Over the past 40 years, George Thorogood has become one of American culture's best-known, hardest-touring bluesmen. But the original Delaware Destroyer could've been a Southern rocker.
"I listened to our sound, I listened to the style I played, and the record label I thought we should have been on was Capricorn," the 67-year-old singer said in a recent phone interview, referring to the Macon, Ga., label that housed the Allman Brothers Band, Marshall Tucker Band and the Outlaws. "I had that Southern slide boogie thing going — which I still do — and I thought that was the label that we could fit right into."
Instead he went with Rounder Records and others, and the rest is history: Singles like One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer; Move It On Over; Bad to the Bone; and Who Do You Love? became inescapable in films, TV and on the radio. Thorogood hit the road, and never looked back.
Forty years after his self-titled debut, Thorogood returns to Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday, eager to prove he still delivers the goods live.
"My creative point is to be even badder and more impressive than the last time you saw me play," he said. "I just see myself as somebody who you're paying good money for a ticket to see, a truly great live rock show. That's it. That's all I've ever thought about since I was 16 anyway."
Considering how many times he comes to Florida, it's surprising that Thorogood never played the Sunshine State until, by his estimation, a couple of years into his recording career. He was listening to Floridian acts, though, as evidenced by his appreciation for the Allmans and other Capricorn acts.
"You recognize where your market might be, somewhere where they'll hear what you're doing and understand it," he said. "I said, 'If they're going to go for the Allman Brothers, they're going to go for me.' I'll open for the Allman Brothers. I'll open for Elvin Bishop. I already opened for John Hammond, and he was on Capricorn. So I said, well, 'Okay, then sign me. I'll go play Bourbon, Scotch and Beer and Madison Blues and all those other boogie things that I do. Move It On Over is Southern rock, isn't it? Hank Williams? I thought that was a good fit."
Given his longevity, he's crossed paths with many of his Southern and classic rock peers over the years, playing festivals with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and REO Speedwagon. Today he'll happily sing the praises of artists he reveres.
There's the J. Geils Band: "Oh, man, nobody could touch them. When they were on, forget it. Forget it. They could blow anybody away."
There's the Steve Miller Band: "Great American band. What is the ultimate classic rock song? Rock'n Me, baby. That's it."
He'll even sing the praises of the Beatles: "I'm Down: They're the only band that could touch Little Richard."
Curiously, the one artist Thorogood won't say much about is the late Chuck Berry. "Never did really did any actual shows with him. But I came in contact with Chuck quite often."
Any stories he cares to share?
"I could, but I don't want to," he said. "They're my stories. But I treasure them."
Thorogood is a bit like Berry, in that after decades in music, he'll still sling his hits just about anywhere if the paycheck is right. He's a constant presence at state fairs, food festivals and blues events the world over — not that he ever gets to see much of it beyond backstage.
"I have a saying in the business I'm in: I've been everywhere, and I've seen nothing," he said. "The best meal I have is whatever I eat before the show, and the best drink I have is whatever I drink after the show."
While Thorogood claims not to care much for branching out artistically, he'll do just that on his forthcoming first-ever solo album, Party of One, coming in August. The album features Thorogood on acoustic guitar, dobro and harmonica — a far cry from his live-wire shows with the Destroyers, including decadeslong sidemen Jeff Simon on drums and Billy Blough on bass.
As a singer, those performances remain what he lives for. Forty years after that debut album, he's not taking any shows for granted.
"I'm celebrating that I'm still here playing songs off that album, and people still want to hear them," he said. "How many people can still say that? People still want to hear Bourbon, Scotch and Beer, which was off that first record. There's something to be said for that."
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.