Muddy Waters didn’t want Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone”, but Bo Diddley did

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By Steve Newton

When you interview rockers on the road you always try to find out where they’re located, so you can write “When so-and-so calls from wherever” and establish a setting for the conversation. But when I contact blues-rocker George Thorogood–who plays the Hard Rock Casino Vancouver this Friday and Saturday (May 2 and 3)–he’s not ready to cough up the info.

“We swore under oath with the government not to reveal the whereabouts of our location,” jokes the 64-year-old boogieman, so we’ll never know whether he was in Tallahassee or Kalamazoo.

And when I casually ask how he’s doing, Thorogood evades that query as well, instead replying with the title of his best-known song: “Bad to the Bone”.

Considering Thorogood’s name is synonymous with “Bad to the Bone”, it comes as quite a surprise that—at first, anyway—he didn’t even want that song for himself.

“I thought it would be a great song for Muddy Waters,” he explains. “I tried to hustle that tune to Muddy Waters’s camp, with absolutely no success, and actually his people were very offended with me for bringing the song to him. They were like, ‘A white guy bringin’ a blues song? Hell no, that’s not gonna work.’ I thought, ‘That’s bullshit! If Eric Clapton or Keith Richards did that they’d do it in a minute.’

“And then I went to Bo Diddley with it and he loved it! He wanted to play it, but he didn’t have a record deal at the time. So I said, ‘Well, okay, we’ll do it.’ ”

Released in 1982 as the title track of Thorogood’s fifth album, “Bad to the Bone” has proven quite the windfall for its creator, having appeared in numerous films, TV shows, and commercials. You may recall it from the opening scene of the ’83 horror flick Christine, where its don’t-mess-with-me vibe was used to drive home the inherent evil of Stephen King’s titular 1957 Plymouth Fury.

Five years before he hit it big with “Bad”, though, Thorogood established another signature song with the cover on his self-titled debut album of John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”. Both tunes appear on his latest releases, the greatest-hits CD Icon and the concert video Live at Montreux 2013.

“I had an album by John Lee Hooker called Live at the Café au Go-Go,” recalls Thorogood, “and then I went to see him at the Café au Go-Go. He did ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’ in both sets, and I noticed that people were dancing—and the people that were dancing were all women! So I said, ‘Wow, this has got a hook!’

“I kinda kept that song at the back of my mind, and then about three years later when I opened for Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Brownie McGhee did it, and he did a brilliant version of it. He was playing it on acoustic guitar, with just a harmonica player, and everybody was on the dance floor.

The song was so strong I started playing it immediately. I knew if anything was gonna break, that’s the tune.”

 

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