By Matt Koelling
On a superficial level, the pairing may not have seemed ideal.
An old rocker who built his career playing the blues singing songs about booze playing a dry town on a wet night?
Yet somehow, under the magical musical umbrella of a capacity crowd at the Ocean City Music Pier venue, last night in Ocean City everything felt right.
Taking the stage shortly after the show’s 7:30 ticket start time, George Thorogood and his Destroyers took the stage with the intention of fully living up to their name.
They did not disappoint.
Instead, they did indeed destroy.
And did so right out of the gate, however things truly got heated up and running up to full steam sometime during the introduction to the fourth song, the John Lee Hooker cover which has gone on to become a trademark George Thorogood FM radio classic “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” during which Thorogood addressed the crowd for the first extended time:
“Ocean City, New Jersey! *crowd roaring* World’s Best Kept Secret……. *roaring even louder* So I went down to the bar…. everybody’s drinking bourbon, everybody’s drinking scotch, everybody’s drinking beer… but not in this town….. *crowd roaring in approval while also now rollicking with audible laughter* But still I went to the bar anyway……”
He then proceeded to tear into the song with a vigor that would suggest he just cut the record yesterday rather than four decades earlier, utilizing his slide guitar piece to travel up and down his fretboard while also tapping up and down the guitar neck to generate some blues-soaked harmonics to the capacity crowd’s feverish delight.
The pace did not slow from there, things sped up both in style and metaphorical spirit on the next number: a rockabilly-style take on one of Johnny Cash’s classics that would have made the Tennessee Three proud.
Thorogood began the song by saying “I wanna dedicate this song to a great American, Mr. Johnny Cash and the great woman that loved him, Mrs. June Carter Cash” then sometime shortly after his conclusion mentioned to the Ocean City audience that he had once been blessed with the opportunity to meet both.
Feeling (for the first and only time on this evening) that the crowd did not seem audibly impressed enough, Thorogood spoke with renewed emphasis “I don’t think you people heard me…….I said I MET JOHNNY CASH!” at which point the crowd took his cue to give the weight of that statement the response he originally sought.
“And he thought I was a really cool guy” Thorogood boasted as the audience co-signed the late-great Man In Black’s assessment with thunderous approval as he took mock bows from the stage.
Feeling for a second that he might be taking too long before getting to the song, he further explained:
“It took me forty years to get up here, people…….so I’m gonna enjoy every sweet second of it”.
Meanwhile the sold-out crowd packed in on a rainy night inside the Ocean City Music Pier, while seeing George Thorogood and The Destroyers for the first time in the venue’s history, had every intention of doing the same.
Both sides seemed to get what they wanted as the band soldiered on through numerous hits.
Hits including the Thorogood trademark 1982 smash “Bad to The Bone” and their blues-soaked take on country legend Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over.”
In a surprise to even his own band members, the encore became the Elmore James chestnut “Madison Blues” which George Thorogood and The Destroyers famously covered on their eponymous 1977 debut album.
According to the band leader, this was not the song they had returned to the stage to play.
However, upon hearing someone shouting from the audience, George asked the man to repeat his request.
Before obliging the loudly vocal patron standing up about eight rows back from the stage, Thorogood warned him “Alright but if we do it….and we screw it up…which we won’t…then it’s on you. If we get it right…which we will…then it’s on us. So you better get ready, brother. Because you’re gonna be beggin’ for mercy once we get this sucker rolling. Okay, Mr. Jersey?!?”.
And away we went.
Approximately ten minutes of rocking later, Thorogood exclaimed “Good Bye Everybody…..and God Bless Ocean City” before exiting stage left with the rest of his fellow Destroyers.
Having left the packed house sufficiently destroyed, the lights came up and with it an instrumental version of “The Star Spangled Banner” began blasting from the Ocean City Music Pier’s PA system.
As the crowd rolled out, the praise from its exiting patrons rolled in:
“George definitely is bad to the bone, I first saw him in the early eighties and seeing him tonight he’s badder than ever” said Mark Turner from Phoenixville.
“It was a pleasure having my face blown off by the man who raised me on rock and roll” gushed Ben Marcus of the Lehigh Valley.
Meanwhile the performance and performer’s most heartfelt praise came from someone near and dear to his heart.
Betty Thorpe, George’s first cousin who last saw her cousin rock the shore at Harrah’s in Atlantic City back in 2003, stated matter-of-factly with a bit of familial pride in her voice “The show was great and he still looks great. I loved it and I love him”.
And with that, Ocean City New Jersey bids good bye to Mr. Buh-Buh-Buh-Buh-Bad.
Let’s not wait another 40 years before we all do it again.