It has taken 40 years, but George Thorogood is finally set to release his first album.
Obviously, the Delaware rocker known for giving a contemporary voice to the music and inspirations of roots, blues and boogie stars from generations past has been touring and recording at an unrelenting pace since the 1970s. But that has been with his longstanding band the Destroyers. This summer, the guitarist and vocalist steps out without his wrecking crew for a record composed almost entirely of blues and roots-music standards cut entirely on his own. There are no embellishments and no band, just him. The album is titled “Party of One.”
In what amounts to a full-circle coincidence, the new record, due out Aug. 4, finds Thorogood back with Rounder Records, the label where he began his recording career in 1977.
“I wanted to do something like this originally,” he said. “Most people do start out as a solo deal — people like Bob Dylan, John Hammond, Bruce Springsteen. So did I. But I didn’t get Rounder’s ear until 1976. By that time, I had the band together. So we’ve been bouncing around for years about doing this. I just thought we’d better do it now or never. It’s kind of like, this is what I should have done before everything else. But I’m doing it now.”
“Party of One” revisits works by the likes of John Lee Hooker (including a new take on “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” a song that Thorogood all but made his own on his self-titled debut album with the Destroyers), Elmore James, Johnny Cash and Willie Dixon. Some of the entries, including Gary Nicholson’s “Soft Spot” (the only contemporary tune on the record), possess an unexpected acoustic warmth. Others, including the Robert Johnson warhorse tune “I’m a Steady Rollin’ Man,” pack the kind of electric might that one would expect from the Destroyers, even though Thorogood churns out the whole thing without accompaniment.
Thorogood began his career as a solo artist mostly out of financial necessity. It was a curious time for a young roots-music maverick, as his touring career came into its own when the pop mainstream was ruled by disco and the underground by the beginnings of the punk revolution.
“Man, I was just looking to get some gigs,” he said. “I’d play these auditions, but I just thought it would be so much easier to hand out a record and say, ‘This is what I do. Do you like it? Then hire me.’ So I was just looking to get a gig somewhere. I didn’t think the disco world and the punk world had anything to do with me. I was just a combination of John Hammond and Hound Dog Taylor who was trying to work for a living.”
The influence of Hammond, whose still-active career has been largely devoted to solo acoustic performances, continued to inspire Taylor during the making of “Party of One.” On the flip side of that, it was Taylor’s Houserockers band that provided the blueprint for the efficient ensemble drive of the Destroyers.
“Those guys put a spirit in me to say, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to be part of this,’” Thorogood said. “The more I did it, the more I felt like playing acoustic guitar as a solo act. But everybody — Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee, Robert Lockwood and, of course, Hound Dog — was telling me over and over and over, ‘Get an electric guitar. Get a drummer. Get a bass player. That’s the future, George.’ I listened and kept thinking, ‘That’s OK, but I can’t afford all that. I can’t afford an electric guitar. I can’t afford a drummer.’ Then I saw Hound Dog and thought, ‘Ah, I better get an electric guitar and get this thing going.’”
Things really got going when one his own compositions, the title tune to his 1982 album, “Bad to the Bone,” became a monster radio hit, clearing the way for a performance and recording career with the Destroyers that continues to this day. Even though “Party of One” will be the focus of promotion this summer for Thorogood, his Thursday concert at the Opera House will an electric, rocking affair with the Destroyers in tow.
“They all get it done,” Thorogood said of his bandmates — two of whom, drummer Jeff Simon and bassist Billy Blough, have been with him since 1973 and 1976, respectively. “Sometimes I question their loyalty or their sanity, because they stuck through it all this time.
“Then again, Mick Jagger is still playing with Charlie Watts and Keith Richards, isn’t he? (Roger) Daltrey and (Pete) Townshend are still going strong together. And Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been pretty much all together since day one. I guess when something works, you stick with it.”