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George Thoroughlygood

The Delaware Destroyer rocks out on one of my personal faves, a cover of rock ‘n’ roll icon Bo Diddley’s original tune.

Back in the day, Diddley was always jokingly known in the BPs band-van as Squiggly Diggley. Hey, when you’re tired, smelly, hungover as hell, and still have another six to eight hours of driving before you make it to that night’s venue, pretty much everything begins to seem funny, aiight?

The George Thorogood backstory is an interesting one.

Thorogood began his career as a solo acoustic performer in the style of Robert Johnson and Elmore James after being inspired in 1970 by a John P. Hammond concert. In 1973, he formed a band, the Delaware Destroyers, with high school friend and drummer Jeff Simon. With additional players, the Delaware Destroyers developed its sound, a mixture of Chicago blues and rock and roll. The band’s first shows were in the Rathskeller bar at the University of Delaware and at Deer Park Tavern, both in Newark, Delaware. Eventually, the band’s name was shortened to the Destroyers. During this time, Thorogood supplemented his income by working as a roadie for Hound Dog Taylor.

Thorogood’s demo Better Than the Rest was recorded in 1974, but was not released until 1979. His major recording debut came with the album George Thorogood and the Destroyers, which was released in 1977. In 1978, Thorogood released his next album with the Destroyers titled Move It on Over, which included a remake of Hank Williams’s “Move It on Over”. He followed those recordings in 1979 with “Please Set a Date” and a reworking of the Bo Diddley song “Who Do You Love”, both released in 1979. The band’s early success contributed to the rise of folk label Rounder Records.

During the late 1970s, Thorogood and his band were based in Boston. He was friends with Jimmy Thackery of the Washington, D.C.-based blues band, The Nighthawks. While touring in the 1970s, the Destroyers and the Nighthawks were playing shows in Georgetown at venues across the street from each other. The Destroyers were engaged at the Cellar Door and the Nighthawks at Desperados. At midnight, while both bands played Elmore James’s “Madison Blues” in the same key, Thorogood and Thackery left their clubs, met in the middle of M Street, exchanged guitar cords and went on to play with the opposite band in the other club. The connection with the Nighthawks was extended further when Nighthawks bass player Jan Zukowski supported Thorogood’s set with Bo Diddley and Albert Collins at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 13, 1985.

Thorogood gained his first mainstream exposure as a support act for the Rolling Stones during their 1981 U.S. tour. He was also the featured musical guest on Saturday Night Live (Season 8, Episode 2) on the October 2, 1982, broadcast. During this time, Thorogood and the Destroyers became known for their rigorous touring schedule, including the “50/50” tour in 1981, on which the band toured all 50 US states in 50 days. After two shows in Boulder, Colorado, Thorogood and his band flew to Hawaii for one show and then performed a show in Alaska the following night. The next day, Thorogood and his band met his roadies in Washington and continued the one-show-per-state tour. In addition, he played Washington, D.C., on the same day that he performed a show in Maryland, thereby playing 51 shows in 50 days.

With his contract with Rounder Records expiring, Thorogood signed with EMI America Records and, in 1982, released the single “Bad to the Bone” and an album of the same name that went gold. The song became the band’s most well-known song through appearances on MTV and use in films, television and commercials. Thorogood and his band went on to have two more gold studio albums in the 1980s, Maverick and Born to Be Bad. The former features Thorogood’s only Billboard Hot 100 hit, a remake of Johnny Otis’s “Willie and the Hand Jive”, and his concert staple “I Drink Alone”.

 Breakthrough hit or no, I’d be a-okay if I never heard “Bad to The Bone” again for the rest of my life. That said, I still like most of the rest of George’s recorded output just fine, thanks. Legend has it that the Stones, Mick or Keef one, ran across Thorogood gigging in some small gin-joint or other and were impressed enough to offer him the support-act slot on the above-mentioned 1981 tour on the spot, after which it was off and running for the toothy slide-player from the Small-Wonder State. Good for him, I say; the man has damned sure paid his dues, as the old bluesmen used to say, and gained his fame, fortune, and success the old-fashioned way: he earned it.

Update! Not Thorogood, but have yourselves a bonus tune anyway. Heard it on the car radio earlier; I’d just about forgotten how much I always liked it.

Burton Cummings, the guy who wrote this one, absolutely rips some boogie-woogie pi-anny on the original recorded version, although it seems just a mite understated here. What the hey, though, this one’s live, and it’s still damned good if you ask me.

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