There’s a scene in Wayne’s World in which erstwhile metalheads Wayne and Garth find themselves in front of a blue screen, pretending to travel through major US cities, soaking up local culture along the way – New York (“Let’s go to a Broadway show”), Hawaii (“Pass the poi”), Texas (“Let’s raise and rope broncos”)… Delaware…? (“Hi… I’m in Delaware.”) Seems they forgot one important thing about the Diamond State: the heavy-duty blues of George Thorogood and the Destroyers, best known for giving the world “Bad to the Bone” in 1982, and who, in October 1977, released a self-titled debut album that was as much a statement of intent as it was a love letter to some of the blues’ founding fathers.
Not that George Thorogood and the Destroyers found the then 27-year-old guitarist treating his source material with dainty fingers. From the torrent of notes that signals album opener “You Got to Lose” on, this is a guy who’s wrestling the blues back from the British Invasion acts of the ’60s and supercharging it for the punk era. Elmore James, Robert Johnson and Earl Hooker all get the Destroyers Blitzkrieg – Thorogood’s razor-sharp riffing and Jeff Simon’s primitive drumming, with Ron Smith’s supporting guitar and Bill Blough’s bass thickening the sound – but it’s on the medley of John Lee Hooker’s “Rent House Rap” and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” that George Thorogood and The Destroyers deliver their first classic. “So many people could’ve done incredible versions,” Thorogood later told MusicRadar of the song. “I said, ‘We gotta beat these people to the punch.’” And they did – with a knockout blow that sends the listener reeling.
It would take a year for George Thorogood and the Destroyers to see some US chart action (with their 1978 sophomore album, Move It On Over), but it’s here that Thorogood and co set out their stall, with an array of blues stylings that reveal Thorogood’s wide range, from electric to acoustic blues, slide guitar and even a surprise ballad, in the shape of “I’ll Change My Style.”
Thorogood didn’t so much change his style as build upon it in the decades that followed; in 2015, a stripped-back remix of the album, titled George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers, presented the master recordings without Bill Blough’s bass overdubs. Meanwhile, if the two original songs Thorogood snuck onto George Thorogood and the Destroyers, “Homesick Boy” and “Delaware Slide,”suggested one area where he initially needed development, he was at least on the right track. In just a few years he’d pen “Bad to the Bone,” forever gifting the blues a new piece of DNA. This album is where that bloodline started.
In conversation with Karla DeVito (as featured in Meat Loaf’s “Paradise" by the Dashboard Light” video), Thorogood discusses why the blues “is an emotion more than a technique.”
Robert Johnson? John Lee Hooker? The Rolling Stones? Bo Diddley? Chuck Berry? Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. “This music didn’t change my life. It made it,” Thorogood says. “And I’m so thankful for that.”
DEEP CUTS WE LOVE…
“Kind Hearted Woman” - Showcasing Thorogood’s acoustic slide guitar skills, this take on the Robert Johnson 1939 original, “Kind Hearted Women Blues,” finds the fledgling guitarist in an unusually reflective mood, fully inhabiting the song’s lament.
“Ride On Josephine” - Mastering the primitive shuffle of the Bo Diddley beat, the Destroyers lock into a tribal groove over which Thorogood lays sinewy guitar lines. A lesser-known song by the man born Ellas McDaniel, it’s fair to say that George and co claim it as their own.
“John Hardy” - A classic murder ballad from the ’20s, “John Hardy” was based on the real-life killing of a man named Thomas Drews, after he got into an argument with the titular murderer. With Thorogood switching back to acoustic guitar and blowing harmonica throughout, this version reveals that Thorogood could step into the folk tradition as easily as he could the blues.
“Delaware Slide” -“I grew up with rock’n’roll but these blues wouldn’t leave me alone,” Thorogood sings – a fitting observation for one of his debut album’s two original songs. Frenetic slide guitar, a rough-hewn breakdown and the leader’s full commitment power this electrifying eight-minute tribute to the music that made him, right through to the end of the album. What we want to know is: how long did they keep going after that fade?
DID YOU KNOW?
- George Thorogood and the Destroyers made unlikely bedfellows with Prince in 1981, when they were both on a bill in support of the Rolling Stones at LA Coliseum.
- Thorogood’s third album, 1979’s Better than the Rest, was actually a collection of demos recorded in 1974.
- Almost ten years after its original release, “Bad to the Bone” was given a tongue-in-cheek outing in the 1991 sci-fi action thriller Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
The Destroyers have had a remarkably stable line-up in their forty-plus-year career, with drummer Jeff Simon and bassist Bill Blough still in the band after appearing on Thorogood’s debut album
- A huge baseball – and longtime Mets – fan, Thorogood had a brief spell as a semi-pro second baseman in the ’70s.
Listen to George Thorogood and the Destroyers in its entirety on your preferred streaming platform or purchase on wax below.
Words: Jason Draper