I’ll give you a good story," George Thorogood begins, winding himself up like an alarm clock. "Do you like good stories?"
He doesn’t really wait for a response. Instead, he plunges into his tale with the subtlety of a bowling ball being tossed into a lake.
Thorogood’s talking about what brought him to Las Vegas for the first time, why he started coming here back in the day when Vegas was most associated with acts like Henny Youngman and Ann-Margret, when it was a place to end your career and rock bands avoided the city like sobriety.
He begins in a roundabout way, by detailing the circumstances surrounding the making of the hard-nosed ’70s action flick "Dirty Harry." Frank Sinatra was supposed to play the film’s title role, but he broke his wrist shortly before production was about to start and had to pull out of the movie.
The producers looked to Paul Newman, who turned them down because his politics didn’t agree with the violent film.
Newman did, however, recommend Clint Eastwood.
The producers went to Eastwood, explaining to him that Newman had passed on the project because of his social views. Eastwood was on the fence about the whole thing — until he learned what he’d be making.
"Clint said, ‘They told me how much they were going to pay me, and I said, "I think my politics are OK. I think I can do this movie," ‘ " Thorogood says with a loud guffaw, laughing for a good five seconds, noting how good his pay was for coming to Vegas. "So, my politics with Vegas are fine."
Punchy and good-humored, Thorogood wields self-deprecation like he does his six-string: high in the air, for everyone in the house to get a look at.
He’s the blues rock everyman, and his group, The Destroyers, is the boogie band equivalent of a $10 haircut: There are no frills here, nothing fancy, just an emphasis on getting as much bang for the buck as possible.
None of this is lost on Thorogood. He’s well aware that he looks like a dude who could just as easily be changing air filters at the local Jiffy Lube than hitting the stage in front of thousands on any given night.
"When we take the stage, most of the guys in the crowd look at me and say, ‘I could do what he does if I worked at it,’ " Thorogood chuckles. "And probably the average woman walking the streets could say, ‘I could get a guy like that.’ It’s like we’re the Jim Belushi of rock.
"We’re the regular guy’s band," he continues. "The heavy critics or heavy people in the business have always said, ‘I can’t understand Thorogood. What he does, anybody could do it.’ And I go, ‘That’s our charm.’ We’re a Chevy Suburban, not a Rolls Royce. Anybody can afford us, anybody can drive us."
And that’s the true appeal of Thorogood and Co.: They’re a reflective surface in which working class rock fans can easily see themselves.
Thorogood embodies the blue collar ideal: He’s a crafty, consistent player rather than a virtuoso, his success more attributable to attitude and elbow grease than technical fortitude and artistic flights of fancy.
Thorogood’s repertoire — and his audience — is populated with salt of the earth types with callused hands and weary livers. His biggest hits — "I Drink Alone," "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," "Bad to the Bone" — have become barroom standards, as much a staple in your neighborhood tavern as the Budweiser taps.
But that hardworking, hard drinking demeanor doesn’t encapsulate Thorogood like it once did.
"I still drink a lot and I still rock a lot, I just don’t drink alcohol as much as I did," Thorogood says. "You can’t when you’re in your 50s. So I thought to myself a few years ago, ‘You know, Georgie boy, a little more time on the treadmill, a little less time at the bar, and who knows how long you can keep this thing going.’ "
Still, that raucous, 100-proof persona has come to define Thorogood. There’s a portion of his audience that expects him to continually live up to that rep, whether Thorogood likes it or not.
"Well, if that’s their persona of me, fine, because that’s not me, and the more misnomers that you can hide behind, the better off you are," he says. "In our live show, we only have two songs that have anything to do with alcohol, and that’s not very many. In the real world of George Thorogood, I’m a pussycat compared to the heavy duty cats, like say, Lee Marvin, Dean Martin, Spencer Tracy. Those guys were maniacs, man. They just drank themselves into the grave. That’s not going to be me."
Thorogood says this matter of factly, staying in character: He’s a meat and potatoes, cash and carry kind of guy, so much so, that he seems as bemused by his success as his critics, who can’t understand how a guy with the rough-around-the-edges air of a chatty construction worker could make a name for himself for anything other than hanging drywall.
"I was a man who prepared for failure," Thorogood explains. "Once it all started happening, I was going, ‘Wait a minute.’ I had my sights on a certain level of what I wanted to do, and when it leapfrogged over that a lot, I wasn’t prepared. It’s like you applied for the job of janitor, and they make you president of the company."JASON BRACELINMORE COLUMNS
who: George Thorogood & The Destroyers when: 8 p.m. today where: House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South tickets: $37-$50; (632-7600)