Both artists delivered high-energy sets under challenging conditions. The tempers were in the low 90s when Thorogood took to the stage at the Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, sweating profusely before he and the band even played a note.
Still, the blues rocker was in great shape for the “thursday night rock party,” as he called it. He often spoke to the crowd and even threw a good-natured sting at Hagar. “Sammy’s backstage mixes some high-octane tequila, but we serve a bourbon, scotch and beer,” he teased, a song or two before the fan-favorite cover hit the set list.
The couple has already shared some good times, as one Latest Posts on Hagar’s Instagram demonstrated. “He came out and saw our whole set,” Thorogood tells UCR. “It’s impressive from a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer.” He also commented on Hagar’s stage attire. “Sammy has come a long way with his wardrobe. I saw him on TV once and he was wearing a hockey uniform,” Thorogood says. “I was thinking, ‘Man, are you a hockey player or a rock’n’roll star, buddy?'”
We spoke with Thorogood in the afternoon after the Ohio date. His tour bus had already come to “somewhere in Canada” for the next part of the adventure as he continues to play additional shows.
One of the songs that has long been a staple of your set is “Night Time”. How did you first come across it?
One of our friends who lived in the neighborhood was in a band called Spectrum. They made a fight between the bands. His band did, and I had never heard the song before. It had just come out. I said, “Man, I have to learn that song.” All the bands I’ve ever been in since I was a kid, I got them to learn the song “Night Time”. In fact, we cut it back in 1974 and we had a dynamite version of it. I wanted it to be our first single. I wanted it to be our first thing and then we would follow it up with an album next year. It ended on a bootleg record, just like five years later, on Better than the rest album – a really awful record – but the song finally saw the light of day. Our bassist at the time hated the song because it is a heavy bass song. This guy was really lazy. [Laughs.] He did not want to do anything, but he was a giant J. Geils Band fan. I said, “Listen, we have to make this tune before J. Geils gets it.” He says, “J. Geils would never touch this song.” Out coming Love stinks album and guess what’s on the album? I think it was their first gold record. So I can pick them, okay?
Watch George Thorogood perform ‘Night Time’
The guitar parts on that song are really fun. It seems impossible to be in a bad mood when you play something like that.
That’s the idea of our band; that’s what we’re all about. Nothing more, nothing less. Our leadoff song is “Rockfest. “That says it all. J. Geils starts with (” Ain’t Nothin ‘But a) House Party, “I mean, that’s who we are. That’s what we are. To look beyond that would people say, “You guys are like a bar band.” We’re more like a party band. It’s just evolved over the years. Jeff Simon, our drummer, he was the one who really inspired us. It was his input into our action. I was a little too serious. Jeff tried to lighten me up a little and said, “You know, George, there is only one Taj Mahal. There’s only one John Hammond. “He said,” Be George. Be what you are. “He was the one who encouraged me and helped me find myself as a performer.
How did you develop your version of John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” back then?
Well, it’s just evolved. We played it in a three-piece in Boston. Jeff Simon and I had just been kicked out of our house and we did not really have a place to go. I had listened to just about everything John Lee Hooker had ever done until that point. Everyone watched the World Series: There were about 15 people in the club, that’s about it, including our bassist and drummer. I went up on stage, took the guitar and started doing “House Rent Boogie” by John Lee Hooker. As I played it, I started talking, and magically our bassist and drummer came forward and just bumbled it into “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” The connection was made and the bar emptied and the dance floor was packed. I said, “Yeah! We have something there. Let’s stick with it.”
From your perspective, what was the genius of John Lee Hooker?
The genius of John Lee Hooker was his simplicity and his rhythm. Not enough has been said about rhythm guitar. I was so happy about that a couple of years ago Keith Richards spoke up and said, “Look, the rhythm guitar is as heavy as a lead guitar.” It’s just that in the late 60’s with [Jimi] Hendrix and [Eric] Clapton, Jeff Beck and Duane Allman, people would sit there and play these 40 minute long solos. Keith said, “Well, I can get more done on the rhythm guitar in four minutes than the cats can get together and play for 15 minutes on the lead guitar.” One of the guys who had it together who could play great rhythm guitar and lead guitar was Chuck Berry. Another is John Fogerty. Not many can do that. Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker were the best rhythm guitar players I have ever heard. They could as much with a chord as James Brown do. It’s a rhythmic thing, and women like rhythm. You know, long solos, the ladies are leaving the show.
Watch George Thorogood perform ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’
“Move it on“has been recorded a few times, including versions of Hank Williams and Bill Haley. What was it about that song that struck you?
It really did not. It was a soundcheck song we used to make before we played. Jeff Simon loved the song. I thought, “Yeah, I guess so. It’s okay.” Then we joined Rounder Records. We made another album and we needed three or four more songs to fill the record. As you know, Rounder is a bluegrass old-fashioned type label. They are very much tied to a strong country [artists like] Bill Monroe, people like Hank Williams, that kind of thing. They were all for it and even named the album Move it on. I said, “Big mistake.” I was wrong, as usual. [Laughs.]
What did you get out of watching Chuck Berry?
Everything. His relationship with the audience was amazing. His guitar playing was amazing. I was lucky to catch him when he was really on top of his game. He was also very funny. If you can find it, there’s a tape from Detroit, I think, where Chuck Berry does stand-up comedy for about 15 to 20 minutes, and he’s great. There is no part of the entertainment industry that has escaped Chuck Berry’s eyes since he was a child. He put it all together around 1955 or 1956 – because if you watch Chuck Berry’s duck walk, the first person to walk the duck walk was Groucho Marx in the movie Duck soup. If you look when they make the mirror piece that Patty Duke does, and also Lucille Ball, then that duck walk was created by Groucho. Now I can imagine a young Chuck Berry watching it and then holding it in his back pocket for 20 years and then inserting it into his live show. I met him on several occasions. We went through it all [Abbott and Costello] “Who’s On First” routine, word for word. Then Chuck and I were friends. Every bit of his stuff has been picked up. He’s been listening to Charlie Christian. He’s checked Redd Foxx out. He checked out Nat King Cole. There is no part of the entertainment industry that he was not aware of. As he once said to me, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
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