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Guitarist George Thorogood once compared his music to diner fare, stating that customers do not mind eating cheeseburgers on a regular basis as long as they are good cheeseburgers. That sort of no-nonsense approach to rock-n-roll epitomized Thorogood's career, which focused on producing a slew of super-charged rock and blues tracks that drew influence from early 1950s records by such iconic artists as John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. Thorogood could rarely be accused of subtlety or originality - there was little variation in sound or material between hits like "Bad to the Bone," "I Drink Alone" and "Willie and the Hand Jive" and the rest of the material recorded over the course of his lengthy career - but then again, the same could be said about Berry, Diddley, Hooker and most early rock and blues performers. His connection to those founding fathers earned him a devoted following among rock traditionalists, though blues purists initially disregarded his output until the new millennium. Thorogood hit his peak in the 1980s with the aforementioned tracks, which received near-constant airplay on rock radio and in feature films, before he settled into the status of favored veteran, enjoying sizable audiences at his concerts while still mining hits on the blues listings. If Thorogood's music was the auditory equivalent of the cheeseburger, his ability to deliver the tastiest, greasiest version on command for over three decades earned him a place in the hearts of roots rockers everywhere.
Born Feb. 24, 1950 in Naamans Manor, a suburb of Wilmington, DE, George Thorogood initially wanted baseball to be his career of choice. After graduating from high school in 1968, he played second base for a minor league team in his home state. But upon seeing blues player John P. Hammond in concert in 1970, Thorogood decided to try his hand at music while still retaining his base. By 1973, he had formed the original lineup of the Delaware Destroyers, which ironically found few interested listeners in that part of the country. Thorogood moved his band up to Boston, MA, where he continued to toil in obscurity. However, he found a mentor in Hound Dog Taylor, a six-fingered slide guitarist whose raucous brand of electrified blues had a tremendous influence on Thorogood's own sound. After cutting a battery of demos in 1974, which went unheard until receiving an unauthorized release by MCA as Better Than the Rest in 1979, Thorogood was approached by blues aficionado Joe Forward after a set at a Cambridge club with an offer to put in him in contact with Rounder Records, a local folk and blues label. His eponymous debut album, released in 1977, served as the template for nearly all of his future releases: raw, high-energy rock and blues distinguished by Thorogood's gravely vocal and hotwired guitar. He would essentially repeat the formula for his second album, Move It On Over (1978), but to greater effect, scoring two FM radio staples with the title track by Hank Williams and a menacing take on Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" The record reached No. 33 on the Billboard pop albums chart, though its follow-up, More George Thorogood and the Destroyers failed to repeat its success. The record's lower chart placement prompted Thorogood to leave Rounder for EMI in 1981.
The greater exposure afforded by major label support led to Thorogood's breakthrough onto the mainstream rock scene. The band's profile received a significant boost from their relentless "50/50" tour in 1980, which found them playing a live date in all 50 states over the course of just 50 days. Thorogood's reputation as a ferocious goodtime rocker with an ear for classic blues and R&B led to an opening slot for the Destroyers on the Rolling Stones' mega-successful 1981 U.S. tour as well as an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) the following year. Thorogood scored his signature song with the title track from his fifth album, Bad to the Bone (1982). Though not a substantive chart hit upon release, the heavy boogie number was aided immeasurably by near-constant airplay of its music video, which featured Thorogood playing pool against Bo Diddley, as well as frequent inclusion on soundtracks for feature films like "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991) and "Christine" (1983). The groundswell of popularity afforded the song helped to earn the LP a gold record, a status also afforded to its immediate follow-up, Maverick (1985). The lead single, "I Drink Alone," reached No. 15 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, while an exuberant cover of Johnny Otis' "Willie and the Hand Jive" reached No. 25 on the same list. Thorogood's seventh album, Born to Be Bad, brought him a third and final gold record in 1988.
The bottom fell out for Thorogood's career as a rock artist in the early 1990s. Boogie People (1991) only reached No. 77 on the Billboard albums chart, while Haircut (1993) failed to break into the Top 100, though the title song reached No. 2 on the Album Rock charts. Changing tastes in rock, as well as the unavoidable fact that Thorogood's albums were largely interchangeable in terms of their blues-rock material, led to declining pop record sales, though he soon found a receptive audience on the Blues chart, for which he scored a Top 10 record with Rockin' My Life Away. Thorogood moved to CMC International and Eagle Records for subsequent releases before returning to Capitol for The Dirty Dozen (2009), which featured his typically rollicking approach to such bar-band staples as "Treat Her Right." The record peaked at No. 1 on the Blues chart, while 2120 South Michigan Ave. (2011), a collection of covers from the Chess Records library, reached No. 2 on the same list. Thorogood also remained a popular attraction on the concert circuit, which provided the best possible showcase for his particular brand of rock-n-roll.
By Paul Gaita
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