Music News & Reviews

A talk with blues rocker George Thorogood, who plays in Paso Robles on Sunday

George Thorogood and the Destroyers will perform at Vina Robles Amphitheatre on Sunday. Opening for Thorogood is Buddy Guy.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers will perform at Vina Robles Amphitheatre on Sunday. Opening for Thorogood is Buddy Guy.

Can you name 10 songs by The Beatles?

That’s the challenge that “Bad to the Bone” blues rocker George Thorogood recently presented to a Tribune reporter. He’s convinced that the average music lover is only aware of a handful of hits by even the biggest acts.

“Most people are known for one song,” said Thorogood, who performs Sunday with his longtime band, The Destroyers, at Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles. “All you need is one and you can fly for a long time. If you’ve got three, you fly even higher. If you’ve got five, you’ve got a career.”

Thorogood, 65, has built his own music career on a catalog of classic rock crowd pleasers that includes “I Drink Alone,” “House Rent Boogie/One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and “Who Do You Love.”

Given his success, it might surprise fans to learn he initially struggled.

Thorogood, who grew up in Wilmington, Del., decided in junior high school that he wanted to be a professional musician.

Years later, when he first took the stage, “I felt comfortable. I just felt confidence,” he said. “(But) I didn’t have any talent in doing it.”

Thorogood said he felt intimidated living in the era of “the greatest guitar players in the world,” including Elvin Bishop, Jeff Beck and Ry Cooder. He was also in awe of guitar-oriented recording artists such as Duane Allman and Bonnie Raitt.

More than the desire to perform, Thorogood said, he was motivated by fear — “the fear that I would be saddled with scrubbing floors or digging a ditch for the rest of myself.”

“(I decided) ‘If I got something going, it’s going to be the guitar,’ ” he said. “It’s better than working at the food stand.”

Thorogood couldn’t hope to rival acts such as Johnny Winter and the Steve Miller Band, he reasoned at the time, but at least he could open for them.

“In baseball, you still need guys to play in the seventh and eighth innings,” the blues rocker explained. “I said, ‘If you can’t be Babe Ruth, you can still bunt.’ That was my calling card.”

Despite successful gigs opening for the likes of blues icons Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters, however, Thorogood and his band failed repeatedly to secure a record deal. That prevented them from landing bigger shows.

“In ’73 and ’74, I had everybody talking to me — fans, bartenders, (blues musician) Sonny Terry — (asking me), ‘When are you going to make a record, kid?’ ” Thorogood recalled. “The record companies don’t like me!” he’d reply.

Finally, he connected with Boston-based bluegrass label Rounder Records, which specialized in what Thorogood described as “authentic American music.”

He and his band’s selftitled debut album, released in 1977, featured original songs by Thorogood (“Homesick Boy,” “Delaware Slide”) as well as covers of classic blues songs (Elmore James’ “Madison Blues,” Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman” and John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” to name a few).

Thorogood said he was naturally drawn to those earlier blues artists.

“You’re a fool if you listen to ‘A Day in the Life’ by The Beatles and go, ‘OK, I’m going to become a songwriter,’” he said. “You have to go back and listen to the early (stuff). You have to have influences and references to put together to have an authentic sound.”

Rounder Records re-released the original mix of “George Thorogood and The Delaware Destroyers” on vinyl and CD earlier this year. But when asked how the record holds up today, Thorogood claimed ignorance.

“I don’t have a turntable,” he said by way of explanation. “I don’t need to listen to (the album) again. I heard it 30 years ago.”

Listeners eager to hear Thorogood’s take on that material might be better off catching him in concert. Backing him on stage at Vina Robles Amphitheatre will be Bill Blough on bass, Buddy Leach on saxophone, Jim Suhler on rhythm guitar and Jeff Simon on drums and percussion.

“People would tell me, ‘George, you play a highenergy, very mean guitar, and you’re funny,’ ” recalled Thorogood, who played the Avila Beach Golf Resort in 2003 and the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles in 2011. “ ‘Put that together and you’ve got a band.’ ”

GEORGE THOROGOOD AND THE DESTROYERS, WITH BUDDY GUY

6:30 p.m. Sunday

Vina Robles Amphitheatre, 3800 Mill Road, Paso Robles

$50 to $90

227-4812 or http://www.vinaroblesamphitheatre.com

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