George Thorogood: The Losanjealous Interview: “You’re Going To Have To Legalize Dope And Tax It.”
George Thorogood & The Destroyers w/Jonny Lang @ The Greek Sun July 26
Destroyers frontman George Thorogood, acutely aware of his place in the pantheon of rock and blues, has at various times in the past likened his musical output to a car dealership and a cheeseburger franchise, arguing that the business is thriving because all customers still get a quality cheeseburger (and/or car) at the end of the day. George and The Destroyers will play hits, catalog standards and songs from the new album The Dirty Dozen, which drops on Capitol/EMI this coming Tuesday, July 28, at the Greek this evening. George will also stop by Guitar Center tomorrow evening for a free story-and-song session sponsored by Gibson guitars.
George! How are you?
Bad. I’m bad.
Some things never change. So you’re playing the Greek on Sunday. I just read in the LA Times that it’s one of your favorite venues here in town.
We’re playing on Mick Jagger’s birthday. And…we’re going to invite him. I don’t know if he’s going to show up, but the invitation’s out there. (laughter in background)
Are you going to give him some sort of shout-out, on stage?
I might. You never know. This is the entertainment capitol of the world, you know. You never know who’s going to turn up. I did a thing at the House of Blues, and Bruce Willis and John Goodman poked their head in to say “Hi.” It was pretty cool. Another time I was working there and my wife came in and said, “You know who wants to meet you out there? Johnny Rivers.” Los Angeles. It’s a cool place to work, you know what I mean? You never know who’s out there checking your ass out, so you gotta hunker down.
You’ve just played two nights with Jonny Lang on this tour. How did those dates go?
So far so good. I knew there weren’t going to be any disappointments with Jonny Lang; he’s a first-rate entertainer in his own right, you know? In my mind he’s really just starting his career. He was no flash-in-a-pan, but he was attention-grabbing when he started. As far as him maturing into what it is he’s going to be, if he chooses to have a lengthy career, I think he’s coming into it now.
Ok, enough formalities. I want to get an answer now to a question I’ve had for years regarding your take on “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” You basically tack an extended play onto the front of the song. Long before the guy ever goes inside a bar, the protagonist is running around, hustling, dodging the rent lady. Where’d you get the idea for this, sort of, dodgy character avoiding paying his rent?
I’m glad you brought that point up, because people you will say, you know, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” is about getting drunk, and I’ll say, “Actually you’re missing the point, it’s really about a homeless guy.” The intro is actually as long as the rest of the song.
That’s the real story, but the fact that he went into a bar to have a couple of drinks ’cause he’s sad is… that’s just an afterthought, that’s an after point. The real tragedy is that he doesn’t have the money to pay his rent (laughs) so out the door he went! And I have had that problem, we’ve all had that problem. That was part of our lifestyle at that time. We were at a place called (Bunraddy’s!? -underpaid factchecker) in Massachusetts – Brighton – and everyone was watching the World Series on TV, and I went up to the bandstand and no one was on the dance floor, and out of nowhere I just started this John Lee Hooker rap, “Wanna tell you a story about the house-man blues…” I’m just playin’ and playin’ it, and one by one, the bass player and drummer got up, and just naturally I said “I want one bourbon, one scotch, one beer” and Boom! They came in behind me. And immediately the dance floor filled up, so we kept it in the show forever. That’s a real nice lead-in to a tune, we didn’t play it that way naturally. At that time, some friends and I were actually about to be evicted. Somebody bought the building we lived in, and they doubled the rent, and we just didn’t have the money, so “out the door we went”… we were in the back of the van, you know.
Speaking of the World Series. Who’s going to win the World Series this year?
The World Series? I… I think the Angels are. They’re going strong. It’s impossible to predict who’s going to win the worlds series. I’m a Mets fan, so don’t talk to me ’til next spring training (laughs)
A lot of people might not know that you were actually Rookie of the Year in the minors at one point.
Semi-pro. So let’s take a look at closing pitchers briefly. Dennis Eckersley and Goose Gossage both used “Bad to the Bone” to come onto the mound. Did you ever hear…
I went to a game last year when Saito pitched for the Dodgers, #44… well, he was injured. We met him, but he was the only one that ever used that song as his intro – that I know of – when he came in. My daughter came to the game, and we were hoping the Dodgers would get into a situation where he would come in, but they didn’t use him because he was injured. But he was nice enough to come out and meet us, so that was pretty cool. But I didn’t know that Gossage or Eckersley ever did that. I met Eckersley…
I think he was a fan of the song. I was going to ask you if you knew of anybody else using that song.
No, I don’t. I know Bobby Bonilla played it when he came up to the plate in the world series, and Bobby Costas was great enough to say, “Bobby Bonilla coming to the plate, everybody singing along to the George Thorogood song, “Bad to the Bone” And when I saw Bobby there I said, “Thanks, Bobby. I always wanted to get to the World Series and now I made it, thanks to you.”
I caught you a couple of years ago in the blues tent down at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.
They had banners of blues legends on the walls, and you were pointing out the ones you’ve played with. There are probably few people you haven’t jammed with at this point. Can you share some of your all-time favorite jam sessions with us, now?
Actually, Ryan, I had one jam session… Muddy Waters called me up to play with him, to jam with him. I was really kind of out of my element.
And I did that, and it was a great honor, but you know, I was kind of green at the time, and I was just getting started, and he was very gracious about it. I bet I played a little too loud for him, because the 125 is a loud, noisy guitar. That was interesting. One of the most incredible jam sessions I ever had… We were doing a gig at a club in Holland, and Bobby Keys and Ian Stewart were playing with, and who drops in around midnight to check us out but Mick Jagger. And he got up and sang two or three songs. THAT was an interesting jam session. Because to tell you the truth Ryan, as much as I love Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker and all those people, I’m much more of a Jaggeresque kind of front man, you know what I mean? I just happen to play the guitar. The guys that I say kind of really do more – just as a perfomer – a Mick Jagger, a Peter Wolf… Mitch Ryder…real flamboyant kind of front man, know what I mean? Little Richard and those guys. When I was on the stage with Jagger, I was in my element. I was much closer to that. Albert Collins pulled me up there to play the blues, jam with him. I said, “Man why don’t you get Elvin Bishop to do this? He’s great.” Steve Miller had me play, and I told him up front, “I tried doing this with Carlos Santana and I just flopped. I cannot jam.” Steve said, “Gimme a couple days.” And he went out and researched and found something that I can do very well, which was really great of him, really fantastic. And he would leave the best singing lines for me, the lines that would turn the chicks on. (Laughs) Steve was great about that. He said, “We’ll work you toward these lines. I’ll set it up for you.” He was almost like a straight man for me. You know what I mean? A really great guy, so I really appreciated that. I didn’t go out there and look like a fool, thanks to him.
Speaking of Albert Collins. You played with him, and Bo Diddley, at Live Aid back in the ’80s.
Michael Jackson famously did not play Live Aid, but with all of the various charitable fund-raising efforts going on in the ’80s, did you ever have cause to meet Michael, or run into him anyplace? Any Michael Jackson moments you can share with us?
I was on a television show when he was there – the GRAMMY awards – he was accepting an award for his big hit, and he had just put out an album. And later that summer he went on what was called the Victory Tour, but I didn’t meet Michael. He came in, and he was with Brooke Shields, and Quincy Jones, all these heavy-duty people. I was there with Stevie Ray Vaughan to do a tribute to Chuck Berry, whom they were giving a Lifetime Achievement Award to.
I remember that.
But you could have gotten closer to the president than you could to Michael Jackson at that time.
You’ve got a few songs about drinking in your catalog. How much of the drinking is a stage act, and how much is true to life? Do you find you’re drinking more or less as you approach the age of 60?
I’m drinking more water than I ever have, at this point in my life (laughs)… I never really drank any more or any less than, you know, the average car mechanic, or musician, or whatever. Never really had a problem with it. I mean, I never denied that I liked it, but it wasn’t something that ruled my life. What people don’t understand is that Ryan, we’re on our 13th album now, which means we’ve cut literally 125 songs. Three of them have to do with drinking, and only two of them I wrote, so that’s less than one percent of all the songs we do. What happened is, the radio picked those songs to play.
It’s the radio’s fault?
If you have a menu, you can’t control who buys what. You can’t control who plays what on the radio. Those just happened to be the ones that the radio picked to play, and the fans jumped on them. We have many many other songs, many other good songs…so it’s just not about that subject. I don’t mean to be defensive. It’s like going into a restaurant and saying, “All you have to eat are cheeseburgers!” No, we have turkey meatloaf, we have egg salad, we have…you get my point.
Sticking with the food theme. What is your favorite breakfast? And if you could eat it with three people, living or dead, who would they be?
Breakfast? Ah… you know, I don’t… I’m not a big food person. What do you want me to do, make up something? Two of my favorite people I’d like to have breakfast with are my wife and my daughter. How ’bout that?
I don’t have another, you know…the only two I’d name when I’m dead, you know, come to my mind.
If you had the president’s ear for a full day, what would you like to discuss, and what would you ask him to do?
I’d say… well, three things I’d like to say. I’d like to see you create some more jobs, and you can start right here in California. It is just absolutely embarrassing and disgusting how much litter is in this state. California’s supposed to be one of these beautiful states, and there’s garbage everywhere. The state is going down the tube financially. We’re getting in a hole, and people are saying “I want a job” – Taj Mahal and I talked about this, and I said, “There’s work, right out there. I’ll pay people $7 an hour to pick that shit up.” Especially around LA. It looks terrible. We just went to England, London. You could eat off the streets in that country. They put up huge fines about 25 years ago. Like, $1000 if you even dropped, like, a gum wrapper. The culture there has been brought up to say, “You don’t litter.” Just like your parents say, “You don’t curse,” or “You don’t do this.” Their culture is way ahead of ours as far as what a no-no litter is, so that’d be one of the first things I’d tell the president. Maybe he does have a plan, maybe he does have a, something like that. I’d say, why don’t you organize it? ’Cause people are always pitchin’, “I can’t get a job.” I say, “I got a job for you. And I’ll pay you very well.” ’Cause it’s disgusting, Ryan. I don’t know if you live here. I do, and I was taught not to litter. I was taught to put my stuff in a trash can, you know? Doesn’t that make sense? So I would say that.
Then I’d say you know, we’re way behind the times. First of all you’re going to have to legalize dope and tax it to get some money, and to cut back on the crime issue. It’s going to have to be done. It’s the only way to resolve this thing, you gotta look into that. It’s just a matter of finance now. You legalize and tax cigarettes. It doesn’t make any sense to me. If you’re gonna do that… (laughs) I’m sure he has bigger things on his mind, but those might be the first two I’d talk about.
Those are great issues.
You think so?
Oh, sure. I live here. I don’t know if it’s a matter of overcrowding, but it is definitely a trashy city.
I don’t think it’s overcrowding, I think it just has to do with manners. Manners! Right?
If that’s the case it’s not exclusive to California.
It isn’t. I notice it more, because I live here.
What is your favorite LA Freeway?
I like driving down the 1 in Malibu. I wouldn’t take it from LA to San Francisco; that’s a little much, but I like that road. Very peaceful. Go by whatever it is…just after the Palisades, going up to Zuma…that’s the 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.
Past Neptune’s Net and all the bikers.
It’s fantastic. Very relaxing.
Flip side. What is your least favorite LA intersection?
Ventura and Laurel Canyon – is there an area there, just up from the Sportsmans’ Lodge? Coldwater, Coldwater Canyon [and Ventura]. My least favorite, because I had an accident there. Some guy ran a red light. He plowed into the person in front of me, and then I plowed into them. I had to go down and do a deposition, the guy had no insurance so they were trying to sap me to pay for the whole thing, but I had insurance…they were trying to prove it was my fault. I said, “I didn’t run the red light, the other guy did!” So every time I go through that area, I get a little freaked out.
There are some ridiculously huge intersections in that stretch of the valley.
First of all, there are like five lanes! That’s too big for an intersection. That’s really busy. So that’s kinda scary, right there.
That’s one of our standard-issue questions for LA residents, Los Angeles having such a car culture.
Safety first. They oughta have the BMW be a standard issue car for everybody. Get the safest car you can. And I think you should take a driving test every two weeks. (laughter in background)
Disagree. Way, way too many driving tests. Final question. There’s an indie rock songwritery kind of guy from Vancouver named Daniel Bejar who goes by the name of Destroyer. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this guy, but I was wondering, should you ever attempt to sort of tap into the indie rock market and introduce them to your style of blues, what might your thoughts be on teaming up with this guy and going by the moniker “George Thorogood and Destroyer“?
(laughs) Well, I think I’ve got enough Destroyers in my life right now. I don’t know if I need another.
Any last words for our readers?
When you come to the Greek Theatre, wear your safety belt to the gig and when you drive home. Safety first.
Thanks George. Have fun out there Sunday!