Breaking bad: George Thorogood looks back over a tumultuous career
Bad To The Bone made George Thorogood and his Destroyers stars in the MTV age. Now back with a new solo album, the bluesman looks back on the highs and lows
If it’s Friday, this must be the Museum of Ballooning in New Jersey, the latest turn off the road for George Thorogood And The Destroyers and their deep-rooted blues bar-band boogie. “We’re not playing near any of the balloons,” Thorogood assures us, such quirks of the schedule barely registering this far into a career that began with him nearly starving on the streets of San Francisco.
In the 80s, Thorogood and his band reached the heights of playing the US Live Aid concert, and shared bills with fans Dylan and the Stones. Thorogood’s signature song Bad To The Bone, which brought 1950s R&B into the MTV age – equally recalling Marlon Brando in The Wild One, the young, stuttering speed-freak Roger Daltrey and Howlin’ Wolf – remains a soundtrack staple, and Thorogood’s sole self-written classic. Running variations of it (Born To Be Bad), while further exploring the blues songbook with which he first made his name, secured his American stardom for the decade.
Even during his greatest fame, though, Thorogood’s blues was never in fashion. Not having Springsteen’s songwriting chops and ability to conjure new directions, he was more a throwback to the blues-honouring, covers-heavy early (and recent) Stones. His reasons for making new records petered out. “The Destroyers and I have kind of levelled off over the last few years,” Thorogood says of their professional situation.
Always true to himself, just as he has been to his wife Marla for 36 years, such reliability could look like a rut.
In 2017, though, one more turn of his trusted formula has been found – and it’s a revelation. At the age of 67, Thorogood has just released his first ever solo album, Party Of One, a one-man show that sets his strengths in sharp relief. Covering key influences from Johnny Cash to John Lee Hooker, he brings out the character of each with a fine actor’s skill and conviction.