116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
George Thorogood's lockdown period was more eventful than for most folks.
Just as the pandemic started in March 2020, the blues-influenced rocker was inducted into the Mississippi Music Project Hall of Fame.
“I’m so honored to be in that Hall of Fame,” the Wilmington, Del., native said by phone from Los Angeles. “Mississippi used to be known as the Magnolia State, and now their slogan is ‘Where the music came from,’ which fits.
“You go back to Robert Johnson there and just move on from there. (ZZ Top vocalist-guitarist) Billy Gibbons found the house Muddy Waters is from in Mississippi and made a guitar out of the wood from the house. I once had the pleasure of meeting Robert Plant, and he told me the first thing he did when he came to America was go to Mississippi. I asked him where he went. He said he just went to Mississippi to just be there. I get it.”
Thorogood, 72, is an old school musician who has seen it all, going back to his club days during the ’70s.
A generation or so ago, it wasn't uncommon for opening acts for iconic recording artists to be booed off the stage. The Clash was met with jeers while opening for The Who in 1982. Anyone who preceded The Ramones was crushed. Performing on a bill with The Rolling Stones was tricky.
When the Stones kicked off its “Tattoo You” tour in 1981, Journey was booed from the stage. However, Thorogood, who led off the show, crushed it as 100,000 fans couldn't get enough of his twist on old-school blues at the tour opener at Philadelphia's JFK Stadium.
The masses weren't the only ones who adored the animated vocalist-guitarist. A few days before the tour commenced, one of the most iconic musicians in rock history asked Thorogood for a favor.
“Charlie Watts comes up to me with my first album and he asked me to sign it,” Thorogood said. “I could barely remember my name when he made the request. We’re talking about Charlie Watts! That was amazing but so was meeting the Stones before I played with them on that tour. How many people can say they had that experience — to have met the Stones before they ever saw them play live?”
It’s not surprising that Thorogood impressed the Stones. Much like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Thorogood was schooled on such blues legends as Chuck Berry and Elmore James. Like much of the Stones’ finest early work, Thorogood is adept at delivering simple and direct rock ’n’ roll.
Again, like the early days of the Stones, Thorogood’s calling card is reinventing blues classics. His versions of James’ “Madison Blues,” John Lee Hooker's “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” and Bo Diddley’s “Ride on Josephine,” earned airplay on album-oriented rock stations during the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s.
Thorogood crafted his share of hits, such as “Bad to the Bone” and “I Drink Alone,” but his revamped takes on buried blues tunes are his calling card. Thorogood, who will perform Tuesday at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids, still delivers the songs with laudable energy bouncing all over the stage.
“That's what I grew up with,” Thorogood said. “When I saw my favorite bands, that’s often how they did their thing. I also have to shake my fanny because I have to do something up there. Joni Mitchell can just stand behind the microphone and recite her poetry and you'll be blown away. I remember when I saw the Doors, all Jim Morrison had to do was stand there and wrap himself around the microphone and stare at the audience and that was enough.
“Did you ever see what Jim Morrison looked like in 1968? He was better looking than (actor) Warren Beatty. Morrison is the most fantastic-looking guy in rock history over Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. I have to do what old-school blues people called ‘clowning.’ But I didn’t have a choice. I’m a shot and a beer kind of guy.”
There's nothing wrong with that. Thorogood delivers meat and potatoes rock.
“I'm not doing anything differently than what Mick Jagger and Little Richard did,” he said. “What I do is fun. But for guys like me that have to perform, we grew up with a certain standard. I took notes and so did Bruce Springsteen. It’s good time rock ’n’ roll.”
Expect the familiar when Thorogood performs.
“Some people say ‘George Thorogood plays the same set every night.’ Well, much of my set list is based on what the fans, who buy the tickets, want to hear. I recently played a show and told the audience that I wasn't playing any new songs that night. I got a standing ovation,” he said. “Give the people what they want.”
The Stones do the same. However, Thorogood doesn't plan on catching his rock ’n’ roll heroes again.
“I took my daughter to see the Stones twice, since I wanted her to see Mick Jagger perform,” Thorogood said. “But things have changed.
“I remember when I saw the Stones for the first time during their tour in 1981, I couldn't help but think that there was no (multi-instrumentalist) Brian Jones. My daughter saw them without (bassist) Bill Wyman. Now that Charlie Watts is gone, I just can't see the Stones anymore.
“I know (Watt's replacement) Steve Jordan is amazing, but if there's no Charlie, there's no George at Stones shows,” he said. “If you want to see George, come to my show and I'll be there.”