It was October 24, 1981 and I was yelling into the payphone of a bar that was basically a concrete bunker. I had just spent two hours in front the stage watching the amazing show of my life up to that point. George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers had just ravaged my hearing and rocked my soul. This was before he hit the big time, right at the beginning of his amazing 50/50 tour. George was going to hit all fifty states in fifty nights flying only to us and Hawaii while driving the other 11,243 miles in a Checker cab. Mr. Thorogood’s amazing mix of blues and rock just tore up the place and rebuilt it in his image. We bowed on the stage and he knighted us with his guitar.
Of course the first thing I had to do was run out and buy his records which turned out not to be so easy. George, it seems, wasn’t recording with a major label at the time. All three of his albums were being put out by a tiny company called Rounder Records. His first album with a major label, Bad to the Bone, wouldn’t be until 1982. So it was USPS time and I ordered directly from Rounder his first albums, George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers (1977), Move It On Over(1978), and More George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers(1980). To say they rocked my house for weeks after would be an understatement.
You see, I had listened to blues. I had listened to rock. I had listened to more than enough white rock bands doing their ‘tributes’ to the greats, if not straight up stealing their riffs without giving them credit (looking at you Led Zeppelin). What I had never heard was someone taking the great blues songs and completely turning them into something of their own while at the same time giving credit to the original artist. George did that like a fucking natural. There was a reason a record label that normally only picked up folk and blues artists had been so taken by his work.
I lost those first albums in my move and it took quite a while to replace them. I saw a lot of the crap demo (Better Than The Rest later released as Nadine) that was put out by MCA when George started to get famous, taken off a cassette tape he had sent in 1974 and they had turned down because after all who would listen to ‘that’ kind of music. I wouldn’t touch it when it first came out and wouldn’t buy it now. We got amazingly lucky when someone sold their collection to Steve at Obsessions Records. I had told him about my deep and abiding need to find those records so when they came in, he gave me the heads up. (Have I said how important it is to support your local record store? Just about every other time I write something? Well, that’s not really enough.)
The first album is filled with the songs that are considered George’s standards including the titled One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, but it’s the ones that aren’t commonly played that stand out to me. His take on Robert Johnson’s Kindhearted Woman is totally bad-ass while Homesick Boy is one of the two songs George wrote for this album and it sounds like it could have been written by any blues master. This album has the feeling of someone coming out of the gate at a run. He has no intention of letting anyone get in his way and if you don’t care for what he’s doing, he doesn’t give a fuck, somebody else will dance to it.
Move It On Over suffers from a cute double cover (basically where they slide another cover in rather than putting a sleeve over the record). Cardboard does not make vinyl happy and those kinds of things are bad, bad, bad. However, all is forgiven when you get to hear George power through Elmore James’ classic blues tune The Sky is Crying and while he’s not Johnny Cash or T. J. “Red” Arnall, it is fun to listen to him take on country with Cocaine Blues. Every song on this album is a cover and the amazing part is that it all feels like they are his songs. Sure Move It On Over was written by Hank Williams but ain’t no Hank left by the time The Destroyers get done. George’s vocals slide around the music while he plays the Gibson Les Paul, Billy Blough slams home with the bass, and Jeff Simon makes like Animal beating the drums.
More George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers isn’t a really a repeat of the same. Here George brings in Hank Carter on saxophone for some added depth and starts to cover people like Carl Perkins, James Moore and Hound Dog Taylor. The only one he writes himself is Kids From Philly which is a sax heavy instrumental piece. House of Blue Lights becomes a common staple of his concerts for energy and sheer balls to the wall style but for me the rolling train like drum and guitar work of Restless is the one that will get your leg shaking. As usual the MND was able to make the albums come out sweet using his magic touch and mastery of technology, to clean up any of the years worth of pops or scratches.
The album that broke George out into the national spotlight came out a year after the concert where I found out about him. Bad To The Bone was released through EMI with an agreement from Rounder. George’s name was in big letters and The Destroyers were dropped down to small letters and while he still covered John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry, there were three songs on the album he wrote himself. The title song was used in movies and TV shows all over the 80’s. It was hard to get away from. It didn’t mean the music wasn’t great fun to listen to. I still went to see him every time he came to Alaska but I kind of missed the guy who transformed the blues for me.
I remember an interview I saw with George where he said that being famous didn’t matter to him that much and that he really was looking forward to being old and fat, sitting in a bar someplace, playing his guitar where no one knew who he was, just doing it for the music. While I suspect that there will always be people who know who George is, I would like to hang out in that bar and listen to him play when it’s just for the music.