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... 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.

RO: Is that riff something that just appeared to you one day like a vision?

GT: I remember hearing the Rolling Stones on tour - I was on tour with the Stones and J. Geils Band [in 1981], and J. Geils would hit the opening riff to "Love Stinks" and the place would go crazy. And then the next set, as soon as the opening riff to "Honky Tonk Women" started, I said, "George, that's what you've gotta do. You've gotta get a song that has an intro like that or they're not going to remember who the hell you are. They're just gonna say, 'Thorogood, wasn't he good at playing Chuck Berry or something?" I had to have a riff to get people's attention.

RO: One of my writers wanted me to ask you what happened when the band was supposed to play a show at this place called Club XS with Steve Earle.

GT: Say what?

RO: I think you guys were supposed to play a show with Steve Earle around the time Copperhead Road came out. He said the show didn't happen for some reason, and I was just wondering if you remembered.

GT: Well, there must have been a good reason. The reason is probably nobody bought tickets for it.

RO: On your latest album, you did a song by one of our guys, Roy Head.

GT: Also another one of your guys we did a song by, Jerry Lynn Williams' "Get Back Into Rockin'." He's a Texan, right?

RO: Yeah. What made you pick those songs?

GT: We needed 12 songs on our record. If they only needed two, I would do two. So we had to dig around and find something else the band could play. I don't want to say the songs are just filler, but the point is you have to have nine guys on the team or you forfeit the game. That's how I used to get in the lineup.

RO: Speaking of, how close did you actually come to playing pro ball?

GT: Well, only three things kept me out of the pros: I couldn't hit, run or throw. I was the only guy who could talk his way into the lineup and play his way out of it.

RO: What position were you?

GT: I embarrassed myself in the infield.

RO: Phillies fan?

GT: Nah. I'm a Mets fan.

With Moreland & Arbuckle, 7 p.m. tonight at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837 or www.hob.com/houston.

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