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George Thorogood on 40 Years Strong Tour: Still ‘Better Than The Rest’

George Thorogood and The Destroyers kick off their 40 Years Strong Tour Feb. 27.
George Thorogood and The Destroyers kick off their 40 Years Strong Tour Feb. 27.
Rogers and Cowan

A lot can change in 14,610 days. Walls can fall, climates can change and music shaping bands can implode. And while George Thorogood’s loyal legions would like to claim that his music has been the one constant over the last four decades, they would be largely mistaken – it’s actually gotten better.

To persuade the handful of doubters out there, Thorogood and his longtime band The DestroyersJeff Simon (drums, percussion), Bill Blough (bass guitar), Jim Suhler (rhythm guitar) and Buddy Leach (saxophone) – kick off their “40 Years Strong Tour” Feb. 27 at The Smith Center in Las Vegas.

Over the course of 16 studio albums (including six Gold and two Platinum), the music legends have consistently stormed the charts by putting their own stamp on nuggets by Hank Williams, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, and Elmore James among others, while belting out original GT smashes that crackle with humor and swagger.

Serving up a feast of timeless hits that includes “Who Do You Love”, “I Drink Alone”, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”, “Move It On Over”, “Bad To The Bone” and more, Thorogood and his musical charges promise to offer unyielding proof that staying true to yourself and the music can still mean something.

The blues rock master chatted with me recently about the tour and his explosive career. To Thorogood’s many fans, his music is much more than just a professional calling – it’s a solemn responsibility to make sure that a**-kicking rock music stays alive. The veteran rocker agreed – sort of. “Well, if the cost of living keeps going up and the amount of taxes I have to pay, yeah, I’ve got a responsibility (laughing).”

Thorogood plays with the same unbridled joy that he did 40 years ago. And while that might astonish some, the band leader wasn’t the least bit surprised. “Well I've never disliked the tunes to begin with. I created these songs to be played live. That’s what they were made for.”

“Every night we play there’s probably 60 percent of the people who have never heard me before. And there might be 70 percent who will never hear me again. There might be a lot of youngsters who are coming who’ve never heard me play.”

“So that’s where the joy comes from night after night. It would probably get old in a hurry if I played the same songs to the same people in the same room night after night. That would defeat its purpose.”

While it’s true that The Destroyers are playing songs that may be decades old, that doesn’t mean that the classics ever sound stale. “When we first started playing the songs, we would be exactly like the record. Then as you do it more live, it evolves into something a little bit more than that. And every now and then we’ve got to kind pull it back and get it back to that.”

“But certain songs it gets better as time goes on because you keep the same arrangement, you keep the same song, but you’re adding things to it that may have not been there eight years or six years ago. It helps keep it fresh. And that’s not premeditated, that’s just how it evolves as time goes on.”

“I'm better at playing these songs. I've been playing them for 40 years (laughs). Some of them I don’t even listen to the original recordings compared to what we can do with them now. The vocals are better for one thing. I'm a better singer than I was then. I sang these songs so much.”

“You do anything over and over you’re gonna get better at it no matter what it is. Could be digging a ditch or playing a song over and over and over. You keep doing it, eventually you’re gonna get better at it.”

Many of his fans have been on board for the entire 40 years to witness the musical “improvement.” To The Destroyer connoisseur, every refrain has been a smash. But Thorogood confessed that there have been a few that surprised him.

“I've had a couple I'm still scratching my head wondering how in the hell do people go for this? And then there’s a few songs that for the life of us we can't understand why it didn’t do better? So I guess it all balances out.”

“I can't understand why people go for ‘The Sky Is Crying.’ I just can't understand it. That was something we did in the bars just to fill up time. And it was slow so the guys could get up and slow dance. They were too sober or too shy to ask a girl to dance, so we’d do this song.”

“Another one is ‘Who Do You Love?’ I can't understand that. I mean it’s exactly the same as Diddley’s version that he did back in ‘56 and a million people have done ‘Who Do You Love?’ That one I don’t get at all. Another one I don’t get is ‘Move It On Over.’ But I do understand the reaction to ‘Bourbon, Scotch and Beer,’ ‘Bad To The Bone’ and ‘Get A Haircut.’ We knew with those songs that they were gonna ring the bell.”

His gritty, blues infused vocals are a big reason why – they’re perfect in their imperfection you might say. No one can sing a Thorogood tune the way he does. “Well I can't sing, that’s the point. If you’re a good singer, you’re gonna be lost trying to sing Thorogood material. Listen to how Tom Waits sings. Aretha Franklin could not cover his tunes because she’s too good a singer.”

“I've heard people try to do Johnny Cash and it sounds too good. Johnny Cash has that gruff baritone. Howlin’ Wolf, performs a Howlin’ Wolf song – well, you can't do it because you’re too talented. That’s what it is with Thorogood.”

“I went to see Keith Richards play live with The Winos and he had a woman come out and sing ‘Time Is On My Side’ and she sang it perfectly on key, perfectly on pitch, every note right in place – and I didn’t care for it. I like Mick Jagger's version.”

“His version was looser, sloppier. It was more, I don’t know what you call it, but it worked with Mick. You know what I'm saying? It just didn’t work with this person. It’s like Laurence Olivier trying to do The Three Stooges. You can't do Thorogood material if you’re that talented (laughs). That’s the whole charm of George.”

And of course there’s something else to Thorogood’s charm. He’s really good at what he does. “It’s just something that comes natural to me, I guess. It’s just what I am. I had a guy once when I was working on a tune in the band, and he said, ‘You’re thinking too long about this.’ He said, ‘Be bad or be funny.’ Then he said, ‘Combine the two, then you’ll have something.’ I said, ‘Okay, well that’s it.’”

“There are people like that that can just say, ‘I just choose not to do that.’ I was doing a show one time and I was doing some Chuck Berry and Kenny Loggins showed up. We put a guitar into it and he blazed away at some of the baddest Chuck Berry I ever heard. There are people that can do that but they prefer not to. Then there’s others – people like me – who are limited. I'm limited to what I do and I stick with it.”

“The most important thing is don’t try to be something you’re not. I heard someone do a review of the song ‘Get a Hair Cut’ and they said, ‘This has got to be the dopiest song I ever heard. But there’s only one person that can make it work and it’s George.’”

“It’s in my bag. It’s within the realms of my reality as a singer, guitarist and performer and that’s where I like to stay. People always say, ‘Well George is just playing it safe.’ And I say, ‘No, I'm not playing it safe. This is all I can do (laughing).’”

So there you have it. If you’re looking for a couple of hours of pure unadulterated rock and blues, George Thorogood and The Destroyers are just the ticket. But don’t expect any surprises. “I'm not into surprising people. I'm into shocking them (laughing). Yeah. I want to go out there and be badder than we ever were before. It doesn’t always surprise me but it always thrills me.”

You got that right George…

Here are the tour dates for the “40 Years Strong Tour”:

Feb. 27 Las Vegas, Nev. The Smith Center
Feb. 28 Tucson, Ariz. Fox Tucson Theatre
March 1 Scottsdale, Ariz. Talking Stick Resort
March 2 Mescalero, N.M. Inn Of The Mountain Gods
March 4 San Antonio, Texas The Aztec Theater
March 5 Houston, Texas House Of Blues
March 6 Dallas, Texas House Of Blues
March 7 Bossier City, La. Horseshoe Casino & Hotel
March 8 Red Rock, Okla. 7 Clans Paradise Casino
March 10 Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee Theatre
March 11 Atlanta, Ga. Center Stage Theater
March 12 Birmingham, Ala. Iron City Live
March 13 Nashville, Tenn. Wildhorse Saloon
March 14 Robinsonville, Miss. Bluesville At Horseshoe
March 15 Biloxi, Miss. IP Casino, Resort & Spa
March 17 Raleigh, N.C. Duke Energy Center
March 18 Charlotte, N.C. Fillmore Charlotte
March 19 Jacksonville, Fla. Florida Theatre
March 20 Orlando, Fla. Plaza Live Orlando
March 21 Clearwater, Fla. Ruth Eckerd Hall
March 22 Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Parker Playhouse
April 30 Prince George, B.C. CN Centre
May 1 Kamloops, B.C. Interior Savings Centre
May 2 Coquitlam, B.C. Hard Rock Casino
May 3 Coquitlam, B.C. Hard Rock Casino
May 5 Edmonton, Alb. Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
May 6 Calgary, Alb. Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
May 7 Medicine Hat, Alb. The Esplanade
May 8 Saskatoon, Sask. TCU Place
May 9 Regina, Sask. Casino Regina Show Lounge
May 10 Winnipeg, Man. Burton Cummings Theatre
May 12 Sudbury, Ont. Sudbury Arena
May 13 Kitchener, Ont. Centre In The Square
May 14 Hamilton, Ont. Hamilton Place Theatre
May 15 Toronto, Ont. Massey Hall
May 16 Ottawa, Ont. National Arts Centre
May 17 Montreal, Que. Metropolis
May 20 Quebec City, Que. Theatre Capitole
May 22 Fredericton, N.B. Aitken University Centre
May 23 Moncton, N.B. The Centre at Casino
May 24 Halifax, N.S. Halifax Metro Centre
June 19 Atlantic City, N.J. House Of Blues
June 20 Hampton Beach, N.H. Hampton Beach Casino
June 21 Hampton Beach, N.H. Hampton Beach Casino
June 22 Webster, Mass. Indian Ranch
June 25 Lynn, Mass. The Lynn Memorial
June 26 Verona, N.Y. Event Center At Turning Stone Casino

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