Thorogood has been essaying the Chess repertoire since his 1977 debut album, which included songs by Elmore James and Bo Diddley that originated on the label. He has cut 18 Chess covers over the years; three appeared on his last studio release, 2009's The Dirty Dozen. On 2120 South Michigan Avenue, he offers a full-length homage to the label that bred his style with interpretations of 10 Chess classics.
The album also includes original tributes to the Windy City and Chess' crucial songwriter-producer-bassist Willie Dixon, penned by Thorogood, producer Tom Hambridge, and Richard Fleming, plus a cranked-up version of the Stones' titular instrumental.
Thorogood loves quips almost as much as he loves the blues, so here's another: "Let's put it this way. Dylan has a Rolls-Royce dealership. I have a used Chevy dealership. But I'm in the business. You got it? That's all I wanted from this thing. A gig, man. And I got a gig.''
Thorogood and his band the Destroyers have held that gig for more than 30 years. And he's not about to let go now. "It's like a championship fight," he says. "You've got two guys in the ring--one guy who's the contender and wants to get the title and you've got the guy who's got the title and it took him 15 years to get the title and he's held onto it for five years. Who's going to be the tougher opponent? It's going to be the guy with the title who worked hard to get it. You're going to have to kill him to get it away from him. And that's all that I'm doing up there. I'm trying to hold my gig. I just want to make sure that at the end of the night the promoter comes up and says, 'I want to hire you again.'"
The Destroyers fought their way to the top. They came out of Delaware in the '70s as a jarringly high-energy bunch (also featuring drummer Jeff Simon and bassist Billy Blough) whose raucous, slide guitar-stoked, blues-rock takes on tunes by Chuck Berry, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley and others helped land them a contract with Cambridge's Rounder Records.
They had moved to Boston and cut their teeth in the city's blues circuit before their second album for Rounder, Move It On Over, struck big with the title track, an amped-up cover of a Hank Williams tune. They added a saxophonist (Hank Carter) and further fame came in the '80s through a signing to EMI Records, which released a series of gold records by the band.
These included 1982's Bad to the Bone (the title track is Thorogood's best-known composition and its video became a staple on MTV) and 1988's Born to Be Bad, with the swaggering hit, "You Talk Too Much.'' The '90s saw more hit-making with 1993's "Get a Haircut,'' from the album Haircut. And albums followed into the new millennium with 2003's Ride 'Til I Die--and 2006's Hard Stuff--on Eagle Records, and a 2004 Capitol compilation, Greatest Hits: 30 Years of Rock, which went gold and was #1 on Billboard's blues chart for a noteworthy 60 weeks, while winning the magazine's award for blues record of the year.
The band recently re-joined forces with Capitol/EMI for the July 28 release of The Dirty Dozen, a scorching new blues-rock album pairing six new studio recordings with six classic fan favorites, including three popular tracks that were previously out-of-print in the U.S. The album will be widely available on CD and digitally, and it will also be exclusively available for purchase on vinyl LP fromwww.georgethorogood.com and at the band's concerts on tour. The Dirty Dozenfeatures Thorogood's signature blues-rock vocals and guitar playing on 12 songs, many of which were written by a who's-who of American blues legends, including Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, "Sleepy" John Estes, Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf, and Willie Dixon. The album's new recordings and fan favorites are grouped as LP-inspired "sides."
Through it all, Thorogood maintains his cleverness. "How far can you stretch three chords? Or in my case, one chord?'' he says, laughing again. "How many different paint jobs can I put on 'Johnny B. Goode'? You got it? My biggest thrill is when somebody says to a friend, 'I've got George's new CD and it's just like the last one.' You know what I mean? "Not all of us are John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They started off playing Chuck Berry, then they developed it into 'Strawberry Fields.' I am not like that, nor do I ever proclaim to be like that.''
Thorogood prefers to think of himself as a role-player, but that role has been pleasing a couple of generations of rock fans by this point. He retains his innocence and also his self-deprecating humor.