The New King of The Slide Guitar

This is the first of a series of posts telling the story of my association with George Thorogood.  It is dedicated to my wife who was born on 3 July 1952, and died 31 January 2017 from ovarian cancer.  She was also a fan, and we shared our love of  The Delaware Destroyers with friends and family for 37 years together.

3 July 2024

Newark Delaware in the 1970’s was your typical college town, with a Main Street connecting the campus of the University of Delaware with the town.  Main Street  connected the two main drinking spots and music venues, with The Deer Park on one end and The Stone Balloon kind of in the middle. I was walking down Main Street away from campus and towards the Stone Balloon, when I saw an innocuous flyer stapled to a telephone pole that impacted my life.

Mom  used to push me in the stroller on the walkways of the University when I was a baby, perhaps implanting that image in my mind so strongly that when it came time to choose a college, I ended up back in Newark.   I say back because I grew up in nearby Bear, which I cling to because I think a town named Bear is one of the coolest names ever, but we moved when I was about ten to Norristown Pennsylvania.  That was the end of my time in Delaware until it was time for college.   I returned with my hair much longer yet getting thinner, fighting a constant battle with acne and my self-confidence, and with no clear sense of what career I wanted to prepare myself for as a college student.

A favorite class during my senior fall  semester was one about Folklore, Folk Music, and The Blues.  The blues before the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, John Mayall, Eric Clapton and any number of young , generally British, up and coming rock and rollers got hold of the music and transformed it into something different.  Before it reached British shores and  was still firmly locked within the area known collectively as the Mississippi Delta region.  Still firmly in the hands of  Elmore James,  Lightnin’ Hopkins, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Ma Rainey, Howlin’ Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor and many more.  Men and women as colorful as their names, singing their way through desperate times to be black in America.  Blues music was their way to sing the things they couldn’t speak of, to incorporate afro rhythm they had to leave behind, to talk about sex and relationships and love.  Willie Dixon’s “I Just Wanna Make Love To You”  came right out with it; Robert Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman Blues” sang about the pain of losing the good woman to “the evil hearted women that will not let me be”; places beyond the Delta became part of the lore with Texas, St. Louis, Kansas City, Vicksburg all being called out in various blues songs; including of course the Mecca for southern blues artists, “Sweet Home Chicago”.

I played guitar a little as part of a group of students that played folk songs and traditional songs.  But I longed to play in the style of the old blues master’s I was now learning to appreciate even more.  My guitar was a gift from my father; mom found this teacher that taught small groups rather than individuals and drove me to the lessons.  The lessons culminated in a big hootenanny event where we all played together.  We never talked about the blues. I dreamt of playing blues, like those early Beatles and Rolling Stones and Little Richard records.

While walking down Main Street that fall afternoon, noticing that flyer flapping in the wind, with the picture of a young musician holding a battered acoustic guitar with the enticing invitation to come see and hear “The New King of the Slide Guitar”, George Thorogood, I stopped and stared long and hard.  Wow, that took some balls to make that claim.  I needed to check this dude out.

I marched over to the neighboring dorm at the appropriate time and put down my $0.75 cents for an evening of acoustic blues with the “New King of the Slide Guitar” himself.   Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time and declared he had seen the future of rock n roll, I saw George Thorogood for the first time and knew I wanted more of that music in my future.

Slide guitar came out of the Delta as a way to get a very distinctive wailing, crying sound beyond even the bending of strings.  Using the tops of beer bottles, or pill bottles, or other metal cylinders, the slide is carefully positioned over the strings and slid up and down over single notes or combined notes to transform a song into a crying wailing mournful plea to the universe.  George mastered this technique quickly.

There was a small group of students sitting in a UD dormitory lounge to see the self-proclaimed New King.  George sat on a stool with his trusty acoustic guitar, the brand of which I am not certain.  It was dark brown, not dark like Mahogany, but a darker shade than a spruce top guitar. But not completely dark, because the finish was stripped off in large swatches across the face of the guitar from the  hellacious strumming  and relentless slide-work as George  played the guitar.  The guitar itself had great  character as it served as a record of the legendary bluesmen George had sought out and met during his journey to become a blues master.  A  who’s who of Mississippi Delta Blues musicians; Muddy Waters, and Hound Dog Taylor represented by their signatures scratched into the guitar surface, a strip  of paper with the signature of Howlin Wolf affixed prominently across the bottom face of the guitar.  The foot-stompin Boogie Master out of California John Lee Hooker etched into the face of the guitar, near that of the up-and-coming Buddy Guy, still  a revered blues performer. Upon this instrument George began to jam.

Jam he did, one great blues song after another.  Why bother with original material when all the great blues songs were already written? Songs by John Lee, by the unsung hero of the Delta Blues Willie Dixon, Houndog Taylor, Elmore James, Lightning Hopkins, Muddy and Wolf, on and on they came screaming out of the mottled, battered instrument.  The slide flying up and down the neck wringing  note after note, sometimes slow and mournful, sometimes frenetic, sometimes in the boogie mode of John Lee, or the rock and roll style of Chuck Berry.

It represented the way I dreamed about playing as I played folk songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon”, “On Top of Old Smokey” and calypso versions of “Sloop John B”.  When it was over I approached George about teaching me to play the blues and wonder of wonders he agreed.  I was about to become a student of the now definitive “New King of The Slide Guitar”.

For George Thorogood and The Destroyers follow link to Music Video Portfolio.




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