George Thorogood: Badder Than Ever

Move It on Over – The CMAC concert season begins with a bang


George Thorogood and the Destroyers roll into Canandaigua to kick off the summer concert season at Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center (CMAC) on May 30. While best known for his growling rock anthem “Bad to the Bone,” Thorogood is definitely not a one-hit wonder. Fans can expect to hear many crowd-pleasing favorites including “Who Do You Love?,” “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,”  “Move It on Over,” and “I Drink Alone.”

Thorogood, whose career spans over four decades, plays blistering, bluesy rock. The Delaware native’s early musical influences include American blues artists John Paul Hammond, Elmore James and Hound Dog Taylor. His taste in rock ’n’ roll leans toward classic rock performers like J. Geils and Mick Jagger, whom he admires for “his staying power and his great chops on stage.” Thorogood’s own live shows, peppered with familiar tunes, are culled from over 40 years of recorded material. “We play what people pay their money to hear,” he says, adding with a chuckle, “We are like a rerun on TV you can depend on.”

Sometimes that means dropping a song that he personally likes if it doesn’t resonate with audiences. “I’ve always had a crush on the song ‘American Made.’ I felt it really defined us,” says Thorogood, who recorded the tune (penned by Charlie Midnight) for his 2003 Ride ‘Til I Die album – but doesn’t perform it live.

Thorogood’s 2015 Badder Than Ever Tour dates, mainly East Coast venues, ends in late April and resumes with European dates in July and August. Sandwiched in between, he and his band co-headline with Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot Tour in May and June (which includes the Canandaigua concert at CMAC). The two musicians share some history. Both Thorogood and Setzer began recording and touring in the ’70s but each hit their stride in the early ’80s.

By 1981, George Thorogood and the Destroyers had released four albums, including Move It on Over which went Gold (sold 500,000 records). The band was riding high, having snagged the coveted opening gig for The Rolling Stones’ 1981 tour. Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone magazine (no relation to the band) reviewed those first shows in Philadelphia, writing: “George Thorogood and the Destroyers were the perfect opening act. Thorogood’s Chuck Berry-based R&B fetish nearly equals the Stones’, and his band’s sax-stoked, slide-guitar sound cut through the stadium’s dense acoustics like a shiv. Being a local hero didn’t hurt Thorogood any, either. But the fact that he could hold his own — and more — on the Stones’ sprawling, custom-made stage was still impressive.”
Thorogood followed up the high-profile Stones tour with his own, now legendary, 50/50 tour. The band crisscrossed the United States in a Checker cab, with a show each night in a different state, ultimately playing 50 shows in all 50 states. The following year, Thorogood released the Bad to the Bone album which also went Gold. The title song became his signature tune.

Meanwhile in 1981, Brian Setzer was busy reviving the rockabilly genre as one of the Stray Cats. The Stray Cats were an American trio from Long Island but their early success originated in Europe. The group released two European albums, produced by rocker Dave Edmunds, and cultivated a following there. In 1982, their album Built for Speed, a compilation of songs previously released overseas, made its debut on American radio. The songs “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut” were hits here and both tunes charted on Billboard’s Top Ten.

Armand Schaurbroeck, co-owner of Rochester’s famous House of Guitars (HOG), remembers both Thorogood and Setzer and their respective bands stopping by for in-store promotions during the early ’80s. The HOG, with an irreverent 50-year history, was inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame last year. The iconic music store, a friendly, chaotic jumble of music equipment and instruments, CDs, vinyl, cassettes and t-shirts, is a well-known stop for touring professional musicians including Aerosmith, Cheap Trick and Metallica.

George Thorogood remembers playing a House of Guitars afternoon show as part of a promotional appearance back in the day. About 300 fans showed up for his performance and many lingered afterwards to meet Thorogood and for autographs. One of those fans was a teenage girl in a leg cast. He noticed she seemed a little unsteady and her speech was slurred. Thorogood asked her if she wanted him to sign her cast and she declined, explaining that the cast was “wet.” With a little gentle prodding, she confessed that she broke her leg in a car accident on the way to hear him play, got her leg freshly casted, and made it over to the House of Guitars just in time to get his autograph!

“Nothing stops rock ’n’ roll,” says Thorogood, good-naturedly now. He made a mental note then to take promotional appearances seriously, for the sake of his fans – who most certainly did.

Schaurbroeck recalls Thorogood’s appearance at the store, too. “He’s a good guy. He looked pretty cool, talked to everyone and was very humble.” Schaurbroeck also remembers selling an orange vintage Gretsch guitar to Brian Setzer when the Stray Cats did their own in-store appearance. The store displays photos of Thorogood and Setzer along with many other rockers who stopped in through the years.

Through the ’80s and beyond, George Thorogood and the Destroyers kept recording and touring but the Stray Cats disbanded in 1984 after releasing one more album. Setzer, as a solo act, opened for a 1988 Thorogood summer tour. Thorogood is looking forward to sharing a stage with Setzer (who continues to record and tour) again this year.

Thorogood, now 65, lives in California with his wife Marla and their 17-year-old, guitar-playing daughter. He remains quite at home on a stage. Though he is not likely to repeat a 50/50 tour, George Thorogood and the Destroyers still log about 60 to 80 shows a year. For Thorogood, performing live for his loyal fans is more than just another show. “Every night when I walk out on that stage is the highlight of my career,” he says.

by Nancy E. McCarthy





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