The year 1982 was turning out pretty good for George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Nearly a decade into their existence, the blues ‘n boogie band had opened a string of European dates for the Rolling Stones (as they had done the previous year in the United States). They were musical guests on Saturday Night Live. They had released their breakthrough record, Bad to the Bone.
And the atmospheric video of title track (which featured rock pioneer Bo Diddley and Thorogood as pool hall rivals) was in constant rotation on MTV. There seemed to be no escaping the song’s earworm standard blues guitar churn of “Duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH.”
So the group consisting of Thorogood (vocals/guitar), Jeff Simon (drums), Bill Blough (bass), and Hank Carter (sax) were riding pretty high when they played a gig on November 23 in the huge ballroom of the Bradford Hotel in Boston. And it was something of a homecoming for the group, which had relocated to the city from their original base of Wilmington, Delaware, where they formed in 1973.
“We really played our asses off for that show! We had just broken out of the bars and clubs and started doing larger venues,” Blough – still a Destroyer to this day – says. “And we’d normally play 2 ½ to 3 hours every night! We couldn't do that today. We’re old men!”
The show was recorded, but not released until nearly 30 years later. A single-CD edit was issued in 2010 by Rounder Records as Live in Boston, 1982. But both casual and diehard fans noticed the omission of a certain tune which Blough – who worked on the track listing – chose not to include.
“In hindsight, maybe it was a bad idea not to put ‘Bad to the Bone’ on it!” Blough laughs. “But we really didn’t have it down yet. We’d only recorded it six months earlier. It was in the show, but it wasn’t matured. I’m sure that didn’t help sales of the record!”
Now, the entire show is available as Live in Boston, 1982: The Complete Concert (Craft Recordings). This newly-remastered release includes the entire 25-song set (including some spoken intros by Thorogood). It will be available in a red marble vinyl limited edition of 1,000 copies, as well as a standard 2CD set and across digital platforms. Liner notes by former Boston Globe music critic Steve Morse features new remembrances from Thorogood and the band.
On this night, the group played a smoking set that included original material (“Kids from Philly,” “Bad to the Bone,” “Miss Luann” ), blues classics (John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying” ), early rock ’n’ roll and R&B covers (Chuck Berry’s “No Particular Place to Go” and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”), and a few country tunes that the band put their own spin on (Hank Williams’ “Move It on Over” and T.J. “Red” Arnall’s “Cocaine Blues”).
Throughout their career, George Thorogood and the Destroyers have been one of those bands that many people go “Well, their studio records are great, but you really need to see them live.” Free of time constraints and given the ability to stretch out songs in front of an engaged live audience, Blough says it’s where the band preferred to work.
“We always considered ourselves more of a live act like the J. Geils Band. The studio albums set them up for the live show, but didn’t quite capture them,” he says. “They were a reference for when you went to see them live. You used to make records really so the club owner would have something they could bring to radio, so that was another hook to bring people to the show. And that’s what people remembered.”
The band’s current lineup includes Thorogood, Simon (an original Destroyer since 1973), Blough (since 1976), rhythm guitarist Jim Suhler (since 1999), and saxophonist Buddy Leach (since 2003).
As the trio of Thorogood, Simon, and Blough have nearly 45 years of experience playing together, one can wonder if they have an almost telepathic musical communication at this point from the hundreds of thousands of hours spent together playing on stages in studios, traveling on buses, planes, or staying in hotel rooms. Blough says that is indeed the case.
“In the days when we used to tour more heavily, we barely had to speak complete sentences to get a point across each other,” he offers. “We’d be riding in a car with a stranger and he might say ‘I don’t understand a word you said to each other!’ We’re just grunting and gesturing or speaking in bits and pieces of lingo we understand, but the outside world and even our wives didn’t! We can sense what the other guys are doing or thinking onstage.”
Blough remembers that his introduction as a Destroyer was on July 1, 1976 in Philadelphia for a four night stand. That meant his last show of the run was on exact day of America’s Bicentennial, and in the city where much of that history happened.
“Those first shows were pretty overwhelming for me,” Blough recalls. “We played three sets the first night, going to 2 a.m., and slept on the floor above the bar. I woke up fairly early and wandered down South St. on Bicentennial weekend! Pretty crazy for a first gig.”
Of course, the band’s core sound is blues-based, raw, uptempo rock and roll. Once a dominant sound in greater musical pop culture, rock and roll – of any kind – wouldn’t make even the Top 5 list of today’s most popular genres. Blough hopes to pick up some younger ears since The Complete Concert will be on digital and streaming services, but he’s not betting much on it. “To be honest, I don’t know how all that stuff works!” he says. “I just hope it rubs off and [younger people] can hear the music.”
What he and the band do know is how to play live, and to that end they’ve already scheduled a 27-date tour that will take them to Canada and the U.S. west coast in May, then to Europe and back to the U.S. from July through September. These dates themselves were postponed from 2020 in the Age of Coronavirus. But Blough is hopeful things get better and they can actually play the shows.
“Everyone in the business is waiting to see. We went ahead and [announced the shows] hoping it would be far enough ahead past the pandemic. But we don’t really know, and nobody does at this point,” he says.
“I know George is doing more online and with digital things to keep the visibility up. But the entire band all lives in different parts of the country, so that makes it difficult to even have a rehearsal.”
As for Houston, Blough believes the band’s first gig in the city was at Liberty Hall in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. He says their first Texas shows were a two-night stand at Austin’s Soap Creek Saloon where they played with Stevie Ray Vaughan and his pre-Double Trouble lineup, the Triple Threat Revue (which also included vocalist Lou Ann Barton and guitarist W.C. Clark).
George Thorogood and the Destroyers crossed paths again Vaughan in the early 1980s when both acts were playing the same venue in Atlanta.
“He played first, then we played. We were the headliners and he sat in with us,” Blough remembers. “Then he’d go back out and do all instrumental stuff like swing until 1 or 2 in the morning! We had to leave before he was done.”
Finally, Blough mentions that he recently received a single copy of the limited edition vinyl edition of The Complete Concert, and wasn’t intending to open it at all. But when he was booked for this interview, that changed.
“I got an email saying that I’d be talking to you, and I figured I better open it and listen so I knew what I was talking about!” he laughs. “I had to order another one to keep [intact]. The whole thing cost about $80. I thought ‘Holy shit! I hope somebody has some money after the pandemic!’”
When it’s suggested to Blough that maybe he could write it off as a business purchase on his taxes, he seems stunned. “My god, I hadn’t even thought about taxes! I need to go to work to make some money to pay the taxes!”
Order the limited edition vinyl, download, or stream Live in Boston, 1982: The Complete Concert here. For more on George Thorogood and the Destroyers, visit GeorgeThorogood.com
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.