Too Good to be Bad to the Bone: George Thorogood and The Destroyers are rockin’ and rollin’ back to Calgary

After a career spanning more than 40 years, it’s pretty obvious that George Thorogood would much rather be playing music than talking about it.

Thorogood, now on tour with his longtime backing band The Destroyers, is moving on over to Calgary’s Grey Eagle Resort Sunday, May 6, and the way he sees it, more talk means less rock.

“Right now I’m being flooded with interviews from all over the world about my fabulous career and my outstanding new record,” he laughs, joking that Mick Jagger’s holding on another line.

All this talk is keeping him out of the studios these days, but with two recent releases under his belt, Thorogood is always at the ready to entertain.

Record Store Day 2018 saw Thorogood and The Destroyers putting out a limited edition 7-inch – covering The Sonics’ Shot Down on side A, and Ain’t Coming Home Tonight, a Thorogood original, on side B.

Despite being a fan of bands like The Strangeloves, Blues Magoos, ? Mark and the Mysterians and The Woolies, The Sonics, arguably one of the most underrated garage bands to come out of the ’60s, surprisingly never made it onto Thorogood’s radar. In fact, he credits his wife, Marla Raderman, for introducing him to the band.

“She knows my musical tastes backwards and forwards, and she said, ‘I’ve got this song, it might work out for you guys.’ So I said, ‘Lay it on me.’

“She knows I’m a big fan of music from the ’60s. I’m a hardcore ’60s guy. So I listened to it and was like, ‘How did I miss this song?’ My sax player knew of the band; I’d never heard of them. But it seemed to fit right in, so we jumped right into it, and low and behold, we could play it in a key that I could sing, which is generally impossible.”

Thorogood also revisited his acoustic roots late last year, releasing Party of One, a solo effort covering artists like John Lee Hooker, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Elmore James.

“I didn’t really want to make any more records, to tell you the truth, unless it was something special. And this was pretty special.”

Thorogood, who calls himself “naturally lazy,” said that while he loved not having to lug “all those amps and drums into the studios,” he also lacked the benefit of having a backing band that could carry the sound.

“That made it kind of tough. I had to pull this thing off on my own.”

The album is testament to the enormous influence African-American blues musicians have had on  Thorogood’s career and development as a guitar player. While he was always a rock ’n’ roll fan, he said he was fascinated by blues guitarists and listened to them to “get a grip on playing the guitar.” It was a natural progression for him to fuse the two styles together.

Despite the heavy blues sound, Thorogood said he’s never experienced any backlash over cultural appropriation – a hot-seat issue for many musicians working today.

“It’s a funny thing, the world says these things about young white kids playing that kind of music, and what do the black people and black artists think of that – all we ever got was encouragement. People like B.B. King, and John Lee Hooker, and Howlin’ Wolf’s band, Muddy Waters’ band — they never gave it a second thought.”

Thorogood got his start professionally as a roadie for Hound Dog Taylor, a blues guitarist, and played one of his first gigs with blues duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

“They talked with me all night long about what I was doing right or what I was doing wrong. And it was the same with Hound Dog’s band, and particularly Howlin’ Wolf’s band. Muddy Waters himself was very encouraging.

“I’m playing with the people who created this music, who are the real deal, and they’re groovin’ on my ass,” he points out.

“John Lee Hooker, he got a royalty cheque for ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,’ and he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, thanks for the new Caddy.’ So ask him how he feels about it.”

At the end of the day, Thorogood said he doesn’t think of himself as a blues musician at all, but bristles at the idea of being called a “classic rock artist.”

“I made an attempt for a couple years to play blues and I came to the conclusion that I can’t play blues. Actually, I can play one blues song — ‘The Sky is Crying’ — that’s about it. I play Get a Haircut, that’s what I play.

“I went from a blues artist, to a rock ‘n’ roll star, to a classic rock artist – but I’m still playing the same song. Isn’t that funny? I’m going to stick around another 40 years just to see what they’ll call me then.”

And anyone who has seen him play live wouldn’t be surprised to see him stick around for another 40 years. Thorogood is known as a touring workhorse, a reputation cemented after playing over 8,000 shows throughout his career, and for the famed 50/50 Tour in 1981 – hitting the stage in all 50 U.S. states in just 50 days.

Despite the grind of a life on the road, anyone who has seen he and The Destroyers play knows they kick into each song with the same amount of energy as they did decades ago – no easy feat considering bands that have been around only a few short years are already putting moratoriums on their signature songs during live performances.

“When’s the last time you saw The Rolling Stones and they didn’t play Jumpin’ Jack Flash? When does Steve Miller tour and not play Rock’N Me? That just speaks for itself.”

Thorogood says he never gets tired of playing the hits. In fact, that was the goal all along.

“If you had a restaurant and you put something on the menu like a fine cheeseburger or a really good steak, and people kept coming and buying it year after year after year, would you keep it on the menu? Yeah, you would. That’s why we did it to begin with, to make a song people liked so they’d buy it.”

George Thorogood and The Destroyers play the Grey Eagle Resort on Sunday, May 6. For tickets please click here

Described by some as a “cute dictionary” and a “punk rock Tina Fey,” Autumn Fox is a freelance writer and editor living in Calgary. She loves puns, irony and Vi-Co. Find her on Twitter @AudieCantFail.