Thorogood first encountered Taylor when the latter played in Boston. Taylor built up a solid following in the city in the early 70s and Thorogood helped carry his gear while he formed his own band – originally known as The Delaware Destroyers but later simply just The Destroyers. Having relocated to Boston full time, Thorogood recruited his old high school buddy Jeff Simon as long-term drummer, but other musicians inevitably came and went as Thorogood punted Taylor’s gear around and his new band crafted their own sound, drawing from Chicago blues, R&B and hard-driving rock’n’roll.
The band’s early gigs included appearances at Lane Hall at Delaware University and support slots with blues greats such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf in their adopted hometown of Boston. They rapidly built up a live set of high-octane cover versions and demoed them in 1974. Eventually released by MCA in 1979 as Better Than The Rest (and reaching No.78 on the US Billboard 200) this first demo tape featured Thorogood and co’s raw but exciting versions of blues and rock’n’roll standards such as Chuck Berry’s ‘Nadine’ and Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Howlin’ For My Baby.’
Armed with their demo tape and a fearsome live reputation, The Destroyers – by now including rhythm guitarist Ron ‘Roadblock’ Smith and bassist Billy Blough – came to the attention of respected folk/bluegrass-inclined independent label Rounder, who released the band’s self-titled debut on 16 August 1977 – the day Elvis Presley died. Still an essential listen, George Thorogood & The Destroyers featured the quartet’s thrillingly primitive, attitude-soaked versions of tracks such as Elmore James’ ‘Madison Blues’, Robert Johnson’s ‘Kind Hearted Woman’ and a frazzled, eight-minute medley of two John Lee Hooker songs, ‘House Rent Boogie’ and ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’ – the latter remaining a Destroyers’ live favourite to this day. Clearly an inspiration for a future breed of rowdy, critically acclaimed bar-room US rock outfits, including The Replacements and The Georgia Satellites, the LP was steeped in the blues, but it fizzed with a contemporary energy and has barely aged a day since.
Aided and abetted by regular bouts of touring, George Thorogood & The Destroyers sold well, eventually gaining a gold certification in the US. It also performed well internationally, charting in Australia and rising to No.14 on New Zealand’s Top 40. Understandably keen to keep the momentum up, the band released their sophomore LP, Move It On Over, through Rounder, in November 1978. Another mandatory and boisterous set with Thorogood’s searing slide guitar and gravelly vocals to the fore, the LP benefitted from muscular production from Rounder founder Ken Irwin’s, and featured enduring highlights including an overdriven version of Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love?’ and a rubber-burning remake of the Hank Williams-penned title track.
Highly regarded by fans and critics alike, Move It On Over again performed strongly, introducing The Destroyers to the US Billboard 200 for the first time (peaking at No.33) and earning them a second gold disc in the process. Ron ‘Roadblock’ Smith then quit the band, but instead of recruiting a new guitarist, Thorogood opted to bring in Hank ‘Hurricane’ Carter, whose fat, Clarence Clemons-esque sax first made its presence felt on the band’s third – and final – LP for Rounder, 1980’s More George Thorogood And The Destroyers. Among this collection’s highlights were an aggressive version of The Strangeloves’ Nuggets highlight ‘Night Time’ and a stinging, slide guitar-led take of Hound Dog Taylor’s ‘Just Can’t Make It’.
During the early 80s, The Destroyers were renowned for their rigorous touring schedule and, in 1981, they undertook the high-profile 50/50 Tour of the US, wherein they performed 50 shows in 50 American states in 50 days. This daring – and energy-sapping – schedule included feats such as performing two shows in Boulder, Colorado, on one day, and flying to Hawaii for one show before then flying to Alaska for another the following night. The band also played Washington, DC, the same day as they played a show in Maryland, therefore actually completing 51 shows in 50 days.
Thorogood and his band’s profile was, however, more significantly raised when they supported The Rolling Stones on their extensive North American arena tour late in 1981. By this stage, the band’s contract with Rounder had expired and The Destroyers instead signed to EMI America, who issued the band’s perennially popular, gold-selling Bad To The Bone in August 1982.
One of The Destroyers’ most potent recordings, the album featured honky-tonk piano flourishes from unofficial “sixth” Rolling Stone, the late Ian Stewart, and it included both inspired covers (The Isley Brothers’ ‘Nobody But Me’; a stately acoustic reading of Bob Dylan’s ‘Wanted Man’) and two of Thorogood’s best-loved self-penned tunes: the raucous ‘Back To Wentzville’ and the ballsy ‘Bad To The Bone’. Arguably Thorogood’s signature tune, ‘Bad To The Bone’ later also enjoyed widespread exposure in film and TV, featuring in Miami Vice and the sci-fi thriller Terminator 2: Judgement Day, among others.
Thorogood’s fifth LP, 1985’s Maverick, again went gold in the US, where it peaked at No.32 on the Billboard 200. A consistently hard-hitting affair which thankfully eschewed most of the (now horribly dated) mid-80s production techniques, it featured several of Thorogood’s most enduring self-penned tunes, including the piledriving ‘Gear Jammer’, the alcohol-soused ‘I Drink Alone’, and ‘Long Gone’ – the latter providing a fine opportunity for Carter’s wailing sax to let loose. A suitably energised cover of Johnny Otis’ ‘Willie & The Hand Jive’, meanwhile, cracked the Billboard Hot 100, rising to No.25 and providing Thorogood with his only substantial American hit single.
The band were at the peak of their powers as a live unit at this point, so it made sense that their next release should reflect that; the self-explanatory Live was recorded at a rapturously received gig held at Cincinnati Gardens on 23 May 1986. Including firm favourites such as ‘Who Do You Love?’, ‘I Drink Alone’ and ‘Madison Blues’, the LP was a terrific snapshot of The Destroyers in viciously good nick and – after climbing to No.33 on the US Billboard 200 – the LP eventually earned itself a platinum certification.
Rhythm guitarist Steve Chrismar joined up before The Destroyers recorded 1988’s Born To Be Bad: a souped-up set featuring slabs of Chicago blues (Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Highway 49’), rattling rockabilly (Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can’t Catch Me’) and stylish R&B (‘Treat Her Right’) in addition to the crunching, Thorogood-penned titular song, which offered a tongue-in-cheek update of ‘Bad To The Bone’. A big hit with the faithful, the LP again charted highly on the US Billboard 200, where it finally came to rest at No.32, earning Thorogood and co their third gold disc in a row.
Though grunge held sway in the early 90s, The Destroyers stuck to their guns, producing 1991’s exuberant Boogie People, which featured quintessential hard-driving covers of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Mad Man Blues’ and Muddy Waters’ ‘Can’t Be Satisfied’, along with Thorogood’s humorous ‘If You Don’t Start Drinkin’ (I’m Gonna Leave)’, which charted at No.5 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. With the rock scene feeling the wind of change, Boogie People missed the US Top 40, but it still rose to a highly respectable No.77 on the Billboard 200 and again sold well in Australasia, where it reached No.13 in New Zealand.
Thorogood and co earned a second platinum disc for EMI’s The Baddest Of George Thorogood & The Destroyers, released in 1992. A well-appointed CD anthology, it offered nothing new for the long-term faithful, but did provide a handy 11-track career overview for the uninitiated, featuring lesser-cited cuts such as ‘Long Gone’ and Boogie People’s ‘If You Don’t Star Drinkin’ (I’m Gonna Leave)’ in addition to the expected triumvirate of ‘I Drink Alone’, ‘Bad To The Bone’ and ‘Who Do You Love?’.
Switching to Capitol Records, Thorogood and co recorded two solid sets, Haircut (which reached No.120 on the US Billboard 200) and 1997’s Rockin’ My Life Away before signing to Tom Lipsky’s CMC International Label (later part of the Universal Music group) for 1999’s Half A Boy/Half A Man. Arguably The Destroyers’ most visceral and aggressive outing from the 90s, it included a formidable cover of the Nick Lowe-penned titular song.
The band underwent a couple of personnel reshuffles on the cusp of the new millennium. In 1999, guitarist Jim Suhler replaced Steve Chrismar, and in 2003 Buddy Leach came in for the long-serving Hank ‘Hurricane’ Carter. Released to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary in 2004, Capitol’s Greatest Hits: 30 Years Of Rock (another outing for ‘Who Do You Love?, ‘Willie & The Hand Jive’, et al) reacquainted The Destroyers with the US Billboard 200 (peaking at No.55) and earned them another gold disc in the process.
Since the band’s current line-up came together, in 2003, they’ve recorded another four fiery studio albums, the most recent of which, 2011’s 2120 South Michigan Avenue (again released by the Universal Music-affiliated Capitol imprint) stormed to No.2 on the US Billboard Blues Top Albums chart. Named after the address of the offices and recording studios of the hallowed Chess label in Chicago, the album featured 10 covers of songs originally recorded for Chess by artists such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Willie Dixon, in addition to a cover of The Rolling Stones’ ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue’: the song that first turned the teenage Thorogood on to the wonders of Chicago blues. Performed with age-defying gusto, it was surely the album The Destroyers had always intended to make and it remains one of the grittiest and most satisfying entries in their catalogue.
George Thorogood and his trusty Destroyers have kept on keeping on ever since. They celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2014, have now played over 8,000 gigs in total and continue to blast their way through at least 100 shows a year. With a North American tour already booked for the spring of 2016, it seems that this hard-rockin’ ex-roadie’s own road crew will remained gainfully employed lugging gear and loading vans for years to come.
George Thorogood was, is and always will be a bar band rocker at heart. On his first major label record 1982's "Bad to the Bone" made for Capitol, he and his tight-as-duck-feathers band don't change a single note of their hard rocking, beer guzzling sound. Only the size of the bar has changed; Thorogood's slide stings like a big and nasty bee, his voice is as dude-next-door as always, the rhythm section favors brute force over subtlety at all times and Hank Carter blows a marvelously yakky post-Clemons sax. They cover classic slabs of American rock and blues like the Isley Brothers' "Nobody But Me," Chuck Berry's "No Particular Place to Go," John Lee Hooker's "New Boogie Chillun," soulful ballads like Jimmy Reed's "It's a Sin" and Albert King's "As the Years Go Passing By," and most surprisingly, a restrained and almost thoughtful version of Bob Dylan's ballad "Wanted Man." The originals are good, too, with suitably raw rocker "Back to Wentzille" leading things off and the huge, timeless hit "Bad to the Bone" providing the albums' highlight. Next to Move It on Over, this is Thorogood's finest work and established him as one of the unsung heroes of the age of AOR.
Words: Tim Sendra
Vintage Thorogood, which is to say a defiantly unsubtle, unabashedly party-hearty serving of Chicago blues (a convincing version of Howlin' Wolf' "Highway 49"), rockabilly (a smart revamp of Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me"), '60s R&B (Roy Head's horn-driven "Treat Her Right"), country (Hank Snow's often covered "I'm Movin' On"), and self-mythologizing (the title tune, which is rather more overtly ironic than his earlier "Bad to the Bone"). Thorogood also offers a sharp take on Elmore James's "Shake Your Money Maker," which may or may not erase memories of the Butterfield Band's version but which smokes nonetheless. And his guitar work rises to the occasion and then some on a scorching recreation of Wolf's perennial "Smokestack Lighting."
Words: All Music Review
George Thorogood was honing his focus and getting The Destroyers concept down pat on this 1980 album. He hadn't yet become so established and comfortable that his rocking blues licks and vocals were more show business than intensity and energy. Thorogood's playing and singing on such tracks as "House of Blue Lights," "Night Time" and "I'm Wanted" were earnest enough to make the treatments convincing, and retain interest.
Words: Ron Wynn
You wouldn't expect any changes from George Thorogood, whose pile-driving rocking-blues and boogie have maintained their appeal despite the emergence of numerous similar-sounding ensembles. Thorogood's rough-hewn singing and always tantalizing playing are on target through the usual mix of originals and covers (this time including Bo Diddley and Willie Dixon). Besides the bonus of major label engineering and production, Thorogood's work has never lost its edge because he avoids becoming indulgent or a parody, and continues to sound genuinely interested in and a fan of the tunes he's doing.
Words: Ron Wynn
George Thorogood can usually be counted on to deliver infectious, rowdy blues-rock, and Boogie People is no exception. Though not quite on a par with Bad To The Bone, this is an unpretentious party album with more than a few assets. The splendor of Chess Records had long been one of Thorogood's primary inspirations, so it shouldn't come as a major surprise that his versions of John Lee Hooker's "Mad Man Blues," Howlin' Wolf's "No Place To Go" and Muddy Waters' "Can't Be Satisfied" are as appealing as they are. The Delaware singer managed to offend the "Political Correctness Police" with "If You Don't Start Drinkin' (I'm Gonna Leave)," which finds a drunken man chastising his companion for choosing to remain sober. But they missed a key point: this song is an example of pure humor that, like so many blues songs before it, isn't meant to be taken all that seriously.
Words: Alex Henderson
George Thorogood is forever consistent and Maverick is more of the blues/rock driving sound the journeyman guitarist is known for. John Lee Hooker's "Crawling King Snake" is what you expect from this crew while "Memphis, Tennessee" bursts at the seams with George's trademark slide and Hank Carter's saxophone. Recorded at the legendary Dimension Sound Studio in July of 1984 on the outskirts of Boston, the earthy sound catches all the band's primal energy from opener "Gear Jammer" to the wailing sax of "Long Gone." There are only four originals from Thorogood, the album chock full of Johnny Otis, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, John Lee Hooker and others. It is territory that the group has covered on pretty much every previous record, but it's done with the artistic passion that makes it real. The vocal on "What a Price" full of torment, it's a nice contrast to the rocking numbers.
Words: Joe Viglione
Rockin' My Life Away is a great record, because the 45 year old Thorogood doesn't seem concerned with keeping up with today's rockers. As a result, this album - like most of Thorogood's other works - would fit right into the 1950's. The album is composed of 12 songs, 10 covers and 2 originals. Some of the better songs are "Get Back Into Rockin'", "Trouble Everyday", a Frank Zappa song, and "Living With The Shades Pulled Down". Although Thorogood's classic guitar sound is toned down a little bit, Rockin' My Life Away will prove to be the best Destroyers album in a long time. So, take a listen if you're an old fan, or just stuck in the 50's.
Words: Simon Speichert
George Thorogood & the Destroyers have never made their debt to Chess Records a secret, so an album-length tribute to the home of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley is a logical move for the rough and tumble blues-rockers. This is so firmly within Thorogood's wheelhouse that 2120 South Michigan Ave -- its name saluting the Chicago address of Chess Studios and the Rolling Stones instrumental saluting the hallowed location, the Stones' song turning a young Thorogood on to the wonders of Chicago blues -- feels like it could have been recorded at any stage in his career. Only the odd instance of Auto-Tune -- and it is truly odd on an otherwise rocking version of “High Heel Sneakers” graced by a cameo by Buddy Guy -- marks this album as a 2011 release, and that’s a good thing: the Destroyers are always best when they stick to the basics which these ten Chess covers, two newly written tributes, and Stones' cover are. Thorogood’s specialty has never been subtlety, so barreling through these tunes at a breakneck pace is par for the course, but what makes the record work is the group’s palpable love for the material, and producer Tom Hambridge’s willingness to leave some grit in the grooves, an inclination that largely mitigates his temptation to occasionally dabble with an Auto-Tune that is entirely unnecessary for music this simple and raw.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
After more than a decade of recording for other labels, George Thorogood & the Destroyers moved back to EMI/Capitol for the release of 2009's The Dirty Dozen. Split into two sides (just like a vinyl album!) and consisting of covers of classic blues songs, some bar band favorites, and a couple of lesser-known tracks, the album showcases the current sound of the band and digs back into the archives to uncover some buried tracks from the '80s and '90s. What's uncanny is that apart from the tinny sound of the recordings from the late '80s/early '90s, the band and Thorogood sound exactly the same almost two decades later. Just as they sound virtually unchanged from the first time they stepped into a recording studio. George still has the same ferocious slide technique, his growling vocals have barely aged, and the band still has the feel of skilled musicians who know how to play it simple. In other words, GT & the Destroyers still rock, and if you were ever a fan, you still should be. The only real problem with this record is that as cool as it is to hear the band's 1991 take on "Six Days on the Road" or their tumble through Howlin' Wolf's "Howlin' for My Baby," it'd be better to hear more of the new tracks. They have a more immediate feel and the group sounds like they're playing for fun rather than chasing commercial success. There's a fire in "Born Lover" and a bounce in "Run Myself Out of Town" that the old, muffled production can't reproduce. Not that the old tracks are bad by any means, and longtime fans of GT will be glad to have them. Just as they will be glad that he and the Destroyers are still around and still rocking out.
Words: Tim Sendra
It's easy enough to trace the lineage of every one of the ten cuts on George Thorogood & the Destroyers' self-titled 1977 debut. Even the originals, of which there are only two, wear their influences on their sleeve, so there's not a minute of this album where the presence of Hound Dog Taylor, Elmore James, Bo Diddley, and John Lee Hooker loom large. Not one of those bluesmen ever played with much finesse, and Thorogood picked up that thread and ran with it, playing so hard the group seemed like a gang of primitives. No wonder they chose the name "the Destroyers": they ruined everything in their path. This brutal attack is one reason George Thorogood & the Destroyers feels distinctive, even when the lifted Elmore riffs, Bo Diddley beats, and wild, careening Houserocker rhythms are blatantly obvious: as he hammers away at his guitar, Thorogood plays with personality, his enthusiasm for making noise readily apparent. No matter how hard the Destroyers ride "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," this album isn't about groove and it's certainly not about virtuosity -- it's about bashing out the blues at a punishing volume, and their lack of subtlety is why this 1977 debut still sounds powerful years after its release.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine