Couresty Winnipeg Free press
By: Erin Lebar
Veteran blues-rocker touring solo -- with help from his friends the Destroyers
Forty years ago, veteran blues-rocker George Thorogood made his first trek across the border into Canada to play a handful of shows.
He stayed for only a week and hit up just three cities — Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa — but still has some pretty distinct memories of the trip, including a gig in Montreal where he had to turn people away at the door himself.
As Thorogood, 68, explains it, there was a lineup of folks around the block when he and the band arrived at the venue, which led them to believe they were at the wrong place.
Once they realized all the people were there to see them, they rushed their gear upstairs and did the first of two shows. The venue owners wanted to clear the room before the second (already sold-out) show, but a group of people wouldn’t leave.
After a long, heated argument — entirely in French — the venue owners finally sent Thorogood out in an effort to talk the stubborn fans out of seeing his next set.
"So here I am, this kid from Delaware, I’m in a different part of Canada, and I’m trying to speak French, and this is the first time I’m trying to talk people into not listening to me play. Do you know how bizarre that was for me?" Thorogood asks, followed a raspy chuckle.
"I thought, ‘Why would they stay? We only have one record out, there’s only 10 songs on it, we already played them, we’re going to play them again.’
"I tried to explain that to them and they wouldn’t hear it. Finally they paid double for the ticket and the venue let them stay.
"We were just getting started but the reception was so… I’ve never seen anything like this. And the other parts of Canada were the same. Turning people away is one thing when you’re sold out, but making people leave…"
Since then, Thorogood and his band, the Destroyers, have gone on to build a 16-album catalogue and sell more than 15 million records worldwide, not to mention logging more than 8,000 live shows.
But within that massive collection of work, one thing was noticeably absent — a George Thorogood solo record.
So he made one.
Party of One was released last year and features just Thorogood and his guitar, ripping through 14 stripped-down blues covers that span all eras of the genre. The record also sees him return to Rounder, the roots label that signed him in 1976 and released his first three albums.
On all fronts it’s a bit of a retrospective, revisiting where his career began — as a solo, guitar-slinging blues performer — which is a difficult thing for someone who doesn’t typically spend time focusing on the past.
"No, I don’t look back," he says. "This is what’s happening right now, and I can’t wait to see what’s happening tomorrow. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is the present so it is a present.... I try to live in the now and look forward to the mystery of tomorrow."
But what is Thorogood most proud of when it comes to Party of One?
"The picture of me on the cover. I look like a damn movie star on that record!" he says.
Despite the fact the current tour is in support of the solo record, the Destroyers are on the road with Thorogood, so he promises the show will be as loud and as raucous as audiences have come to expect. And even though he’s not the biggest cheerleader for nostalgia, he says he’s keen to continue playing songs that have been fan favourites for decades, such as Bad to the Bone and I Drink Alone.
"It’s like a cook who makes a meal — if my family likes it, I like it; if my customers like it, I like it; if they don’t like it, it’s off the menu. Our act and our material was designed for the public… when we go in the studio we say, ‘Will our fans like this song?’ We always like the song, yes, but the motive is always to put out something that will please the public so I don’t get tired of them," he says.
"As long as the fans aren’t tired of them, then I’m not tired of them."