Best Bets: Destroyers’ drummer Simon still on the beat

Jeff Simon, a Wilmington native and longtime drummer for George Thorogood and The Destroyers, is the only band member besides Mr. Thorogood to be with the group since its inception in 1973 when they first played University of Delaware’s Lane Hall. (Submitted photo/Steve Jennings)

Dec. 1, 1973. Lane Hall. University of Delaware.

Jeff Simon remembers it well.

That’s the date of the first official gig for George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers. Mr. Simon was the drummer for the band and still is all these years later.

A native of Wilmington not far from where Mr. Thorogood grew up in the Naamans area, Mr. Simon’s older brother went to school with Mr. Thorogood, and he hung around the two when the older kids would practice music at the Simon house.

But it was that show at UD that would establish their decades-long musical partnership.

“I had a friend of mine who lived at (Lane Hall), and every so often — a couple of times a semester, I guess — they would have a budget that they would hire bands to play in the lounge of the dorm. So that’s what we did. That was our first gig,” said Mr. Simon, who was a member of the second graduating class at Concord High School in Wilmington (Mr. Thorogood went to rival Brandywine) and has lived in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, since 1979.

“The guy told me they paid 150 bucks. I said, ‘OK, great.’ And at the time, George was doing some solo stuff and was down in Florida for some reason. He called me one day and said, ‘What’s going on?’ I said, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I’m home.’ I said, ‘That’s good because we have a gig on Saturday night,’” Mr. Simon recalled.

“He didn’t have an electric guitar at that point. We went down into Wilmington into one of the pawnshops, and that’s where he got his (Gibson) ES-125. We went down in the basement at my parents’ house and worked out some material.

“We had a lot of confidence. We weren’t really super-accomplished musicians to begin with. And so we’re playing the first set, and people were just kind of standing around the perimeter. There’s open floorspace where people could dance and stuff, but people are just standing around and watching. We’re like, ‘Uh oh, what’s going on? Did they like it?’ And then, as if somebody flipped the switch on, everybody started dancing. Suddenly, it was, ‘Wow, we got it. We’re good enough.’”

Eighteen studio albums, six live albums, thousands of shows and a slight name change later, George Thorogood and the Destroyers have consistently been one of the top names in blues rock all around the world.

Today marks another milestone in the band’s history with a reissue of their powerhouse “Live in Boston, 1982” album. Originally released in 2010, this one is retitled, “Live in Boston, 1982: The Complete Concert” by Craft Recordings.

Newly remastered by Grammy Award-winning engineer Paul Blakemore, the 27-track package captures the band’s fiery set in its entirety, including spoken introductions.

The set includes 12 previously unreleased tracks, including performances of “Bad to the Bone,” “Who Do You Love?” and “Cocaine Blues” and new liner notes by longtime Boston Globe music critic and Berklee College of Music professor Steve Morse, who spoke with Mr. Thorogood about that evening. It marks the first time the set will also be available on vinyl.

Mr. Simon said the time in which this album was recorded was a formidable period in the band’s career.

“A lot of people argue with this, but it was kind of the pinnacle of where we were at musically. We were doing 26, 27 songs a night. Things were starting to happen for us. This was Nov. 23, and in December, we played (Philadelphia’s) Spectrum for the first time. So that was a big deal. I had spent half my life seeing other artists there. To sit on the stage there, it was unbelievable,” Mr. Simon said.

George Thorogood, above, and The Destroyers’ 27-track “Live in Boston, 1982: The Complete Concert” captures an entire concert, including 12 previously unreleased tracks including performances of “Bad to the Bone” “Who Do You Love?,” and “Cocaine Blues.” It comes out today. (Submitted photo/David Dobson)

“So it was this time period that we did ‘Saturday Night Live.’ We had done European dates with the Rolling Stones in the spring of 1982. So there was a lot going on then, and it was a really good time for us.”

But before all of that — before even the first show at Lane Hall — it was playing baseball during the day and listening to music at night for Mr. Simon and Mr. Thorogood.

“I absorbed it all. I didn’t try to horn in on anything. My brother was playing drums. We had the basement, and how my parents had the patience for the noise, I never did understand how they did that,” Mr. Simon said.

“It was my brother’s idea to get a drum set, and I just did whatever he did. I followed him around like you do. And so you had two kids in basically a five-room house trying to learn how to play drums, just playing along with records. So you have that kind of noise, but not for one kid, but two kids.

“Years later, I asked my mother, ‘How in the world did you ever put up with that?’ She said, ‘Because I loved every minute of it, and I knew where you were.’”

After a couple of years of not seeing Mr. Thorogood, Mr. Simon got a surprise call one summer night in 1973 that would change his life.

“I had never played in any bands, but I got a call from George. He goes, ‘Hey, Jeff. What are you up to?’ At that time, I was working at a golf course (in Pike Creek), but I was working at night, monitoring the irrigation system because some stone had got into the irrigation system. So we had to drive around and see where the stone was clogging things up and take it apart and fix it,” Mr. Simon recalled.

“He said, ‘If you’re not doing anything, do you still have those drums?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, bring them over to Ernie’s. We’re having a party, and Brian’s drunk already. Brian McLean, bless his heart, he was another drummer.

“And so I packed up my drums, and we had a blast. We did that a couple of times, just playing the parties, and we got a band together.”

A few months later, the guys got serious and wanted to try this music thing out full time. The news didn’t sit too well with Mr. Simon’s parents.

“I was working for a golf course in Pike Creek Valley. And it was owned by the Robinos. They had another golf course somewhere in lower Delaware, but I’m not sure where it was. That golf course needed a superintendent,” Mr. Simon said.

“So this is the exact time that we’re starting the band. So I’m weighing my options because this job opportunity doesn’t come around every day. So we’re sitting at the dinner table one night with my mom and my dad. And I said, ‘We’re starting this band.’ But I said, ‘Bill, my boss, recommended me for this (golf course) job.’

“My father just looked at me. My dad never really tried to influence me one way or the other. He drove heavy equipment. He worked construction, and we think he might have been dyslexic. He had a sixth grade education. He knew what work was, and he wasn’t afraid of it and knew what needed to be done in order to make a living.

“So he just looked at me, and he goes, ‘Are you sure? A job like that isn’t going to come around every day.’

“I said that I had given it a lot of thought, and I don’t want to go through life wondering if I could have done this because this is what I want to do — play music. I said, ‘I’m just going to do this and throw caution to the wind.’ And that was my decision.

“It turned out for the good, and my folks and brother supported me. (Then,) we started getting gigs like at the Buggy (Tavern in Wilmington), and there was a place in Arden called the Blue Boar Inn. And every time we played there, my mom and dad would be there with one of those cassette recorders with the big buttons on the front.”

2021 will mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s 50/50 tour when they played 50 states in 50 days. It was actually 51 if you count Washington, D.C., on the same day they played Maryland. In Delaware, they played the University of Delaware’s Carpenter Hall in Newark.

“George and the guy that used to drive us around — Hank Dawes his name was — I guess Dawes said, ‘I bet you couldn’t do this.’ And so I think that’s how it got started, but you’d have to ask George to be sure,” Mr. Simon said.

“We did a show in Hawaii and flew to Alaska, and then, we flew to Washington and then drove the rest of the way. But when you are young, that’s nothing.

“We did get a little bit tired about halfway through the tour around Harrisburg (Pennsylvania). But we got up into the Northeast with the short drives and got a second breath, and then, it was fine after that. We might have had a day off, and then, we went and did five or six more shows with the Stones.”

The 50/50 tour curtailed doing more shows with the Rolling Stones than they actually did. The Stones opened their tour in Philadelphia and were convinced to use The Destroyers as their opening act that night.

‘They said, ‘OK, we’ll put them on and see how it goes. So after the first show, Bill Graham comes in, and he goes, ‘OK, you can do the rest of the tour.’ Well, there was no way we could cancel the 50/50 tour. We did 16 shows with them in the States and then nine more in Europe, but it could have been a lot more than that.

Archival photos such as this one of Jeff Simon is included in the reissue. (Submitted photo/Rounder Records)

“The exposure was good from the 50/50 tour, but there is no way you can beat playing for anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000 people a night. It was all good, but if I had a choice beforehand, I would not have chosen to do the 50/50 tour.”

Like every artist, Mr. Simon is waiting for the day when he can go out and play again with the band. This is the longest he’s gone without playing a gig.

“Yeah, I’m not doing too good. How crazy is this? This is insane. We went to New Zealand and Australia in February. We had some festival shows in New Zealand. They went really well. And then, we came, and we did some shows down South. We finished in Biloxi, Mississippi, two days before they started shutting everything down.

“So we will just cut and paste everything from this year and move it to next year. And hopefully, people are going to start to feel safe enough to go back into a crowd.”

The band hopes to hit the road for a 29-date global tour in May, starting in British Columbia.

To order “Live in Boston, 1982: The Complete Concert,” visit georgethorogood.lnk.to/LiveInBoston1982.

Lopez on ‘Shameless’

You might have spotted a familiar face behind a mask on last week’s episode of the Showtime comedy/drama, “Shameless.”

Wayne Lopez, a Dover native, played the boss of a warehouse where Gallagher’s son, Ian, works. Mr. Lopez says he’ll be on again this Sunday.

“As far as I know, that’s it. But the season is not over. So there’s no telling what the writers may come up with,” Mr. Lopez said Thursday.

“I did shoot a commercial for a Canadian cellphone company. I had the chance to work with Will Arnett. We spent the entire time cracking up,” he said.

Now Showing

New in theaters this weekend is the thriller, “Fatale,” and the action-adventure, “Monster Hunter.”