As legend, or some old music magazine, has it, an interviewer once asked George Thorogood why he didn’t write more of his own songs, to which he replied “Because Chuck Berry already wrote all the f*cking songs that ever needed to be written.” I can’t quite call this a direct quote, but I’m pretty confident Thorogood’s sentiments are accurately represented. George’s resultant 40-plus-year career has been largely based on a catalogue of reworks of either Chuck Berry’s songs or Chuck Berry’s style, while he’s also created some very famous remakes of tunes by Hank Williams (‘Move It On Over’), Bo Diddley (‘Who Do You Love?’) and John Lee Hooker (‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’). Yes, he has also written some original songs which had their own retro flair: undoubtedly the most enduring was ‘Bad To The Bone’, and another of note, ‘I Drink Alone’, contained the endearing lyrical redundancy “Yeah, you know when I drink alone / I prefer to be by myself.”
“Lonesome George” Thorogood and his band, The Delaware Destroyers, thundered onto a scene dominated by disco and new wave in the late ‘70’s, and with just drums, bass and George’s trademark hollow-body Gibson guitar producing sounds he described as ”dirty, gruff, loud and obnoxious” they proceeded to blast out FM radio speakers nationwide. A saxophone was added to the band a few years later, as was an historically relentless touring schedule. In 1981 they actually completed the “50/50” tour, playing all 50 states in the space of 50 days. I didn’t know how that was possible, so I checked: After doing 2 shows one night in Boulder, Colorado, Thorogood and band flew to Hawaii for one show then performed a gig the following night in Alaska. The next day they flew to Washington State, met up with their roadies, and continued on to play the other contiguous 47 states in as many nights (they actually did a second show in Washington, D.C. the night they played Maryland, so let’s call it 51 in 50). Has any other band ever done that? You’ve got to be popular enough to book all those venues across the country, strategic enough to route it so that it’s geographically possible, and probably more than anything, crazy enough to even try. I’m just going to say ‘no’.
Here we’ve got a 1979 video from outside the US of A, over the pond in a small club in London,¹ showcasing one of my favorite Thorogood tunes ever, ‘It Wasn’t Me’ – a Chuck Berry cover, of course – where George exhibits with impressive flamboyance many of the riffs and tricks respectfully hoisted from the originator: the duck-walk comes at 2:33 (then again later with the flipped guitar at 4:39); a high leg kick timed to a cymbal crash arrives at 2:56; and at 3:04 the best listed-lyric flourish shows up – “I met a German girl in England who was going to school in France, and we danced the Mississippi at an Alpha Kappa Dance” – where as my friend Walt once pointed out, in one rapid-fire sentence he mentions 3 countries, 1 state & 1 sorority. Then at 5:12 – not necessarily part of the sanctioned Berry repertoire – George inadvertently jump-steps the mic away from his guitar amp, rendering most of his last 15 seconds of playing severely muted as a stage hand can be seen in the background scrambling on the floor to replace it just as the song ends. That’s live music, whether home or abroad.
I saw a Thorogood concert the following year in 1980 at a gritty roadhouse joint somewhere in Mississippi, and he just ripped that stage apart, armed simply with that rock-solid rhythm section and his non-stop, manic-energy, raucous rock and roll guitar. Oh, and with a set list full of refashioned rock gems. I really miss guys like Lonesome George;² I can’t think of another one around like him today. And certainly not one like Chuck Berry.
¹What an English sausage fest in there, by the way. I’m not sure I spotted one female present in the crowd.
²Don’t get me wrong, George is still very much among us and still performing – he’s currently playing clubs behind his “45 Years Of Rock – George Thorogood & The Destroyers: It’s Good To Be Bad” tour. But pushing age 70 he understandably doesn’t have quite the same waddle in his duck-walk as he used to.