ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 14, 2003
The last time I interviewed George Thorogood over the phone, back in 1993, he acted like a real dick. I realize the guy’s “Bad to the Bone”, but I wasn’t expecting him to be quite so surly and defensive. In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn’t have included a question like: “So, if it weren’t for the old blues guys, would you still have become a musician?” Considering how the American rocker established himself by revising John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”, I thought it was a reasonable query. But he must have taken it as an attack on his livelihood, ’cause he was as charming as a trapped rattler for the duration of our chat.
Although I’m fully capable of holding a grudge until the end of time, I forgave Thorogood and interviewed him again, in advance of his sold-out show at the Commodore on Friday (August 15). The only reason I did so was that he’d put out a really good album. Compared to half-assed ’90s outings like Haircut and Half a Boy Half a Man, his new CD, Ride ’Til I Die, is a boogie-blues masterpiece.
When the now–friendly and upbeat Thorogood calls from an undisclosed city—“I’ve sworn an oath with the government not to give the whereabouts of my location”—he’s quick to give some credit for the album’s winning sound to new guitarist Jim Suhler. “We needed another guitar player, so we simply went out and got the best,” he raves. “Stephen Stills wasn’t available, and, you know, Jeff Beck is a recluse, but Jim Suhler can play as good as any of those guys, as the record proves. He’s tops, man, and it frees me up to do the three things I know how to do best: slide guitar, rhythm guitar, and bullshit.”
Another talented picker to make his presence felt on Ride ’Til I Die is Elvin Bishop, who handled lead guitar on his own composition, “Don’t Let the Bossman Get You Down”. Although the two go way back, Thorogood refers to Bishop as a “long-time acquaintance” rather than an old friend. “I wouldn’t call him old,” he quips. “Elvin doesn’t like to use the word old. Elvin Bishop will always be young. You look in the dictionary under fun and they show you Elvin’s picture. He walks into the room and you immediately start smiling and laughing—that’s the kinda guy he is.”
Although Thorogood’s latest disc continues his tradition of covering other people’s songs—including Chuck Berry’s “Move It”, Nick Lowe’s “That’s It, I Quit”, and J. J. Cale’s “Devil in Disguise”—he does prove himself a competent tunesmith on one track, “Sweet Little Lady”, which he cowrote with Suhler.
“Hey, when you make records, you gotta have songs about the women,” the Delaware-bred boogie man asserts. “You know, women make it; they’re the ones. If you do all the chicks, you’re in. Look at Elvis Presley, right? Look at the career he had. You gotta have a song like that, man, or you’re done in this business.”