George Thorogood Reissues (review)

George Thorogood & the Destroyers
Move it on Over (Rounder / Concord) review

Finally, back in print…classic Thorogood

In 1977, while the world was in the throes of Seventies Excess, a little-known trio from Delaware released their debut on the small folk/blues label Rounder.  It was unapologetic roots rock played with reckless abandon – the same approach which brought the Rolling Stones to prominence 15 years earlier.  Eventually these records would be hailed as classics.  Finally, they’re back in print.

The first thing you hear on George Thorogood & the Destroyers’ debut is his guitar – one of the meanest, fullest, b-b-baddest guitar tones ever laid down (on his signature Gibson ES-125), it would be a calling card his entire career.  Then come the bass, rhythm guitar and drums – off and running on a rockin’ take of Earl Hooker’s “You Got to Lose.”  Next comes a gritty run through of the Elmore James’ classic, “Madison Blues.”  Two songs in, and Thorogood has already tackled two of the greatest slide players in history – and held his own.

It’s the third track on the album that has proven the most enduring – “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” an 8-minute reworking on the John Lee Hooker classic.  Thorogood spends the first few minutes setting up the story by grabbing portions of another Hooker gem, “House Rent Boogie.” The fusion works, in large part from the heavy dose of tasty slide fills he throws in throughout the track.

It’s a real surprise to hear the restraint he uses on the acoustic Robert Johnson song “Kind Hearted Woman.” This could’ve been yet another boogie-woogie number, yet he does this classic justice by scaling back.

The second half of the record isn’t quite as strong.  His attempt at Bo Diddley’s “Ride on Josephine” lacks spark, while the three originals aren’t terribly memorable.  “I’ll Change My Style” features Thorogood painfully trying to sing a ballad – he should stick to HIS style.  The record ends with “Delaware Slide,” which, at almost 8 minutes, overstays its welcome, but does feature some fine playing.

His followup record, Move it On Over, has a more polished sound.  The band is tighter, and Thorogood’s singing has improved, especially on the retooled Hank Williams’ title track – he takes a country classic and turns it into a rockin’ groove. Thorogood tackles another Bo Diddley number, “Who Do You Love,” but this time, it’s a winner; a perfect mix of chugging beat and bravado.  Another standout is a rendition of Elmore James’ “The Sky is Crying,” which Stevie Ray Vaughan would later cover.  Since none of the originals on his debut were terribly good, he decided not to include any on this second album.  Still, not everything works – his attempt at “Cocaine Blues,” popularized by Johnny Cash on his At San Quentin album, sounds forced.  But, when he’s firing on all cylinders, as in Chuck Berry’s attitude-driven “It Wasn’t Me,” he can really bring it.  The album ends in another guitar workout – this time Elmore James’ “New Hawaiian Boogie.”

Another change over the debut, is that none of the tracks clock in at over 5:15, so it moves along better than his previous LP.  The formula worked too – both “Move it On Over” and “Who Do You Love” became staples on FM rock radio and set the stage for what was coming next – his breakout hit, “Bad to the Bone.”  But, while all subsequent Thorogood albums were increasingly bombastic – for his first two albums, he shows a little more care for the love of roots music.  These aren’t perfect records, but any fan of rock-fused blues should have George Thorogood & the Destroyers, and Move it On Over in their library.  –Tony Peters