"I'm under orders from the government not to divulge my location," George Thorogood deadpans when asked where he's calling from in a phone interview earlier this week.
The 64-year-old Delaware native is in his 40th anniversary year of recording, playing the blues onstage and even entertaining reporters.
As the headliner for this year's Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in downtown Davenport late on the Fourth of July, he talked about his influences and history.
You're here for a blues festival. Do you get to play blues festivals very often?
A few, but not lately. We've played a couple of blues festivals in Canada, California, various places. Europe, Finland. We've done jazz festivals.
I wanna play a rock festival. That's one thing I don't have the chance to do. I don't play jazz, I don't play blues. I don't get it.
But obviously the blues has had a lot of influence on you.
Pretty much anybody who's recorded before 1975, the blues must have touched them in one way or another. We started out as a blues band because there was no rock 'n' roll. Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry started the whole thing, and that's what we listened to.
There was no, "I want to have a band like ZZ Top. They're my favorite group." There was nothing like that. The blues is where rock came from.
Does your set, your show change at all when it's a predominantly blues crowd like this will be?
You know, we did a blues festival in California once ... a three-day blues festival, and I think we were playing on a Sunday. I said, "Do I have to play 'The Sky is Crying' in this blues festival?" And he said, "I've already heard it three times ... three times today."
By the time we hit the stage, people were ready to rock. They'd been listening to the blues all day, all weekend, and then that's where we come in.
Who were your blues influences starting out, maybe somebody that nobody else was into?
I was into the same stuff everybody else was into. I picked up a guitar and said, "I wanna do this like other people before me," so I was into Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, as far as playing blues guitar. That's the stuff I listened to.
From there it was easier to play Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry because those were the cats those guys listened to. That was a very natural evolution.
My situation is not necessarily unique. I went to the same school of music as Eric Clapton. The difference is that he graduated with honors and I squeaked by with a C-plus.
It's your 40th-anniversary tour. Does it boggle your mind that it's been 40 years on the road for you?
I don't have time to reflect on it. I'm so easy. It comes up when I'm talking to folks like you. I don't care if it's 39 years or 41 years, we'd probably be doing the same thing. Take my word for it.
People say, "It's a milestone year. You should bring it into focus." But really, I've been so busy. Probably at the end of the year, at the last show, I'll sit in the back of the bus and say, "Wow, it's been 40 years. That was really something, huh?"
When you're working on a daily basis, you wake up and you're 73 years old and you wonder what the hell happened.
What was that first incarnation of George Thorogood and the Destroyers like?
I was performing in New England at the time. For about six months, I was up there opening for acts like Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, a little bit with Robert Lockwood Jr., some with Hound Dog Taylor, Paul Jeremiah.
I was getting literally fantastic response from people. Here were some of the biggest blues acts in the world going, "You gotta make a record, you gotta become famous."
It was already a foregone conclusion with certain people in New England, those I was close to, that I was going to be a success. ... I was only going to get so far playing on my own. You've got to be brilliant, totally brilliant, to play as a solo act: Taj Mahal, John Hammond can do that. But I wanted to rock, I wanted to play Bo Diddley songs. I didn't want to be an acoustic act. I wanted to get an electric guitar and play like ZZ Top, Jimi Hendrix, those people.
I was ready for that, but I was already behind the times. I mean, the first time I heard (ZZ Top's) "La Grange," I thought, "Aw, I missed it." I've gotta go get a sax player. (ZZ Top's) Billy Gibbons was thinking along the same lines as I was. He just beat me to the punch.
No matter how much they know about you, everybody associates you with the "Bad to the Bone." How'd that come together?
I was already playing the riff, and I was playing with the J. Geils Band and the Rolling Stones. Every time J. Geils went into the opening riff of "Love Stinks," the crowd would erupt. And every time the Stones went into the opening riff of "Start Me Up" or "Honky Tonk Women," the crowd would erupt.
I said, "Here's what you have to do. You have to come up with a song to get that response." Without it, without that riff, they'd just say, "Oh, that Thorogood kid. Wasn't he playing Chuck Berry or something?"
It was all for a signature song. Eventually somebody's gonna write a song called "Bad to the Bone." And it might as well be me. It was just too obvious to pass up.
It's been used in so many places: radio, TV, movies. Where do you think is the best place it's been used?
The best place it's used is when I'm onstage, my friend.
OK, how about the second-best?
I can't really say the second-best. I guess its high point was in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day"). ... I won't say it was the best use, but that was the highest profile we got out of it.
Where have you heard it where you thought it didn't fit in?
It was used in a movie that I didn't particularly think was done in good taste. That's when I pulled the song and said we're gonna keep this song on the bandstand.
Instead of calling it "3,000 Miles to Graceland" (a 2001 movie with Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner as Elvis impersonators) they should have called it "2 Billion Miles from Graceland."