for the Allman Brothers, I would have done it. There’s no glory in being a street musician, trust me.
I’m sure you don’t miss those days.
No, not at all.
Well, George, I thank you so much for your time.