George Thorogood Taught Me To Play Guitar

C. Michael Bailey By

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Rounder Records has reissued George Thorogood and the Destroyers' first two recordings, George Thorogood And The Destroyers and Move It On Over. Like many white, middle-class kids, it was through the likes of Eric Burdon and the Animals, John Mayall, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton and, indeed, George Thorogood that I learned the African-American tradition of the blues (what about Elvis? That was rock and roll, though he sang plenty of blues). As accomplished as these artists were, they were the gift wrapping on a universe of music recorded generations before by Charlie Patton, Eddie "Son" House and Skip James, in the beginning, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James in the middle, and Buddy Guy, James Cotton and James Blood Ulmer, most recently.

By the time these Thorogood recordings were released, I was transitioning from high school to college and my guitar playing—which began when I was 12-years old, a confused geek in a Southern parochial school (how could a Southern Catholic be more confused?)—improved vastly when I finally understood what the sacred twelve bars meant. You will never catch me saying that Thorogood was a great guitarist—standard or slide. He was not. Thorogood was just unsophisticated enough for me to understand musically. What he had, in spades, was that Yankee swagger, the same drive that the early J. Geils Band had up to Full House (Atlantic, 1972) and before the pathetic "Freeze Frame."

Thorogood emerged from a middle-class childhood in Wilmington, Delaware. He played a bit of semi-professional baseball before moving to music full-time and releasing the eponymous George Thorogood And The Destroyers in 1977. It was not at this time that I discovered the band. That would not be until my first year in college, when I heard Thorogood's cover of Hank Williams, Sr.'s "Move It On Over" from his second album of the same name That slide guitar knock me out, mostly because I could play the same way...cut and slash. Duane Allman and Lowell George were so far beyond my meager slide guitar capability that I never tried to play their music (not until much later anyway). But Thorogood, he was something else altogether. After mastering all of Move It On Over, I went back to the first album and learned Robert Johnson's "Kindhearted Woman" and Elmore James' Madison Blues."

In 20 years of playing in public, these songs always made their way among the Jimmy Buffet, John Prine, Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker songs I played time after time. When in graduate school, I met some purists who looked down their effete noses at white practitioners of the blues. My argument has always been that there is plenty of room under the same tent, so why don't we learn from one another. Oh, and those first two Thorogood albums? They are worth another listen.

George Thorogood and the DestroyersGeorge Thorogood And The Destroyers

George Thorogood And The Destroyers

Rounder Records


George Thorogood And The Destroyers was not exactly Thorogood kicking the celebrity door open with a jackboot. Hard work and constant touring ahead of the release of this recording is what brought attention, as well as a continued interest in the blues that began in the mid-1960s when a bunch of Yankee college kids decided to go down to Mississippi and find the original blues players. Thorogood was hardly the only new act playing the blues.

Thorogood and his band were coming up the same time as Jimmy Thackery and the Nighthawks, and there is the story that, while touring in the 1970s, the Destroyers and the Nighthawks were playing shows in Georgetown across the street from one another. The Destroyers had a stretch at The Cellar Door, while the Nighthawks were appearing at Desperados. At midnight, both bands agreed to play Elmore James' "Madison Blues" in the key of E. Thorogood and Thackery would leave their respective bands and meet in the middle of M Street, where they exchanged guitar patch cords and went on to play with the opposite band in the other club. That is the good in music.

"Madison Blues" was included on this eponymous first recording, with nine more originals and covers, all employing the time-tested twelve bars. Thorogood had a knack of being able to shake up the old formula without losing any of its vibrant life. He played exclusively Gibson ES-125 single cutaways tuned to D or G when playing slide and he drew, from those three chords and twelve bars, all they had to offer.

Thorogood was most instrumental in reintroducing Canton, Mississippi native Elmore James and the power of the electrified slide guitar. By extension, he also evoked the spirit of Robert Johnson and that master's precise technique. but most of all, what Thorogood brought to the music was the fun, bravado and hubris swagger that is the blues (and by extension, rock and roll).

George Thorogood and the DestroyersGeorge Thorogood And The Destroyers

Move It On Over

Rounder Records


George Thorogood and the Destroyers second offering put the pots on, turning the gas on high. "Move It On Over" blasts off of thirty years after Hank Williams, Sr. made it a hit in 1947. Thorogood updated the thin country song with his slash and burn slide guitar and Delaware growl, torquing the song to rock and roll momentum. Where the first recording was populated with blues known only to cognoscenti, Thorogood expands his palette here to include better-known pieces.

His cover of "Who Do You Love" makes lightning strike a fourth time after the original Bo Diddley (1957), Ronnie Hawkins (1963) and Quicksilver Messenger Service (1969) versions. Thorogood establishes the famous beat which is immediately picked up by drummer Jeff Simon, propelling the song again onto the pop charts. Thorogood turns in one of the most respectable and period perfect "It Hurts Me Too," capturing Elmore James' electric slide guitar most authentically while, at the same time, supercharging James' "New Hawaiian Boogie."

Thorogood may not be the greatest guitarist or singer, but he did bring attention back to the music upon which all American music flowed and has continued to do so for nearly forty years. These Rounder rereleases are more than worth a listen, particularly for the generation that believes that Jack White did anything really new with The White Stripes. The blues have often been done before and better. Go look for it.

Tracks and Personnel

George Thorogood And The Destroyers

Tracks: You Got To Lose; Madison Blues; One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer; Kind Hearted Woman; Can't Stop Lovin'; Ride On Josephine; Homesick Boy; John Hardy; I'll Change My Style; Delaware Slide.

Personnel: George Thorogood: guitar, vocals; Billy Blough: bass; Jeff Simon: drums; Ron Smith: guitar.

Move It On Over

Tracks: Move It On Over; Who Do You Love; The Sky Is Crying; Cocaine Blues; It Wasn't Me; That Same Thing; So Much Trouble; I'm Just your Good Thing; Baby, Please Set a Date; New Hawaiian Boogie.

Personnel: George Thorogood: guitar, vocals; Billy Blough: bass; Jeff Simon: drums; Uncle Meat: tambourine, maracas.

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