If rock ‘n’ roll were a dinner menu, singer/guitarist George Thorogood would be the meat and potatoes. Though more than 25 years have passed since he formed George Thorogood and the Destroyers, which has sold more than 15 million albums since its inception in 1973, Thorogood has maintained his full-force, straightforward blues/rock style. He has released several hit songs over his lengthy career, including rock classics “I Drink Alone,” “Who Do You Love,” and his signature song, “Bad to the Bone.”
Before becoming a rock musician, Thorogood pursued a career as a baseball player. He played on a semi-professional team, which he continued for a while after he reached rock stardom. In 1970, he saw blues performer John Hammond in concert in New York and decided to change his direction. Early in his musical career, Thorogood would take time off for the baseball season, even when he was in the middle of recording an album. For decades, Thorogood’s favorite baseball team was the New York Mets. “I’ve always been a New York Mets fan,” Thorogood told Sport magazine. “They crawled their way to mediocrity, and that was me. It was a team I could relate to.”
Throughout his career, Thorogood has kept his level of success at a steady pace. He has relied heavily on his influences, which include John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bo Diddley. He wrote and recorded his own music, but much of his catalog includes cover versions of songs by his heroes. “I’m a Chevy Nova in a world of Rolls Royces,” Thorogood told Dave Veitch in the Calgary Sun.“It’s all that I can do. Don’t overrate me. I’m not that versatile.” In fact, it is his dependable style that brought audiences back as fans knew what to expect from Thorogood.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers formed in 1973 in Wilmington, Delaware. The original group included bassist Michael Lenn, second guitarist Ron Smith, and drummer Jeff Simon. With the lineup in place, the band moved to Boston where they played in local blues clubs. In 1974, the group recorded a demo, which was later released as Better than the Rest on MCA Records. The following year, they met John Forward, who helped them land a record contract with Rounder Records.
Before the group released its debut album, Lenn was replaced by bassist Billy Blough. In 1977, George Thorogood and the Destroyers arrived in record stores. The album included cover versions of Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and James’ “Madison Blues.” A criticism Thorogood received again and again during his career was that he recorded more cover versions than original songs. “Instead of rote copying, he reshapes parts in the spirit of the masters,” Jas Obrecht wrote in Guitar Player.” By playing them
Born in Baton Rouge, LA.
Discovered interest in music while playing semi-professional baseball, 1970; formed George Thorogood and the Destroyers, 1973; signed with Rounder Records, c. 1975; released debut, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, 1977; released two additional albums on Rounder, 1978–80; signed with EMI Records, 1981; embarked on 50/50 tour, 1981; released Bad to the Bone on EMI, 1982; released eight albums, 1982–96; signed with CMC International, released three albums, 1997–99; Anthology released on EMI, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Capitol/EMI Records, 1750 N. Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028, website: http://www.hollwoodandvine.com. Website —George Thorogood and the Destroyers Official Website: http://www.gthorogood.com.
with obvious affection, he can make others’ styles and songs sound like his own.”
Although Rounder Records was a small label, the group sold more than 100,000 copies of its self-titled debut. Until that time, it was the top-selling record the label had ever released. This wasn’t for long, though. In 1978, George Thorogood and the Destroyers released Move It On Over. The title track, a cover of Hank Williams’ song, was the first single, and it received plenty of airplay. The album also included the tunes “The Sky Is Crying” and “Who Do You Love.” By the end of the year, the album had reached the top 40. It eventually went gold, selling more than 500,000 copies.
Before the release of their next album, the Destroyers went through additional personnel changes. Saxophone player Hank Carter joined the band, and Smith left the group. In 1980, the group released More George Thorogood and the Destroyers. The popularity of Thorogood and his group had grown so much that they signed a major label record deal with EMI in 1981. Following a tour with the Rolling Stones, the Destroyers embarked on the now-famous 50/50 tour, one that took the group to 50 states in 50 days without a break. “It was a ludicrous venture,” Joel Selvin wrote in the band’s EMI biography,” but it made a statement…. This wasn’t show business. To George and the band, this was life.” During that time, George Thorogood and the Destroyers refused to take time off even when they had it. They would frequently show up at local clubs on their nights off and play under the name Sidewalk Frank.
In 1982, the group released its first album on EMI, Bad to the Bone. The first single was the title track, and the video received frequent airplay on MTV. The album eventually went gold and stayed on Billboard’s album charts for almost a year. Thorogood told the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service that he wrote “Bad to the Bone” as a teenage fantasy: “I was an average kid with average grades. How boring can you get? So I wrote this song that fantasized how I would like to be. I wanted to be cool, I wanted to be bad.”
Before the release of Maverick in 1985, Steve Chris-mar joined George Thorogood and the Destroyers as second guitarist. Maverick included the songs “I Drink Alone” and “Willie and the Hand Jive.” The following year, the group released its first live album, Live, as well as Nadine. Born to Be Bad, which included the title track and “You Talk Too Much,” was released in 1988. David Hiltbrand wrote in his People review of the album, “Handle this album with heavy gloves. It’s raucous, after-midnight party music filled with screaming guitars, a driving beat, and Thorogood’s tequila-gargled voice.”
In the early 1990s, George Thorogood and the Destroyers released Boogie People and Get a Haircut, the latter reaching number two on the Billboard charts. By the end of the decade, Thorogood was still rockin’ in venues and on releases. In 1997, the Destroyers released Rockin’My Life Away. As he toured in support of the album, Thorogood noticed a growing lack of outlets for people to have fun. “Sometimes you go to see a comedian, and you walk out feeling worse than you did when you walked into the place,” Thorogood told Frisco Floyd Van Gogh of CitySites online. “So I say, let’s get these people up and dancing on their feet, get ’em laughing and dancing for about 90 minutes or two hours. Let ’em know that there is still a good time to be had.”
In 1999, Thorogood released Half a Boy, Half a Man and Live in 1999. The following year, EMI compiled 30 Destroyers songs in a double-CD titled Anthology. Although his roots were still planted firmly in blues, Thorogood’s style was undeniably straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll. “It’s weird. When I was 20, I wanted to be a bluesman,” Thorogood told Ed Symkus in the Boston Herald.” Now I’m 50, and I want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. You figure it out.”
Through the glitter, glam, and over-the-top styles that exemplified many rock bands during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, Thorogood’s guitar rock still found an audience. “Maybe we have survived because we don’t fit in,” Thorogood told Knight-Ridder. “A lot has changed since 1977. Radio is not the same as it was…. But honestly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. There are just a lot more guitars now than before.” George Thorogood and the Destroyers toured in 2001 and planned to record a new album.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers (includes “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and “Madison Blues”), Rounder, 1977.
Move It On Over (includes “Move It On Over,” “The Sky Is Crying,” and “Who Do You Love”), Rounder, 1978.
Better than the Rest, MCA, 1979.
More George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Rounder, 1980.
Bad to the Bone, Capitol/EMI, 1982.
Maverick (includes “Willie and the Hand Jive” and “I Drink Alone”), Capitol/EMI, 1985.
Nadine, MCA, 1986.
Live, Capitol/EMI, 1986.
Born to Be Bad (includes “Born to Be Bad” and “You Talk Too Much”), Capitol/EMI, 1988.
Boogie People (includes “If You Don’t Start Drinkin’ [I’m Gonna Leave]”), Capitol/EMI, 1991.
Baddest of George Thorogood, Capitol/EMI, 1992.
Get a Haircut, Capitol/EMI, 1993.
Let’s Work Together Live, Capitol/EMI, 1995.
Rockin’ My Life Away, CMC, 1997.
Haifa Boy, Half a Man, CMC, 1999.
Live in 1999, CMC, 1999.
Anthology, Capitol/EMI, 2000.
Extended Versions, BMG, 2000.
Boston Herald, May 21, 2001.
Calgary Sun, November 17, 1999.
Edmonton Sun, November 15, 1999.
Guitar Player, June 1981, pp. 18–22.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 5, 1993, p. 110.
Ottawa Sun, December 8, 1999.
People, February 29, 1988, p. 42; April 1, 1991, p. 20.
Rolling Stone, December 10, 1981, p. 77; June 20, 1985, p. 70.
Sport, June 1999, p. 24.
Capitol Records, http://www.hollywoodandvine.com (June 17, 2001).
“George Thorogood,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (June 17, 2001).
George Thorogood and the Destroyers Official Website, http://www.gthorogood.com (June 17, 2001).
“Interview with George Thorogood,” CitySites, http://www.citysites.com/thorogood (June 17, 2001).
“Thoroughly Bad to the Bone: George Thorogood Still Rocks,” Seacoast Online, http://www.seacoastonline.com (June 17, 2001).