Friday, October 20, 2023

Archive Review: George Thorogood's George Thorogood & the Destroyers / Move It On Over (1977 & 1978)

George Thorogood & the Destroyers
By 1977, blues music had entered a serious slump. The glory days of the mid-’60s had long since passed; trailblazers like Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield had become footnotes in the history of the blues. Chess Records, after being sold to GRT in 1969, was mismanaged into obscurity by 1975. Leonard Chess died in 1972, Howlin’ Wolf a few years later; Chuck Berry was a novelty act and Bo Diddley was touring the nostalgia circuit. Buddy Guy was in exile in Europe and Muddy Waters was in limbo, just about to launch his amazing late ‘70s career revival.

Into the void stepped a young guitarist and former minor league baseball player by the name of George Thorogood. Leading a ramshackle foursome known as the “Delaware Destroyers,” the band was thoroughly steeped in the sort of houserockin’ blues pioneered by folks like Elmore James, J.B. Hutto, and Hound Dog Taylor. Moving the band from Delaware to Boston, Thorogood and crew made a name for themselves on a thriving Beantown blues scene, their demo recordings grabbing the attention of Rounder Records, who would release the band’s self-titled 1977 debut album.   

George Thorogood and the Destroyers

George Thorogood and the Destroyers wrote the blueprint that Thorogood has followed for his records, more or less, for 35+ years now. You’ll get a couple of original tracks written in an old-school blues style, a bunch of classic cover tunes ramped up and amped as only Thorogood and the Destroyers are capable, and plenty of George’s rowdy six-string ringing throughout. This 1977 debut does it better than most of what would follow, Thorogood and gang roaring through ten rough ‘n’ ready blues-rock performances that touch upon some of the best that had come before. Elmore James’ “Madison Blues” was one of the popular radio tracks from the album, Thorogood’s frenetic slidework and the band’s relentless locomotive rhythms making for a red-hot, juke-joint styled performance.

The standout track from George Thorogood and the Destroyers, however, was the lengthy, extended cover of John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” which became a constant of Thorogood’s live shows and a fan favorite. Thorogood surrounds Hooker’s original lyrics and primal rhythm with a slick, street-savvy rap that turns the song into a hard luck tale of woe complete with brash boogie guitar licks and hypnotic drumbeats. If that’s all you know about Thorogood’s debut, though, you’ll be in for a treat, because there are a number of other fine performances on the album that often get overshadowed by the brilliance of the two aforementioned tracks.

Thorogood’s take on Delta legend Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman” is delivered as a country-blues ballad with acoustic guitar and mournful vocals, the guitarist displaying a more subtle side to his talents while bringing a bit of finesse to the performance. Thorogood’s original song “Homesick Boy” fits into the festivities like a glove, his serpentine fretwork matched by a driving rhythmic bedrock, bassist Billy Blough and drummer Jeff Simon the underrated backbone of the early Destroyers sound. A cover of Bo Diddley’s “Ride On Josephine” is spot on, virtually mimicking the original while Thorogood’s “Delaware Slide” is a lengthy, spirited jam that incorporates scraps of Delta, Texas, and Chicago blues traditions while serving up a heady brew of slinky guitar and jagged rhythms.    

George Thorogood’s Move It On Over

George Thorogood & the Destroyers' Move It On Over
George Thorogood wasn’t the best singer to emerge from the blues-rock world, and he wasn’t the flashiest or most talented guitarist, but he had personality, energy, a deep knowledge of the blues, and an undeniable charisma that enabled him to play an audience like one of the old masters. Rigorous touring in support of the debut built the framework of Thorogood’s audience, preparing them for the band’s sophomore effort, 1978’s Move It On Over. Cast, essentially, from the same mold as the debut, Move It On Over branches out into country (with the Hank Williams-penned title track) and early rock ‘n’ roll (a raucous cover of Chuck Berry’s “It Wasn’t Me”) alongside the blues and R&B fare of its predecessor.

It’s safe to say that nobody has done Hank quite like George Thorogood and the Destroyers, the band’s high-octane reading of “Move It On Over” taking an already rowdy tune and revving the motor much faster than is safe. Simon’s staccato drumbeats here are matched by Thorogood’s slash ‘n’ burn fretwork and trademark vocal style (gruff, raw, and slightly twangy) while Blough’s subtle bass provide a fluid groove to the song. The title track, along with a big-beat cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” were the album’s calling card, garnering the lion’s share of the radio airplay and helping push Move It On Over to #33 on the Billboard albums chart. Thorogood’s reading of Diddley’s signature song is inspired, crackling with the electricity of a downed power line, the guitarist’s scattershot licks stinging like a hornet’s nest and stomping like a drunken elephant.   

Thorogood’s slide-guitar on Elmore James’ classic “The Sky Is Crying” is particularly effective as a tearful counterpoint to his soulful, heartbroken vocals. “Cocaine Blues” is a rockabilly-tinged cover of a 1940s-era Western Swing song popularized by Johnny Cash in the 1960s and recorded by artists as diverse as Woody Guthrie, Nick Drake, and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Thorogood reclaims the song as a sort of hillbilly blues, light on six-string pyrotechnics but offering up fuel-injected, hot rod vocals and a reckless beat. Thorogood re-imagines Brownie McGhee’s Piedmont blues gem “So Much Trouble” as a guitar-driven boogie-rocker in the style of John Lee while the obscure Homesick James tune “Baby Please Set A Date” is a rockin’ shuffle that showcases Thorogood’s ringing, full-tilt guitar style.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

The first pair of albums from George Thorogood and the Destroyers served the band well, grabbing them FM radio airplay (heck, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” is a staple of classic rock radio to this day) and a modicum of album sales. They also served as a calling card, of sorts, driving new fans to the band’s live shows, where Thorogood’s livewire performance style and easy-going charisma never fails to entertain.

Most significantly, however, Thorogood and the Destroyers brought the blues to a new generation of American youth with these two albums, jolting the music out of its late-decade doldrums and paving the way for artists like Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan and the blues boom of the 1980s. That these albums sound as vital and electrifying as they did 35 years ago is a testament not only to the classic songs but to the performance of George Thorogood and the Destroyers as well. If you don’t already have these albums, go get ‘em! (Rounder Records, reissued June 16th, 2013)

Buy the CDs from Amazon:

George Thorogood & the Destroyers
Move It On Over

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