By Denise DePaolo, Managing Editor
It’s the Sioux Falls music festival that transcends generations and musical tastes. JazzFest kicks off Thursday, July 17 at Yankton Trail Park. For the twenty-third summer, Sioux Falls Jazz and Blues is bringing big names to South Dakota’s largest city for three days of free music. While JazzFest features a vast array of musical genres each year, the festival lineup (particularly at the top of the bill) has skewed toward the rock end of the spectrum as it’s evolved, with headliners like Sheryl Crow, Joe Walsh and this year, George Thorogood and the Destroyers.
Thorogood kicked off his 40th Anniversary Tour in February. In a recent phone conversation with the legendary rocker (famous for hits like Bad to the Bone and I Drink Alone), he began by explaining that The Destroyers have played countless jazz, blues and country festivals, which shows it’s rock ‘n’ roll that speaks to the masses.
GT: We did a blues festival in Canada, and the headliners were Steve Miller, then the next night it was Pat Benatar and then George Thorogood and the Destroyers – none of which are known for playing blues. They’re all on rock classic radio. So that’s my point, Denise. When they brought Sheryl Crow in, they knew what they were doing. They were going to bring in the rock audience. That’s what works. That’s what runs the world. How did Bill Clinton get in the White House? Rock the Vote.
DD: I guess one could argue that all those genres have similar roots, so a lot of people are going to enjoy all of it.
GT: I think rock music is the last word in roots music. It all started with spirituals and then blues and then jazz, country music. Then the early days of rock ‘n’ roll where it was country music or blues music – just played faster with interesting lyrics. So I can see how you’d have Jimi Hendrix close a jazz festival, because he’s a combination of everything.
DD: What have you been listening to lately?
GT: I got a lot of stuff. I’m a Marty Robbins freak. I’ve been listening to him often. I listen to a lot of things. I listen to music for all sorts of reasons – ideas and old hits and things like that. I was recently turned on to Jack Johnson. He’s pretty good. I like his sound.
DD: What’s going to surprise people about this tour?
GT: Nothing, I hope. That’s the shock I want to lay on ‘em. That we can still deliver. I don’t think people who come to see us play are looking for surprises. I think they’re looking for something they can bank on. Something reliable. Like when people go to a restaurant and they say ‘Give me a cold Budweiser and the best burger you’ve got.’ I think that’s the kind of act we have. We’re not about surprising our audience. We’re about delivering.
DD: What does it mean to you that people are still turning out to hear you play after all these years?
GT: It means I can make a living. I’m still active. But when I go out there, I’m still pinching myself. After all this time, these people are liking these songs more than they ever have. That’s something that really grabs me by the throat – that I get to do this every night.
DD: What’s your secret formula for creating songs that stand the test of time?
GT: I don’t know that there’s a secret formula for it. When you start making music, you don’t know if it’s going to be timeless. You keep on moving. But there are avenues that have helped out. Things like rock classic radio, for instance, which has pretty much kept rock alive since 1990. Those mothers and fathers heard the songs when they first came out, then there’s their kids who grew up on rock classic radio who heard it secondhand – but it turns them on just as much. Anything that’s good is going to last. But let me put it this way – a young woman was interviewing Ray Charles and asked him whether there were any classics on his new album. He said, ‘I don’t know. Ask me in 25 years.’ And he had a point. You don’t know that until time goes on. We’re very fortunate. We don’t have one or two. We have half a dozen in our show that people have just gotta hear. As far as a formula, I don’t know. And anyone who tells you they do know – unless it’s Paul McCartney – I put my tongue in my cheek and take it with a grain of salt.
DD: Do you get sick of playing the old songs?
GT: When we created The Destroyers and started working on material, all the material we did was always for the fans. Don’t get me wrong, I have to like the song myself. You can’t fake it. But it was like making a menu for a restaurant and saying ‘These are the songs our fans are going to go for.’ It wasn’t designed for my personal musical satisfaction, but it coincidentally falls under the kind of music I love and love to play.
DD: Any message for folks planning to attend JazzFest?
GT: Wear a safety belt in the car on the way to the show and on the way home. The idea is when the show’s over, everyone gets home safe.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers take the stage Friday, July 18 at 9:30. For more information about JazzFest and performers, click here.