As he boogies his way towards his 40th year as a recording artist in 2014, guitarist George Thorogood said no special plans were yet in place to celebrate the anniversary.
“Man, I just want to get there first,” laughed the blues-rocker who has kept the trademark Bo Diddley beat alive and well all these years on such hits as “Bad To The Bone,” “Move It On Over” and “I Drink Alone.” Those songs are sure to be heard Sunday at Star Plaza Theatre when Thorogood’s current world tour brings his infamous band The Destroyers back to the region for the first time since 2010.
“It’s one of my favorite places to play. I kept saying we have GOTTA go back (to Star Plaza),” said Thorogood. “The buzz there is just incredible. They’ve turned it into a four-star venue. The fans can hear everything and see everything. Sound there is great, sight wise it’s great from anywhere in the place, and the people are great.”
When last visiting the Merrillville concert hall, Thorogood had just released his “Dirty Dozen” album, a split of six new songs and six re-recorded fan favorites. This time around, Thorogood is promoting “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” a salute to the legendary songs and artists of Chicago’s landmark Chess Records. The title track is a remake of the Rolling Stones’ early ‘60s instrumental recorded at the famous address for which it is named, the location of the original Chess Recording Studio that was home to the likes of Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley and Etta James, among other blues legends.
With the exception of one inspired original tune “Willie Dixon’s Gone,” honoring the late Chess artist, house producer and studio bass player, “2120 South Michigan Avenue” is an album of inspired and energized remakes. This collection, which returns Thorogood to the music he cut his teeth on, was a joint venture between the artist, Capitol Records and legendary blues producer Tom Hambridge.
“Capitol asked me to do this and I thought it was a great idea,” said Thorogood. “The whole thing hinged on Tom being on board to produce it,” he said.
“I was a big fan of people like the Rolling Stones, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and John Hammond,” said Thorogood of how he became so steeped in the blues and most notably the Chess Records brand of blues as a young man. “I was a fan of the Stones before they recorded ‘Satisfaction,’ when they were mostly covering old blues tunes I had never heard by these artists out of Chicago. Then I saw Howlin’ Wolf on (the old television music program) ‘Shindig’ performing with the Stones, started looking into this (Chess) music and I found it was music I could play.”
The rawness and simplicity of the Chicago blues sound pioneered at Chess drew the young guitarist like a moth to a flame. “Very few people can play the blues like B.B. King, Little Walter or Elvin Bishop, and I knew I wasn’t one of them. But playing a Bo Diddley guitar chord and doing Howlin’ Wolf’s voice is something I could do, so it gave me a chance,” continued Thorogood. “At that time, the big thing in music was Clapton, Hendrix, Zeppelin and The Who. There was no way I was ever gonna get close to doing anything like those guys were doing, and no way I was going to write the kind of material Neil Young or Joni Mitchell do. That wasn’t realistic for me, but I knew I could sing dirty and play bad slide guitar.”
Thorogood used a baseball strategy from his early days as a ball player in Delaware, while playing second base in the Roberto Clemente semi-pro league. “You go with your strengths and with what you know you can do. If you’re not Willie Mays and able to hit it out of the park, you bunt and just hope for the best, so that’s what I did. I just broke everything down to what was realistic for me and here I am today.”
While the dyed-in-the-wool Mets fan still loves a good ball game, Thorogood has no regrets of not pursuing a career on the baseball diamond. “If you go to Oslo, Norway and say ‘Yogi Berra’ to someone on the street they say ‘Who?’ If you say ‘Bad To The Bone,’ they say ‘George Thorogood’, so no regrets!”