”I grew up with rock ‘n’ roll but these blues won’t leave me alone.”
After all the movie/TV cues and sporting events that have used his music, after all the yobbish behavior soundtracked by his hits, it can seem like George Thorogood is a bit of a cartoon. But that’s on us because what Thorogood and his Destroyers are is AC/DC reliable troopers for gutbucket blues-rock, and the resounding proof of that is abundantly obvious on the band’s self-titled 1977 debut album (reissued July 30 on Rounder Records mastered from the original analog tapes – it’s a noticeable difference, particularly in overall warmth and presence).
While one imagines there aren’t a lot of bluesmen from Delaware, there’s no question who the greatest of them all is in the modern era, and the kid (27 years old at the time) comes out swinging on his debut. And it’s not all haymakers either, Thorogood’s blistering technique also offering sharp jabs, strong legwork, and some impressive rope-a-dope. All the roadwork he and his rhythm team Jeff Simon (drums) and Billy Blough (bass) had put in is apparent in the timing and confidence of the trio (augmented on some cuts by rhythm guitarist Ron Smith, the material clearly audience tried and tested but still raw enough to keep plenty of country dirt in the mix.
This album utterly refutes the growing smoothness and sophistication overtaking mainstream blues at the time, gnawing on the material, most of it drawn from classic sources, like animals that have missed a few meals. Their take on Elmore James’ “Can’t Stop Lovin’” is even a bit punkish in the spirit of Joe Strummer’s 101ers. Thorogood, Blough and Simon flex as one muscle – and have continued to do so ever since – showing affection for and natural command of primal blues, be they boogie addled, electric cries, or even folk flecked and acoustic flavored (George’s readings of “John Hardy” and Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman” are as good as they come). Obvious influence Chuck Berry gets a fine tip of the hat on album closer “Delaware Slide,” one of two solid originals here and likely a showstopper in the band’s early days.
Listening to George Thorogood and the Destroyers today makes an even greater case for its importance to the genre, as testifying a joint as Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers’ debut earlier in the decade and powered by some of the hairiest ball guitar machismo this side of the mid-to-late-70s Ted Nugent. Thorogood’s inspired mangling of his instrument, awesome ancient-before-his-time voice, and thumping heartbeat accompaniment was just the burst of testosterone the blues needed at the time and really still does today.