ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 19, 1993
By Steve Newton
George Thorogood’s latest single, “Get a Haircut”, doesn’t sound like a song you would travel 10,000 miles to discover in an Australian pub. It’s a typical 12-bar blues, with unsophisticated, anti-establishment lyrics most songwriters could come up with in their sleep. Thorogood couldn’t think of them himself, though, so he scooped them up while touring in the Northern Territories last year.
“We had a night off and we went to this place, Lee Marvin’s favourite drinking spot,” says Thorogood, calling from a location in Ohio that he won’t disclose. “We went in and heard this two-piece act, and they were doing a lot of different material, and this happened to be one of the songs they did. We asked ’em about the song, and they said it was by a band called Just Relax, out of Melbourne. So the day before we left—or the day after, I can’t remember which—we got the tape of this song called ‘Get a Haircut’. It was just right for us. Perfect.”
Songwriting has never been Thorogood’s forte, and he readily admits it. “Do you want good songs,” he says, “or just songs written by me?” That’s why his latest CD, simply titled Haircut, includes only one of his own tunes. The rest are penned mostly by old blues greats like John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, and Willie Dixon. Haircut actually includes three songs with Dixon’s name on the credits, although one, “Howlin’ for My Baby”, was co-written by Howlin’ Wolf, and another, “Down in the Bottom”, has questionable origins.
“He gave himself credit for that song,” says Thorogood, “but there’s a lot of debate over whether he really wrote that. That’s like a real standard, Mississippi Delta blues theme. It just happens to be a riff that I know how to do, so we figured it’s time we did that song. So actually we did only one true Willie Dixon song, ‘I’m Ready’. That’s one of his biggies.”
Biggie indeed. Thorogood puts “I’m Ready” right up there with his other two favourite tunes, Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” and the Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash”.
“It’s one of the three greatest songs ever written, in my opinion, because of its lyrics, kind of what I call exotic lyrics. Those kind of strange and unusual, tough lyrics. Those are the kind of lyrics we tried to write for ‘Bad to the Bone’.”
Since Thorogood owes so much of his success to the songs of the early blues artists, one wonders if, without them, he would have become a musician in the first place.
“Well, if it wasn’t for the old blues guys there wouldn’t be any music,” snaps Thorogood. “Not just me, there would be none. Didn’t you know that? You think the Rolling Stones would be playin’ if it wasn’t for the old blues guys? If it wasn’t for that there wouldn’t be any me, there wouldn’t be any you. You wouldn’t be here doin’ this interview. What would you be doin’ if it weren’t for the old blues guys?”
Easy, George, easy. Maybe I’d be writing about classical music. Since Thorogood sounds a tad insecure about making big bucks off revamped versions of tunes that were written by struggling artists 40 years ago, I figure it’s time to move on to a topic other than the origin of his recycled material. Since the promoters of his August 26 gig at the Pacific Coliseum have plans for a big beer garden and vintage motorcycle display, I wonder aloud if he thinks his brand of hard-driving boogie is particularly suited to the beer-loving, cycle-riding, party-hearty crowd.
“Is that funny?” he counters angrily. “No, that’s a question,” I say. “Oh. That’s a question. Well, I don’t know how they get there. I don’t know whether they drive cars or Winnebagos or vans or motorcycles. I don’t really check the parking lot out too much.”
At this point I’m not too sure what’s eatin’ old George, or why he’s giving me a hard time. But when I ask him which Vancouver venue he’s most enjoyed playing at over the years and he starts slagging the Commodore, I know the guy’s lost it.
“It’s too violent,” he says, “and the sight lines aren’t good either. The people can’t see you well. The Queen Elizabeth Theatre is much better.”
Yeah, sure, George—the Queen E. is some rock-your-socks-off venue, all right. So now you’ve advanced to playing the Coliseum. How do you rate playing a 16,000-seater as opposed to smaller venues?
“Depends on if there’s 16,000 people in the seats, Steve. I mean if you play a 1,000-seater and there’s 200 people there, I’d rather be playing a 200-seater.”
A pretty logical guy, that George Thorogood. Not the friendliest person I’ve talked to, though. I guess that’s what happens when you were “Born to be Bad” and have become “Bad to the Bone”. Let’s just hope his attitude doesn’t put his successful career “Down in the Bottom”.