Thorogood’s ‘Bad’ legacy

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First Posted: 3/5/2013

When The Weekender asks George Thorogood how he is, there is only one answer he can really give.

“Bad,” he deadpanned. “Like ‘Bad to the Bone,’ ‘Born to be Bad,’ that kind of thing.”

The jokes come easy to the 63-year-old singer and guitarist, perhaps best known for those albums among many gold and platinum records. Despite his love of baseball, Thorogood insists that he originally wanted to be a stand-up comic, not a ball player, as many assume from his time playing semi-pro.

“I couldn’t hit, run, or throw,” he admitted.

“The music thing came along and I was thinking, ‘Well, if you can be funny and play music at the same time…’ I mean, look at the career Liberace had,” Thorogood continued, citing Ernie Kovacs, Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, and Phil Silvers as comedic influences.

“There’s only one George Segal. There’s only one Steve Martin. They can both play and be funny at the same time. Usually you’re funny because you can’t play, and usually you play because you’re not funny. Standing up there naked without an instrument and blowing an audience away like Bill Cosby is just pure genius.”

Without formal training, he learned the guitar by listening to artists like those on Chicago’s Chess Records, including Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, and Willie Dixon. They are all musicians he covered on his latest record, “2120 South Michigan Ave.,” the address of the now defunct recording studio made famous by The Rolling Stones’ instrumental of the same name.

“I was surprised, shocked at how fast I picked up the guitar once I finally did. Once I realized I could do this, I put in a crash course for about a year to catch up to other people around me who could play,” Thorogood recalled.

“I just never really gave the guitar any serious thought. One day, I was fooling around with it and some people came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re wailing that thing pretty good.’ And I said, ‘Oh, really?’ So I started staying with it, and I got people’s attention. I said, ‘Obviously this is the instrument for me.’”

He traveled to Chicago for the first time in 1981 and made it a point to visit the studio, finding it boarded up and gated shut.

“This is where Chuck Berry did ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ ‘Roll Over Beethoven.’ It changed the world, right? Rock ‘n’ roll music has changed the world, and it was Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’ that changed music,” he noted.

“They’re hip to that now, but at that time, I was shocked (to find it closed), actually, especially when people in their own city weren’t even aware of it.”

While opening up for the Stones and the J. Geils Band, Thorogood decided to write a little rock ‘n’ roll history of his own, inspired by the crowd’s wild reactions to those groups’ hit singles.

“If you don’t come up with some signature thing, five or 10 years after people are going to say, ‘George who? Isn’t he the kid that used to play Chuck Berry pretty good or something?’ So I sat down actually to come up with a tune that I could hang my hat on,” he said of the creation of 1982’s “Bad to the Bone.”

“When I finally got it done, I said, ‘Well, I shouldn’t be doing this. Muddy Waters should be doing it. This is much more up his alley than mine. I’ll have to write something else.’ He passed on it, and then I tried to get Bo Diddley to do it. He wanted to do it, but he didn’t have a record deal at the time, so I ended up recording it.”

“Bad to the Bone,” one of many hits he’ll be playing at the Alice C. Wiltsie Performing Arts Center on March 10 with the Destroyers, has been made famous by its consistent use in movies, TV shows, commercials, and video games. When asked what his favorite use of the song has been, his reply is again obvious.

“When I play it on stage,” he quipped.

While he said he only looks at himself when he’s brushing his teeth in the mirror, he doesn’t mind if others throw the word “legend” around in the same sentence with his name.

“You want to call me a legend, my friend, you can talk to me all day,” he said with a laugh.

“I tell those people when it comes to George Thorogood being a legend – don’t be shy!”

George Thorogood and the Destroyers: March 10, 7 p.m., Alice C. Wiltsie Performing Arts Center (700 N. Wyoming St., Hazleton). $27-52.