George Thorogood’s guitar is haunted. Inside that magic, electric box, the ghosts of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Johnny Cash and Jimi Hendrix are riffing with glee.
Thorogood, on Wednesday, filled The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center with sonic blasts and electrifying guitar solos. And he pumped up the jams to an ear-blasting, chest-thumping level all night long.
“You’re never too old to rock and roll, baby,” said Thorogood, 68, with his band, The Destroyers, on their “Rock Party” tour. They covered most of his hits, from “Who Do You Love” to “Bad to the Bone.”
Thorogood supplied more than classic rock sounds on this night – he also showed a heartfelt, human side backstage before the show. There he met a group of Villagers for Veterans, including Sgt. Pam Kelly, who became a quadriplegic in 2002 after being injured on active duty.
Villagers for Veterans, led by Marie Bogdonoff, is currently raising money to build Kelly a “smart house” in The Villages. The Thorogood concert was promoted by Joe and Fatima Bamford of Get Off The Bus concerts to help raise funds for Kelly.
Turns out Kelly and Thorogood are kindred rock and roll spirits.
“I love loud, rock music,” Kelly said backstage. “It’s awesome to be here with George Thorogood.”
Thorogood was impressed with Kelly. He walked up to her wheelchair and presented Kelly with a white wristband he wears on stage.
Kelly, who only has movement in one hand, asked Thorogood to put it on. He made a move like it was a wedding ceremony, “but I’m already married,” Thorogood cracked with a smile.
“(You are) great – I want you to have this,” Thorogood told Kelly. “It was given to me by Eric Clapton – just kidding.”
It was a truly, tender moment shared by a hard-rocking guitar icon with a courageous young woman. Thorogood also autographed a guitar that was raffled off to raise more money for Kelly’s home.
“This all means so much to me,” she said.
Darlene Drazenovich, another wounded Army veteran who lives in The Villages, also met with Thorogood backstage. “George is just like his music – high energy and a lot of fun.”
It was that way on stage at The Sharon.
Thorogood and the Destroyers – Bill Blough, bass; Jim Suhler, guitar; Buddy Leach, saxophone and Jeff Simon on drums kept the intense rock and roll fire burning throughout the nearly two-hour concert.
Right off the bat, the band proved rock and roll never forgets when Thorogood and the Destroyers ripped into “Rock Party,” which sounded something like Chuck Berry on steroids.
Next up on the Hall of Fame influences parade was a scorching Bo Diddley tribute on “Who Do You Love.”
“Someone’s going to go to jail tonight,” Thorogood said between songs, “and it might as well be me.”
That set the stage for some vintage Thorogood bar rock on “I Drink Alone.” More rocking boozing came forth on “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.”
“This is the hangover from hell,” said Thorogood, wearing his trademark black shirt and slacks, with sunglasses and a lightly colored bandanna. Early on, during one of his Hendrixized guitar solos, he flipped the shades off his eyes and onto the floor.
Turns out George digs The Villages.
“The Villages is Florida’s best-kept secret,” he said. Then he encouraged people to rise from their seats: “Where’s the dance floor here? I know you want to dance.”
The people stood and cheered throughout Thorogood’s trademark number, “Bad to the Bone.” He rocked steady on “Ride On Josephine,” which harked back to the ’60s with a Canned Heat blues sound.
Thorogood then paid tribute to Johnny Cash with rousing version of “Cocaine Blues.”
“I dedicate this song to a great American: Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash,” Thorogood said. “I had the pleasure of meeting them. You know what? They thought I was a cool guy. I am.”
Another big influence was the Rolling Stones.
“Back when I was starting out in the ’60s, we had a dream,” Thorogood shouted to the revved-up audience. “We all looked up to a cat – I think it was Keith Jagger or Mick Richards, I can’t remember – and he helped make that dream come true.”
Thorogood and The Destroyers offered a hard, Stones’ sound on “Get A Haircut,” as Thorogood pranced about and made faces like Jagger.
“George puts everything into his music: blues, country, rock and whatever else – and he makes it his own,” said Sandy Wilson, who drove down from Jacksonville with her husband, Rocky, to see the concert. “We’ve been going to his shows for 25 years and George Thorogood never gets old.”
Tony Violanti is a veteran journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.