It was back in the late seventies, when you could still hear a variety of music on F.M. radio, that one night as I was getting ready for bed I heard this voice coming out of my radio that sounded like it had been around for a thousand years. I was really surprised to hear that the song "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" was from the first album of a guy named George Thorogood.
A year later I was sitting in front row seats in a small concert hall watching him lead his Destroyers through a set of high-powered blues originals and standards. He was like a ball of energy duck-walking across the stage while playing some incredible slide guitar. He was still in the public eye when he released his second collection of songs, including a brilliant cover of Hank Williams' "Move It On Over", but after that he seemed to fade out of my view.
You'd occasionally hear "Move It On Over" or "One Bourbon…" on the radio, but not much more. I assumed that he was still out there working the circuit, but like so many other Blues musicians preferring to play music the way he wanted to instead of compromising for the sake of fame and popularity. I'm not trying to make out like he's some martyr for the Blues or anything like that; I'm sure he'd laugh off such a suggestion, it's just that he'd found his niche and was content with it.
Hell any guy that has the guts to say "I went to the same school as Eric Clapton. He graduated with honours, I scraped through with a C minus" has a better sense of his place in the world than most gurus or swamis can hope to achieve in a thousand lifetimes. Neither he nor his music make any apologies for what they are, or figure they owe anybody any explanations.
The fact that he does what he does out of love for the material and the music couldn't be more evident than on his latest release The Hard Stuff. He can still grind out the tough as nails bar rock blues that has formed the foundation for every blues-based band since the sixties but he also knows when to pull back and apply a lighter touch when needed.
The title track, "Hard Stuff" is just what it says it is. Tough, hard, and gritty rock and roll that makes your ears ring and your sternum hurt if you were to stand too close to the stacks of speakers in a bar. Hearing that as the opening cut sets you up for what you think will be a long, bumpy ride, but on the very next song he switches gears and takes you by surprise.
His cover of Fats Domino's "Hello Josephine" is delivered in his trademark gravely voice, but he and the band play it with just the right touch so it has that distinctive Fats' sound. It's only appropriate that they have dedicated that track to the people of New Orleans and as they put it their "undying spirit" as Fats had to be rescued from the aftermath of Katrina.
George may claim to be only a glorified bar band player, but his versatility puts him in a league by himself. Sure he can still kick the doors down with tracks like "I Didn't Know", but the two songs preceding it, the poppy "I Got My Eyes On You" and the rockabilly/blues of "Moving," show his range as both a guitarist and singer have diversified. He has developed into the full-fledged blues player that he always showed he could be.
He's got far more than just power and speed to offer anymore and that makes him far more interesting a performer and musician. Listen to the almost country blues of his version of "Little Rain Falling" by Jimmy Reed and Ewart Abner and you'll hear a person who's understood that the Blues are a feeling not just a guitar style.
Further proof that he's not someone to be easily painted into a corner stylistically when it comes to his interpretation of what is and isn't the Blues is his inclusion of the poignant "The Drifter's Escape" by Bob Dylan. Here he reveals his sensitivity to material over form and offers up a fine version of this song.
Now in case anybody was worrying, he's still one of the meanest, fastest slide players to come along in years, and can still burn the paint right of walls he gets so hot on occasion. Don't for a second believe that he's mellowed out or anything stupid like that. I was just letting you know that his abilities extend far beyond those of the dynamo that can power a small city.
If you're like me and haven't heard any of George Thorogood's music in a while, a die hard fan, or if somehow or other you're new to the man The Hard Stuff is an album you'll appreciate. Not only does it feature George doing what he does best, but it also shows the true diversity of his talent that may not have been appreciated or realized in the past.