Get through to the Blues

George Thorogood talks about the state of the Blues, keeping your electifying stage shows fresh, and the value of a good night’s sleep

George Thorogood and the Destroyers

George Thorogood and the Destroyers

Barry Coulter

Guitar legend George Thorogood will be very much in the house at Western Financial Place Sunday, April 24, but at the moment we’re keeping his location secret.

“I’ve sworn an oath to the government not to give away the whereabouts of my location,” he joked, “but I didn’t say which government.”

The inspiration and energy of Thorogood’s music and shows comes from the Blues, not least the Chicago Blues of the legendary artists of the Chess record (which Thorogood has paid tribute to on his most recent album 2120 South Michigan Ave, (the Chicago address of Chess Records).

Thorogood’s music is straight ahead and direct — there’s a direct throughline to Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, et al, and he’s even incorporated Hank Williams and Johnny Cash into his covers. His original material — like 1982’s “Bad To The Bone” — helped put him at the top of the pole.

He was a popular favorite in the early ‘80s through radio exposure and the arena rock circuit. But he has never gone away — he has released albums of covers and original songs through 2011, and his legendary stage show is as incendiary as ever.

He is also an heir to the Blues masters of yesteryear — never more so, in the Townsman’s opinion, than when he cranks up the slide guitar. Are we going to hear lots of that in his Cranbrook show.

“I sure hope so,” he says.

For slide guitar, he tunes his guitar to an open chord — open D or open G.

“You know what’s interesting: the Blues cats I’ve worked with — like Hound Dog Taylor and Robert Lockwood — when you tune it open like that they always call it ‘Spanish.’ I don’t know why they call that way — you’re either tuned to ‘natural’ or ‘Spanish.’

The Blues, of course, was a great influence on the great music of the 1960s and ‘70s. The Townsman asked Thorogood if the Blues was still a vital force and influence in today’s music.

“It still is, but it’s shrinking, and shrinking rapidly,” he answered. “Two summers ago we did a couple of shows with Buddy Guy — it was right after B.B. King had passed away — and we all lined up in a hallway when Buddy came to do his show and applauded him. He was very touched by this and everything, and he asked ‘why are you doing this?’ We said B.B. King just passed away, and passed the torch — yo u’re the number one guy now. You’re the top Bluesman left on the planet.

“The best blues guitarist outside of Buddy Guy is probably Elvin Bishop. The best Blues harp player is probably Charlie Musselwhite at this point, and the best Blues singer next to Buddy Guy is probably John Hammond.

“There’s only a handful left who really can deliver. And Buddy Guy is the last of that era, that time and genre of authentic Blues cats. I wouldn’t say it’s gone, but it’s dwindling. Taj Mahal can play the Blues as well as anybody, but he can play anything.”

“They have these Blues societies — but they’re more of an interpretation of the Blues, and homage to the Blues, as opposed to the real deal like Buddy Guy is.”

But when George Thorogood and the Destroyers hit the stage, though, Blues power is as fresh as ever.

It’s fresher,” Thorogood says, “because you get new people watching you play every night, who’ve never seen us play. There’s a lot who have seen us before, but the majority haven’t and will never see us again. So that does keep it fresh — you keep the regular customers happy, and turn on the new customers and hope they come back next time.”

Thorogood is renowned for his intense, high energy performance and an intense touring schedule.

“I’ve always appreciated the value of a good night’s sleep.”

So we won’t see you out in the bars afterwards, out partying?

“The party will be on the bandstand,” Thorogood assures us.

George Thorogood (lead vocals and lead guitar) and the Destroyers (Jeff Simon – drums, percussion; Billy Blough – bass guitar; Jim Suhler – rhythm guitar; Buddy Leach – saxophone, piano) take the stage at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook on Sunday, April 23, at 7:30 p.m.