By Larry Widen, Special to   Published May 29, 2015 at 11:06 AM

Not only is George Thorogood the undisputed king of bone-crunching guitar chords, he’s got a booming, sandpapery Noo Yawk voice that’s great for stopping a midtown Manhattan cab in its tracks. "Howayah," he said in our recent interview, leaving me to wonder if we were going to discuss rock and roll or the 50th state.

Thorogood, now in his 40th year of performing, exuded a youthful enthusiasm as he talked about racing down the rock highway with his foot firmly on the gas. The 64-year-old guitarist laughed when asked how he’s able to play high-voltage shows – such as the one coming up on Monday, June 8 at the Riverside Theater – night after night after all these years.

"Are you kidding me?" he says. "I save everything I’ve got for the shows. If you come to the dressing room, you’ll see that I’m horizontal right up until the last minute." Then, Thorogood says, he goes out and gives it everything he’s got. 

But with thousands of shows in his rear view mirror, an iconic song ("Bad to the Bone") to his credit and album sales topping 15 million worldwide, what does he need to prove? "Absolutely nothing," Thorogood says. "I just try and keep my feet on the ground … as opposed to going in the ground!" During our interview, Thorogood and I talked about his musical influences, opening for the Rolling Stones and more. Was there anyone in your life who encouraged you to follow your dream instead of taking the easier, safer way?

George Thorogood: Yes, there was. Me. I’m a very self-motivated person. By the time I was 15 years old, I’d heard John Lee Hooker’s "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," and I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And I actually did take the easy way, because I never had any doubt that I would be earning my living singing and playing the guitar. What I didn’t know was how successful I would become, the level I’d attain. I just knew that my place in the world was with music.

OMC: You’ve said that the Stones’ albums "12x5" and "Now!" were among your earliest influences.

GT: Those two albums were the first ones I ever bought. I loved them because here’s this band doing covers of obscure blues songs. I thought, "I can do this, so there’s hope for me!"

OMC: And right afterwards you discovered Bob Dylan and the Beatles?

GT: I did, and I looked at the Beatles, thinking, "These guys have it all. They’re free to do whatever they want." So to me, the Beatles represented freedom, Dylan represented the truth and the Stones represented hope.

OMC: You opened for the Rolling Stones on their 1981 tour. Did you get a chance to tell them what they meant to you?

GT: I tried, yeah. But they didn’t want to hear it. Mick, Keith ... they seemed kind of awkward with what I was saying, so I just left it alone. Then, 20 years later, I’ve got people telling me that I influenced them, and I was uncomfortable with that, so I finally understood how the Stones felt.

OMC: The opening riff of "Bad to the Bone" is instantly recognizable as a George Thorogood song.  There’s not a lot of musicians that can lay claim to having a signature sound.

GT: Keith Richards, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, myself ... it’s the unorthodox style of playing that sets us apart. Do you know why Keith Richards play the guitar like he does? It’s because that’s how he moves in real life. When you see him walk across the room, he moves like he’s onstage.

OMC: At a Milwaukee show in 1986, John Lee Hooker told the audience that George Thorogood stole the boogie from him.

GT: We ALL stole it from him, and he stole it from someone else. Chuck Berry once told me that there’s nothing new under the sun. We all understand the rules of this business.

OMC: Keith Richards said when you boil it all down, there’s really only one song.

GT: Exactly. It’s the player. John Lee told me he was nothing without his guitar. I said, "You got that backwards. That guitar is nothing without YOU. Until you pick it up and play it the way YOU play it, it’s just a block of wood."

OMC: I always appreciated that the Stones and other bands were forthcoming about where they got their inspiration, unlike say, Led Zeppelin, who didn't want to publicly acknowledge their influences.

GT: I don’t know, Zeppelin, maybe nobody ever asked them. When their stuff first came out, people were saying they’d never heard anything like that before. I’d say, "Well, then you never heard Robert Johnson, because that’s what this is ... Robert Johnson with a band."

OMC: When you wrote "Bad to the Bone," did you have any idea how big that song would become?

GT: No, because I wrote that song for Muddy Waters. I thought it was perfect for him. I’m bad to the bone? What could be better for Muddy? But he passed on it, so I gave it to Bo Diddley. He didn’t record it because he didn’t have a deal with a label at the time. Finally I recorded it myself, and eventually it turned into what it’s become. But you don’t think I would have loved to have one of those do it? I never saw it as a song for me. As for how successful it became, well, I don’t know why. I mean, there was no "Terminator 2" when I wrote it. Hell, there wasn’t even a "Terminator 1!"

OMC: What do you do when you’re not performing?

GT: I love movies.

OMC: Name a favorite.

GT: "King Kong." Not the Peter Jackson remake, but the original black and white version. I think it’s one of my favorites because it’s the first movie I ever saw. It’s a great story with great music, and it’s like a Greek tragedy. It was Beauty that killed the Beast. I love that.

OMC: You’re a baseball fan, too.

GT: Absolutely, and if you see him, tell Craig Counsell congratulations on being named manager of the Brewers for me. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

OMC: While we were talking, I was looking on eBay to see if there were any unusual George Thorogood items listed.

GT: And?

OMC: Best thing I could find was a pool cue that you signed in 2011.  It’s going for $75.  Do you recall signing that?

GT: A pool cue? 

OMC: In green ink.

GT: Well, I suppose I could have. I don’t know, I sign so much stuff (laughs). I can’t remember it all.

OMC: Anything you’d like to say about the show on June 8?

GT: You bet. Milwaukee, rock and roll never sleeps. It just passes out!