STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Their recordings have been rock radio staples for more than 30 years.
Celebrating their 40th anniversary as a band, with a tour dubbed “Badder Than Ever,” George Thorogood and the Destroyers (“The Delaware Destroyers,” to those that heard them back in the day) have their sights on southeastern Pennsylvania, with shows March 17 at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown and March 20 at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside.
However, there were moments along the way that could’ve derailed the macho blues/rock guitarist and self-described “Indiana Jones of rock ‘n’ roll” from greatness. Of growing up in Delaware, he said in a phone interview: “If it weren’t for The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Bob Dylan, I would’ve slit my wrists a long time ago.” His theme song, “Bad to the Bone,” he originally wanted to give to legendary bluesman Muddy Waters — who, fortunately for Thorogood, wasn’t interested. He pitched “I Drink Alone” to George Jones (who infamously struggled with alcoholism since the ’60s) until, according to Thorogood, Capitol Records told him: “We don’t pay George Jones to sing ‘I Drink Alone’.”
“I would’ve loved to hear Tom Waits sing ‘I Drink Alone’,” he added with a cackle.
A close look at Thorogood’s catalog reveals that songs you’d swear he came up with on his own, because of his signature amped-up swagger, are actually old blues, R&B or country songs. In the borrowing tradition of folk and blues music, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” is an homage to John Lee Hooker, cleverly combining the iconic blues singer’s version of the song with Hooker’s “House Rent Blues” into a single talking blues narrative. “Move It on Over” is a Hank Williams cover and “Who Do You Love?” was originally by Bo Diddley. Because of the way Diddley got taken advantage of by the music industry, Thorogood is proud that his version of “Who Do You Love?” made some money for the rock pioneer, who passed away in 2008.
“That was my project from day one … to get those songs known to people,” he said, noting that after he recorded them, The Grateful Dead started playing “Ride on Josephine” (Bo Diddley) and Elvin Bishop started performing “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.”
Flipping that script, just like with “Bad to the Bone” and “I Drink Alone,” when he writes songs, Thorogood often imagines them being sung by other people. That was the case, he said, with two tracks from 1988’s “Born to be Bad.” The title track he pictured being sung by John Kay of ‘60s hard rockers Steppenwolf, and for “I Really Like Girls,” it was rockabilly and swing enthusiast Brian Setzer.
“My sense of humor’s not for everybody. I’m Denis Leary with a guitar,” Thorogood said of the non-politically-correct lyrical sensibilities that brought us songs like 1991’s “If You Don’t Start Drinkin’ (I’m Gonna Leave),” which he called a protest song, in a comedy rock sort of way.
“It was a time when anybody who’s had one or two beers was an alcoholic,” he said.
He cracked a joke when asked about the Destroyers’ set, with the world watching, at Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985. “Somebody backed out (of the lineup). They said: ‘Let’s get Thorogood, he’s not doing anything’.”
With the advent of Major League Baseball spring training, Thorogood — who once played semi-pro baseball — explained why he’s followed the New York Mets since the team’s inception in 1962. “If you pick a loser, you always get good seats at the park,” he said, lamenting the signing of pitcher Max Scherzer by division rivals the Washington Nationals.
IF YOU GO
What: George Thorogood and the Destroyers in concert.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 17 (Allentown) and 8 p.m. March 20 (Glenside).
Where: Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; The Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside.
Info.: (610) 432-6715/www.millersymphonyhall.org or (215) 572-7650/www.keswickthreatre.com.