George Thorogood & the Destroyers (03/23/78)

George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Rounder 3013

When I first heard this record some months ago, I was appalled. “One bourbon, one Scotch and one beee-ahh,” George Thorogood was mush-mouthing over the radio–the crazed vulgarity of his singing would have embarrassed Eric Burdon–and who needed that? The only cachet this white bluesboy had was his label, a classy little outfit known mainly for its devotion to modern-day folk idiosyncrasy and old-timey reissues; otherwise Thorogood’s versions of John Lee Hooker (pound that foot) and Elmore James (growl that lyric) made his true forebears–early Rolling Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, Them, Pretty Things–sound like Paul Oliver, who doesn’t play blues but writes books about them. To hear Thorogood flail his slide up and down his guitar, you might have thought he was Ben Franklin–that he’d discovered not the blues, but electricity.

Well, Thorogood is still on the radio, and I’ve given in. I jump with excitement whenever one of his tunes comes on. Flashy he is, but it’s Rory Gallagher’s kind of flash, not Ted Nugent’s; those high notes sing, and they’re still hanging in the air five smokes later. Thorogood is so fast, and so insistent, that the rhythm section of Jeff Simon (drums) and Billy Blough (bass) seems like an after­thought; the guitar covers every change. It’s Elmore James cut with a dose of Scotty Moore, all played so loud it seems sloppy even when it isn’t—which fits in perfectly with Thorogood’s vo­cals, which cop, from first note to last, that a white boy singing the blues is ridiculous before he’s any­thing else–and so what?

“One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” is Thorogood’s epic (courtesy of Hooker), but “Madison Blues” is his showcase. A delightful number as Elmore James originally recorded it, it was hardly a classic (Chess left it unreleased in 1960), and that gives Thorogood the room he needs to blow it against the walls, running lick after lick across the skimpy lyric until his bar-band credentials are so undeniable you feel like spilling a beer on the turntable.

There are duds–Thorogood hasn’t the slightest idea what to do with Robert Johnson’s desolate “Kind-Hearted Woman”–but they don’t get in the way; this isn’t exactly the kind of record you study. Made in a studio, it sounds as if it were cut in a dive; I half-hear a phantom crowd calling out for “Dust My Broom”–or maybe “Wipe Out.” The band’s name may be remembered longer than its music, but I don’t care.

Still, my eight-year-old daugh­ter may deserve the last word. “Daddy,” she said as Thorogood stormed his way out of the car radio, “is that a black man or a white man singing?” “It’s a white man trying to sound like a black man,” I told her. “Oh,” she said. “He’s doing a really good job.”

Rolling Stone, March 23, 1978

Bonus Beat: Audio clip of GM, in an interview with Phil Dellio nine years later, thinking back to the Thorogood phenomenon:

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