What George Thorogood Found Impressive About Sammy Hagar
George Thorogood and Sammy Hagar recently wrapped up the first leg of their Crazy Times summer tour, which will resume on Aug. 23 in Clarkston, Mich.
Both artists delivered high-energy sets under challenging conditions. Temps were in the low 90s as Thorogood walked onstage at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, sweating profusely before he and the band even played a note.
Yet the blues-rocker was in great form for the "Thursday night rock party," as he termed it. He spoke frequently to the crowd, even throwing a good-natured jab at Hagar. "Sammy's backstage mixing up some high-octane tequila, but we're gonna serve up a bourbon, scotch and beer," he teased, a song or two before the fan-favorite cover arrived in the set list.
The pair has shared some good times already, as a recent post on Hagar's Instagram demonstrated. "He came out and watched our entire set," Thorogood tells UCR. "That'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 thought, 'Man, are you a hockey player or a rock 'n' roll star, buddy?'"
We spoke with Thorogood on the afternoon following the Ohio date. His tour bus had already made its way 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 in your set is "Night Time." How did you first come across that one?
A friend of ours who lived in the neighborhood was in a band called Spectrum. They were doing a battle of the bands. His band did that, and I’d never heard the song before. It had just come out. I said, “Man, I’ve got to learn that song.” Every band I’ve ever been in since I was a kid, I made them learn the song “Night Time.” Actually, 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 initial thing, and then we’d follow it up with an album the next year. It ended up on a bootleg record, like five years later, on the Better Than the Rest album – a really terrible record – but the song did finally see the light of the day. Our bass player at that time hated the song because it's a heavy bass song. This guy was really lazy. [Laughs.] He didn’t want to do anything, but he was a huge J. Geils Band fan. I said, “Listen, we’ve got to do this tune before J. Geils gets a hold of it.” He goes, “J. Geils would never touch this song.” Out comes the Love Stinks album and guess what’s on the album? I think it was their first gold record. So I can pick ‘em, OK?
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're playing stuff like that.
That’s the idea of our band; that’s what we’re about. Nothing more, nothing less. Our leadoff song is “Rock Party.” That says it all. J. Geils leads off with “(Ain’t Nothin’ But a) House Party,” I mean, that’s who we are. That’s what we are. To look beyond that, people would say, “You guys are like a bar band.” We’re more like a party band. That’s just evolved over the years. Jeff Simon, our drummer, he was the one who really inspired us. That was his input with our act. I was a little too serious. Jeff was trying to lighten me up a little bit, saying, “You know, George, there’s 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 to find myself as a performer.
How did you develop your version of John Lee Hooker's "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" back in the day?
Well, it just kind of evolved. We were playing it in a three-piece in Boston. Jeff Simon and I had just been evicted from our house, and we didn’t really have any place to go. I’d been listening to just about everything that John Lee Hooker had ever done up until that point. Everybody was watching the World Series: There was about 15 people in the club, that’s about it, including our bass player and drummer. I went up to the stage, picked up the guitar and started doing “House Rent Boogie” by John Lee Hooker. As I was playing it, I started talking and magically, our bass player and drummer came up and just bam, kicked it into “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” The connection was made and the bar emptied and the dance floor was packed. I said, “Aha! We’ve got something there. Let’s stay 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. There’s not enough said for rhythm guitar. I was so pleased a few years ago that Keith Richards spoke up and said, “Look, the rhythm guitar is just as heavy as lead guitar.” It’s just that in the late ‘60s with [Jimi] Hendrix and [Eric] Clapton, Jeff Beck and Duane Allman, people would sit there and play these 40-minute solos. Keith was saying, “Well, I can get more done on the rhythm guitar in four minutes than those cats can get together playing for 15 minutes on lead guitar." One of the guys who had it together, who could play great rhythm guitar and lead guitar was Chuck Berry. Another one is John Fogerty. Not many people can do that. Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker were the greatest rhythm-guitar players I’ve ever heard. They could do so much with one chord like James Brown does. It’s a rhythmic thing and women like rhythm. You know, long solos, the ladies will leave the show.
Watch George Thorogood Perform 'One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer'
"Move It On Over" was recorded a few times, including versions by Hank Williams and Bill Haley. What was it about that song that struck a chord with you?
It didn’t, really. It was a soundcheck song we used to do before we played. Jeff Simon was wild about the song. I was like, “Yeah, I guess so. It’s okay.” Then we hooked up with Rounder Records. We were doing a second album, and we needed three or four more songs to fill out the record. As you know, Rounder is a bluegrass old-time-y type of label. They’re very tied into strong country [artists like] Bill Monroe, people like Hank Williams, that kind of stuff. They were all for it and even named the album Move It On Over. I said, “Big mistake.” I was wrong, as usual. [Laughs.]
What did you get from watching Chuck Berry?
Everything. His rapport with the audience was fantastic. His guitar playing was great. I was lucky to catch him when he was really on top of his game. He was very funny, too. 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 fantastic. There’s no part of the entertainment business that escaped Chuck Berry’s eyes since the time he was a kid. He put it all together about 1955 or 1956 – because if you watch Chuck Berry’s duck walk, the first person to do the duck walk ever was Groucho Marx in the movie Duck Soup. If you watch when they do that mirror bit that Patty Duke does and also, Lucille Ball, that duck walk was created by Groucho. Now, I can imagine a young Chuck Berry watching that and then keeping it in his back pocket for 20 years, and then inserting it in his live show. I met him on several occasions. We went through the whole [Abbott and Costello] “Who’s On First” routine, word for word. After that, Chuck and I were buddies. Every bit of his thing has been picked up. He’s listened to Charlie Christian. He’s checked out Redd Foxx. He checked out Nat King Cole. There’s no part of the entertainment business that he wasn’t aware of. As he once said to me, “There’s nothing new under the sun."
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