If you’re like me, George Thorogood and The Destroyers got on your radar screen in late 1982 when their “Bad to the Bone” single hit the charts. The title track of their fifth album was memorable for Thorogood’s hot slide guitar work and his “buh-buh-buh-bad” stutter throughout it.
But, before all that, the power trio of Thorogood, Billy Blough (bass) and Jeff Simon (drums) were part of the very vibrant blues renaissance of the late ’70s – and all three are still together. Back then, many of the old masters were still alive and kicking. Some established performers like Johnny Winter and ZZ Top maintained commercial success, and younger players like The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan were just at the advent of their careers. Into this mix, stripped-to-the-bone blues bands like The Destroyers and The Nighthawks also began building their reputations out on the road. Not surprisingly, being a kickass live act is what got Rough Records to sign George Thorogood and The Destroyers in 1977.
That year’s George Thorogood and The Destroyers release is a perfect encapsulation of what the group was all about on stage. As demonstrated on the new, remastered and reissued album (via Rough Records), taken from digital transfers of the original analog tapes, Thorogood, Blough, and Simon were a clean, tight, rockin’ threesome that showcased the six-stringer’s slide guitar and admittedly only serviceable vocals.
Appropriately, all the tracks were recorded live in the studio, with occasional guitar support from Ron Smith. The bulk of the tracks are hard-driving covers of blues and blues/rock standards mainly drawn from the Chess Records catalog. These include Earl Hooker’s “You Got to Lose,” Bo Diddley’s “Ride On Josephine,” and Robert Johnson’s acoustic “Kind Hearted Woman.” “Madison Blues” is but one of many examples of how Elmore James was a principal influence on Thorogood.
On the other end of the spectrum, Thorogood blows some serious harp on the acoustic traditional, “John Hardy.” Perhaps the standout cover was the eight-minute medley that sandwiched John Lee Hooker’s “House Rent Boogie” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” together as one track.
None of these covers were pioneering or innovative, but they weren’t intended to be so. Even Thorogood’s originals, “Homesick Boy,” “I’ll Change My Style,” and the seven-minute closer, “Delaware Slide” were in the time honored tradition of putting new lyrics on old blues riffs.
The same is true of the other new Rough Records remastered release, 1978’s Move It On Over. There are gems on it reminiscent of the group’s debut. For example, the presence of Elmore James returns on “The Sky Is Crying” (in a more literal interpretation than what Stevie Ray Vaughan did a few years later) and “New Hawaiian Boogie.” “Uncle Meat” Pennington shakes maracas on Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” and the band is pure Chuck Berry on Berry’s “It Wasn’t Me.”
This time around, there’s a dip into the country/blues well, with the Hank Williams-penned title song and the rockabilly number “Cocaine Blues,” a T.J. Arnall cover. While The Destroyers were rarely known for slow, sad songs, “I’m Just Your Good Thing” is just such a country ballad penned by James Moore. Sadly, the vocals flatline on the second half of the set where more blues masters are represented, like Willie Dixon (“That Same Thing”), Brownie McGhee (“So Much Trouble”), and the more obscure Homesick James Williamson (“Baby Please Set a Date”).
Of the two reissues, George Thorogood and The Destroyers is the better realized package. It clearly showcases a band that had honed its live performance and could do their best songs in one straight go with minimal production needed. Move It On Over, on the other hand, seems like a grab bag of songs that might have been polished on stage, but apparently recorded in haste. Again, this is most notable with the lead vocals which sound more like demos than final cuts. It has its moments, but it’s not one I’d play start to finish when friends and family come by for a rollicking good evening. I’ll take one scotch, one bourbon, one beer, and George Thorogood and The Destroyers. It’s buh-buh-buh-bad.