George Thorogood - On Music, Guitars, Music ... and Guitars
By Team HC |
by Anne Erickson
When George Thorogood picks up his guitar and starts playing, it’s obvious the sound is coming from George Thorogood. He champions a thick, low-down guitar tone that simply has a great vibe.
“Over my career, two people have come up to me to talk to me about the tone of my guitar,” he told Harmony Central. “One was actually the guitarist for Paul McCartney, and they said they were knocked out by the tone of my guitar, and the other was once the guitar player of Muddy Waters, who was extremely interested in how I got my tone.”
Now, Thorogood and that distinct tone are all over his first-ever solo album, Party of One. The collection, out on Rounder Records, features Thorogood putting his spin on a variety of songs by the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and many more.
Thorogood spoke with Harmony Central about the last year's record release and his beloved ES-125, which he calls “the only guitar I want to play.”
Congratulations on the success of your solo album, Party of One. This was actually your first solo record. What inspired you to release an album on your own?
Well, we needed to put something out that we hadn't done yet! (Laughs) We did pretty much everything else. We did several live records, some anthologies and best of records, so we figured, what’s left? I've actually been meaning to do this for years, and I've been putting it off. Rounder Records showed up, and it seemed like the timing was right.
You cover everyone from the Rolling Stones to Johnny Cash on this record. How did you go about picking these artists and songs?
Well, we got halfway through recordings, and I was about ready to hang it up and say, “This is not a good idea.” Then, we started picking songs by artists that had influenced me along the way, when I was first getting started-- John Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash, even the Rolling Stones. With the Stones, Brian Jones is the first person I ever heard play slide guitar. So, one by one we continued picking songs. That made it a little easier, but it is not an easy thing to do, because there might be 200 Hank Williams songs, but can you play any of them? Can you play them well? Is it a song that too many people have already covered?
Is there a song on Party of One that you've been wanting to do for as long as you can remember?
Not really. The ones I really wanted to do I have already done. I didn't really have a tune in my mind that I've been waiting to do for 30 or 40 years. A long time ago, I wrote down a list of songs that I wanted to do, and that was before I got a record deal, and we did those songs. This was a different approach completely.
You're known for having a long history with the Gibson ES-125. Tell me the story of how you fell in love with the ES-125.
It’s a very good story, and I'm glad you asked. If you have the time, I’ll try to consolidate it into 1,000 words or less. (Laughs). I was playing primarily acoustic guitars, and I needed an electric, and this was a guitar that everybody wanted. It was at a shop, way up at the top of the shelf– that’s where they put the good stuff so nobody steals it. When I got back into town after traveling a lot and needed a guitar, I went to the shop and looked up, and the guitar was still there. I sat there for years. I said, “I’d like to try that guitar,” and they wouldn’t even let me touch it. They said that to play it, I would have to buy it. So, it was just kind of blind faith. It’s a semi-hollow body, and the strings were elevated off the body, and it had a very nice sound with the P90s, so when you put it in open tuning, there was a very, very full sound. When I played it, 1,000 ideas popped into my head. This was just the guitar for me. I've tried a ton of other guitars, and none of them work for me, so that's the only guitar I want to play.
What made you gravitate to that specific Gibson guitar model?
Well, Chuck Berry plays one, and that's good enough for me! The maestro. They also just have a fuller sound. Gibsons fill out sound really, really nicely.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming guitarists?
Play for fun, because the more fun you have, the more you’ll play, and the more you play, the better you’ll get, and the better you get, the more fun you have. - HC -
Photo: Steve Jennings
Anne Erickson holds years of bylines in Gannett Media publications, as well as music magazines Premier Guitar, Guitar Edge and more. She also hosts radio shows with iHeartRadio and has been syndicated in Seattle, Dayton, Central Coast California and beyond. Anne is a loyal Spartan and holds a Master’s degree from MSU. She resides in Lansing, Michigan.