Interview: George Thorogood
Sun, 26 Jul 2009 20:02:25
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Many artists lose that proverbial "fire" for making music over time. That's just the nature of the biz. However, that's not the case for George Thorogood—not at all.
George is still "Bad to the Bone." He's not stopping anytime soon either.
Sitting back on a leather couch he laughs, "Rock and roll never sleeps. It just passes out!"
He's not sleeping or passing out anytime soon, and The Dirty Dozen is proof. Hitting shelves on Tuesday July 28, it's another raw rock record from a true legend. Thorogood sat down with ARTISTdirect.com in this exclusive interview to talk about keeping it dirty, the secret to songwriting and much more.
The Dirty Dozen is just a badass rock record.
Well, that's what The Destroyers do! You don't ask Woody Allen to make a western [Laughs]. Sometimes it's so simple that people can't figure it out. "George Thorogood—the Lee Marvin of rock [Laughs]!"
Did you have a particular concept in mind going into this record?
If we had a little more time and we hadn't called this album The Dirty Dozen, we may have called it, Unfinished Business. We've been playing some of these tunes for a long time. I've had my eye on some of these songs as far back as 1970. I knew they were good songs and I always wanted to do them. The original recordings were a little shaky. There are a lot of people that don't like The London Sessions. They say, "I don't like all of those English guys playing behind Howlin' Wolf. They play the blues wrong." No, wrong! They're playing properly. It's the people that played before that played them wrong. They were uneducated sharecroppers. They came from the cotton fields and their style of music was very rough and raw. I said, "With a good band, there's something there." There were a few songs that I had in my hip pocket. Elvin Bishop and The Yardbirds didn't find these songs that I did on The Dirty Dozen. It was common for my generation to find obscure blues songs that weren't big hits and re-appropriate them, so that's what we did.
What was the story behind "Run Myself Out of Town?" It really stands out!
Would you like someone to buy you dinner or could I mow your lawn? [Laughs] I've been waiting for one person to step up and say they like that song! [Laughs]
I made the record for that song. It's a great song. The original doesn't sound quite like that. My wife turned me onto it at about midnight one night. She said, "Listen, this is something you should hear." The rhythm was right for us because it's different. We heard the song, and I said, "Let's open her up, tear her apart and put her back together again." The band came through fantastic. I couldn't dream that it could come out any better than it did. Like I always say, even if we hadn't done it, any good band could cover it and make it a hit because it's a great song. It just takes a good band to play it. That's my favorite. If you've got eight songs in a row that are all bad about drinking, it gets a little mundane after awhile [Laughs].
That song gives the album some more color. It's got a Western, gunslinger vibe. It's really cinematic.
It's like "Some Kind of Wonderful." Before we all found blues—and maybe I'm the only one who admits this—we all grew up on Top 40 radio. We didn't turn on the radio at the age of 10 and hear Lightnin' Hopkins. Most people say that, but it's just not true. You heard "It's My Party and I'll Cry if I want to" and then you went to the blues as an alternative to that. I like songs that are written well, produced well and arranged well. We really grew up on that. If you listen to some of those early Beatles recordings, they listened to the top hits like a Bible because their arrangements were perfect. They mastered it. They worked at it to get that. The solos came at the right spot and the songs were always in the right key. They halted it at the right time. People always say, "George you should put out more records." I always say, "If you take a glass and you pour it halfway full with really good Bourbon what have you got?"
A good glass of bourbon?
Yes. If you put a little water in it what have you got?
Watered down bourbon?
Put some more water in what have you got?
Really watered down bourbon.
You can't taste the bourbon. So many classic bands have classic, beautiful and brilliant catalogs and they don't need to make anymore records. That's why Cagney stopped!
You need to understand pop structures and harmonies before you can even effectively deviate from them.
Yes, exactly. You build from that. One time I asked Quincy Jones, "Mr. Jones, what makes a hit record?" He said, "Son, three things make a hit record—the tune, the tune and the tune." [Laughs] You've got to have a hit. Would you rather hear a really good song, "King of the Road," sung passable or would you rather hear a really shitty song sung great? People want the hit. They want the good song. They're not concerned with how well it's done. It's the tune that stirs everything. That's what gets it going. People ask, "George why do you get all of these gigs and I don't?" I'll give you three reasons—"Bourbon Scotch and Beer," "Moving On Over" and "Bad to the Bone." That's it. It's the secret to the whole thing.
It's a lot simpler than people make it.
You've got to find the tune first and then you work from that. You get stirred up when you find a tune.
Are you a big fan of the movie The Dirty Dozen?
It's not one of my favorite Lee Marvin movies, but it is a great movie. I prefer some of his other movies. I just thought the title was made for us. If it worked for a movie, it'll work for The Destroyers. People say, "How would you describe your music in word?" It's dirty. That's the word I would use.
Do you feel like you have the same fire that you did when you started?
It's better now than ever. I've got more tunes. In 1977, I had two songs. Now we've got ten! If we can add to that, that's great. I tell people if you've got one song you've got a job. If you've got three, you've got a career. If you've got five, you're a legend. John Fogerty and Steve Miller are gods because they've got tons of tunes!