‘Badder than ever’: Delaware rocker Thorogood returns for first fair gig

Delaware native George Thorogood and The Destroyers play the Delaware State Fair Friday night with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. It will be Mr. Thorogood’s first professional Downstate Delaware show. (Submitted photo/Dan Thorson)

Delaware native George Thorogood and The Destroyers play the Delaware State Fair Friday night with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. It will be Mr. Thorogood’s first professional Downstate Delaware show. (Submitted photo/Dan Thorson)

HARRINGTON — George Thorogood has only one request when he and the Destroyers play the Delaware State Fair Friday night.

Keep those mosquitoes away.

“Delaware mosquitoes are the worst. They are deadlier than the cobras in India,” he proclaimed.

Mr. Thorogood should know, having grown up in Wilmington, graduating from Brandywine High School in 1968, and going on to become perhaps Delaware’s best-known musical export.

He and his band play their first professional gig Downstate Friday at the Delaware State Fair during a stop on their Badder Than Ever Tour.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds will open the 7:30 p.m. show at the fair’s M&T Grandstand.

At 66 years old, George Thorogood, who grew up in Wilmington, still plays about 100 dates a year all around the world. (Submitted photo/Mitchell Glotzer)

At 66 years old, George Thorogood, who grew up in Wilmington, still plays about 100 dates a year all around the world. (Submitted photo/Mitchell Glotzer)

While it is surprising to learn that the First State favorite has never played Kent or Sussex County since hitting it big, he does recall a gig at the Dover Air Force Base many years ago.

“In high school, the lead singer from another band copped out of a show for the servicemen down there. So they asked me to fill in,” Mr. Thorogood said last week by phone from his home in California.

“It was a strange thing. The Vietnam War was raging at the time and soldiers’ bodies were coming out of the air force base every day. The whole world was watching. And maybe that’s why the lead singer copped out.

“But the show went rather well. The servicemen were just like a regular crowd so it went pretty smoothly. But it was a strange experience to be down there at the time. Something I’ll never forget.”

Mr. Thorogood has had a lot of unforgettable moments over the years, playing Live Aid when Tears for Fears dropped out the morning of the megashow; doing his legendary 50/50 Tour where he played 50 shows in 50 days; and opening for The Rolling Stones during the group’s 1981 tour.

In a career that has spanned more than 40 years, he has recorded 16 studio albums, with six going gold and six platinum, covering songs by Hank Williams, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker and more and busting out his own hits including “Bad to the Bone” and “I Drink Alone.”

No haircut or real job

He says his career started in Delaware when he was barely out of his teens with the encouragement of his parents and the plain fact that he “just wasn’t much good at anything else.”

“It was that uncommon in the late ’60s and early ’70s for parents to encourage their kids to get into music. It wasn’t looked on with disdain. It kept us out of trouble. They’d drive us to our gigs. I’d tell them about the shows later and I think my parents could see the look in my eyes and thought ‘Holy smokes. This isn’t just a hobby with this kid,’” said the 66-year-old Mr. Thorogood.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t try to do other things.

“I just wasn’t good at work. I never had a passion for anything else like I did for music. It was a time of scruffy long hair where very few people would hire you looking like that,” he said.

He bounced around the Wilmington area, working at a car wash, doing construction and selling seafood.

“Boy, did I smell at the end of the day,” he said of his fishy days.

He also spent time at a produce stand battling those hated Delaware mosquitoes.

“Between the mosquitoes and the 100-degree weather,  you had to move fast to keep the fruit from rotting at the end of the day. Whatever we didn’t sell, we had to eat our selves,” he said.

“So around 1966 and 1967, my mom had baskets of fruit in the refrigerator and around the house … bananas, strawberries, you name it. The neighbors would see me coming home from work and say ‘Here comes George with all that fruit again.’”

Musical education

The upside of all these odd jobs was that it gave him spending money to head to Philadelphia to see all the music greats of the time.

“I saw Jeff Beck, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, the list goes on. For three dollars, you could see a bunch of good shows every weekend,” he said.

That was Mr. Thorogood’s version of higher learning.

“People would say to me ‘You aren’t just going to these shows as a rock fan. You’re getting an education.’ And I was. I was totally absorbed in the music so when I picked up the guitar, I could just start boogeying.”

The culmination of his life’s dream came in 1981 when he opened for The Rolling Stones on their “Tattoo You” tour, the largest-grossing tour of that year.

“I had been planning to get to this spot since I was 17 years old. I was already rolling by then. I had three albums out but it was kind of like playing in the Orioles’ system and being called up to the big leagues. I had to prove I belonged in this profession where I was playing on the same bill as my high school idols and I wasn’t going to blow it,” he said.

“But it was a total thrill nonetheless.”

Back in Delaware

While not trying to downplay his Delaware days, he says Friday’s show is much like any other gig. He has no family in Delaware anymore but he’s always happy to come back.

He played his first show at Wilmington’s Grand Opera House in 2009 and has returned since.

“A lot of people think that show at The Grand was my first time back in Delaware since I became successful. But that’s not true. I’ve played quite a few Delaware dates over the years — Carpenter Hall and the State Theater in Newark and a few other places in Wilmington,” he said.

Mr. Thorogood gives high marks to The Grand.

“It’s one of the best-sounding rooms I’ve ever played and I’ve played all over the world. I’d put it right up there with Bass Hall in Texas and the Count Basie Theatre in New Jersey. We take those factors into consideration in deciding where we are going to play.”

Still bad to the bone

With more than 40 years in the music business, he hasn’t lost much of that trademark swagger. When asked how he’s doing at the beginning of last week’s phone call, he replies “Bad to the bone.”

These days, he does about 100 shows a year and says he still loves getting out there.

“I’ll still play as long as the demand and the desire is still there,” he said.

“The passion is still there on my part. It’s like any other job. You really struggle to get it going. In my case, it was a lot of beat-up cars, lousy sound systems and crummy hotels. And you think to yourself, ‘What am I doing this for?’ But I’ve survived it all and been successful, knock on wood. I’ve also had a great fan base, which ties it all together.”

Tickets for Friday night’s show are $34-$74 and available at the fair box office, delawarestatefair.com or by calling 398-5020.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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