A generation or so ago, it wasn’t uncommon for opening acts for iconic recording artists to be booed off the stage. The Clash were met with jeers while opening for the Who in 1982. Anyone who preceded the Ramones was crushed. Performing on a bill with the Rolling Stones was tricky. When the Stones kicked off their “Tattoo You Tour” in 1981, Journey was booed from the stage.
However, George Thorogood, who led the show, crushed it as 100,000 fans couldn’t get enough of his twist on old school blues. The unwashed masses weren’t the only ones who adored the animated vocalist-guitarist. A few days before the tour commenced, one of the most iconic musicians in rock history asked Thorogood for a favor.
“Charlie Watts comes up to me with my first album, and he asked me to sign it,” Thorogood said while calling from San Diego. “I could barely remember my name when he made the request. We’re talking about Charlie Watts! That was amazing, but so was meeting the Stones before I played with them on that tour. How many people can say they had that experience?”
It’s not surprising that Thorogood impressed the Stones. Much like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Thorogood was schooled on blues legends such as Chuck Berry and Elmore James. Like much of the Stones’ finest early work, Thorogood is adept at delivering simple and direct rock ’n’ roll. Like the early days of the Stones, Thorogood’s calling card is reinventing blues classics. Thorogood’s versions of James’ “Madison Blues,” John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and Bo Diddley’s “Ride on Josephine” earned airplay on album-oriented rock stations during the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s.
Thorogood, 71, crafted his share of hits, such as “Bad to the Bone” and “I Drink Alone,” but his revamped takes on buried blues tunes are his signature. Thorogood still delivers the songs with laudable energy bouncing all over the stage. “That’s what I grew up with,” Thorogood said. “When I saw my favorite bands, that’s often how they did their thing.
“I also have to shake my fanny because I have to do something up there. Joni Mitchell can just stand behind the microphone and recite her poetry, and you’ll be blown away. I remember when I saw the Doors, all Jim Morrison had to do was stand there and wrap himself around the microphone and stare at the audience, and that was enough. Did you ever see what Jim Morrison looked like in 1968? He was better looking than Warren Beatty? I have to do what old school blues people called clowning. I didn’t have a choice. I’m a shot and a beer kind of guy.”
There’s nothing wrong with that. Thorogood delivers meat and potatoes rock. “I’m not doing anything differently than what Mick Jagger and Little Richard did,” Thorogood said. “What I do is fun. But for guys like me who have to perform, we grew up with a certain standard. I took notes, and so did Bruce Springsteen. It’s good time rock and roll. It goes over well in the Pacific Northwest.”
When Thorogood headlined the Festival at Sandpoint in 2017, he had a simple request while on the drive from Spokane to North Idaho. “I wanted to see bigfoot,” Thorogood recalled while chuckling. “I didn’t want to see bears. I don’t mess with bears. But I wanted to see the legend.” However, sasquatch failed to appear for Thorogood. “All I saw was trees,” Thorogood said. “But that was fine. It’s beautiful over there. I always look forward to coming back since the people there respond to the kind of music I play.”
Don’t expect anything new. Thorogood hasn’t recorded an album since 2017’s “Party of One.” “But I could record again,” Thorogood said. “It’s possible. That’s just not the focus now. I’m focusing on keeping this going.” Thorogood is closing in on a half-century as a recording artist. “I’ve had an unbelievable career,” Thorogood said. “How many people get to do what they love for a living for as long as me? I’m proud of a lot of things, but I don’t think I could be prouder of how I took these little-known blues songs and exposed them to the world.”
Thorogood hasn’t lost a step over the years, and it’s remarkable since he’s a septuagenarian. “I have no problem giving it my all since this is all I ever wanted to do,” Thorogood said. “Music is my passion, and I’ve never taken it for granted. When I was growing up, I didn’t know this was possible. I looked out and saw that there were so many incredible artists, like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix.
“But then I saw acts like the J. Geils Band and Hound Dog Taylor, and I realized that there was room for a guy like me. I threw myself into this, and I never stopped. All these years later, I’m still doing it. I can’t imagine what else I would have done. I’m glad I never had to ever consider another career.” In what other career could Thorogood have met the late Watts, who kept a low profile?
When Thorogood was asked if it was difficult to believe a member of the Stones passed away, he laughed. “Charlie Watts didn’t die,” Thorogood said. “He’s just off playing somewhere with his jazz heroes. He’s a legend.” A legend like bigfoot? “Kind of but different,” Thorogood said. “I always come back to Spokane since I’m always in search of bigfoot.”