Saturday, March 25th, 2017

2120 So. Michigan Ave

George Thorogood and the Destroyers              
2120 South Michigan Avenue
(Capitol, 2011)

Like many young men, George Thorogood had an almost religious experience the first time he heard a single on the Chess label. Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, and other blues men and early rock ‘n’ rollers inspired Thorogood to pick up a guitar himself. He repays his debt to the Chess Brothers and their legendary roster here with an album that’s named after the address of the building Chess Records occupied during their glory days in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.

2120 South Michigan Avenue is programmed like a live set; one song stops and another starts without much more than a second of silence between tracks. This keeps the energy up, and while a recording can’t ever capture the mania of a live Thorogood show, this gives you an idea of what to expect when you do see him in concert: Good tunes from the classic rock song bag played with plenty of passion and little artifice. Thorogood and Destroyers company—Billy Blough on bass, drummer Jeff Simon, guitarist Jim Suhler, and sax man Buddy Leach—are all first-rate musicians, and Thorogood himself is a formidable lead guitarist, but they don’t grandstand or play any extended solos here. They keep things basic, and plow through the tunes at a breakneck pace.

Thorogood’s too smart to try to reproduce the original Chess sound or to mimic the arrangements of Berry, Dixon, Diddley, and all. He just plays them like he plays everything else, with intense energy and a diabolical attitude that lets the chips fall where they may. On Tommy Tucker’s “High Heel Sneakers”, originally on the Chess subsidiary Checker, Thorogood lets special guest Buddy Guy add most of the fills until the closing bars, where they trade brief solos. “Seventh Son”, “Mama Talk To Your Daughter”, and Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” are all taken at blistering tempos with Thorogood’s slashing leads shooting off enough sparks to start a forest fire. “Bo Diddley” gives Jeff Simon a chance to show of his syncopated percussion technique with Thorogood adding a little reverb to his solos for a nod to the Diddley original.

Charlie Musselwhite, another Chess Records acolyte, steps in to blow some breezy harp on Little Walter’s “My Babe”, played as a relaxed shuffle. He’s also featured on the band’s cover of the Rolling Stones’ instrumental “2120 South Michigan Avenue”, where he slips into some moaning, late night Chicago fills to complement Thorogood’s staccato guitar work.

Thorogood completes his tribute with two originals he wrote for the album with producer Tom Hambridge. “Going Back” opens the set with Thorogood and the Destroyers laying down a relentless boogie beat augmented by Thorogood’s slide guitar. “Willie Dixon’s Gone” is a solid blues rocker in the Thorogood tradition written by Thorogood himself and Hambridge with the help of Nashville songwriter Richard Flemming. The tune includes the line, “Blues ain’t blues since Willie Dixon’s gone”, but despite his lyrical protestation, Thorogood proves the music of the masters is still alive and well in the capable hands of himself and his band.

Watch The Official 2120 South Michigan Ave EPK 

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Thorogood tribute album honors Chess

The best tribute records are those that take a lifetime to make.

George Thorogood’s “2120 South Michigan Avenue” is one of those records. Due out Tuesday on Capitol Records, the project sweats with rock, soul and sincerity.

Thorogood and his band the Destroyers pay homage to the historic Chess site by covering Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son,” Chuck Berry’s “Let it Rock” and Jimmy Rogers’ “Chicago Bound,” all recorded at Chess. When Thorogood was a teenager in Delaware he purchased his first Rolling Stone LP, “12 X 5,” portions of which were recorded at Chess in June 1964.

“I wrote to Chess, they sent me a catalog with a list of all their songs and my life was changed,” Thorogood said in an interview from Los Angeles. “I had seen Howlin’ Wolf on ‘Shindig’ (the popular television show), so I bought his record. They had a thing in there with 2120 South Michigan Ave. Through that I ordered a bunch of records. I read in a Rolling Stone interview where Keith Richards said that’s what Mick Jagger did when he was the same age, 16, 17.”

Jacqueline Dixon, executive director of the foundation that owns and operates the Chess building, recalled one of Thorogood’s several colorful visits.

“He popped in at Chess and called my mom [the widow of Chess legend Willie Dixon],” she recalled during a conversation at the studio. “He said, ‘Hang up the phone and call me right back. Because he wanted to answer the phone and say, ‘Chess Records’ ”

The “Bad to the Bone” singer first visited the Chess building in 1981.

“At that time there were tons of closed jewelry stores and pawn shops,” he said. “Most of them were boarded up. Chess had a chain link fence around it. I couldn’t get in. I was telling people in Chicago, ‘Do you know what this is? It is Chess Records. Everybody in Memphis knows what Sun Records is!’ And no one in Chicago knew Chess.

“This was a place that changed the world. This is where Chuck Berry recorded ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ Rock ’n’ roll is a social phenomena. ‘Roll Over Beethoven,’ ‘Bo Diddley,’ that’s the stuff the Beatles grew up on. Paul Butterfield was listening to it in Chicago. And people in Chicago did not know this. That’s like standing next to the Empire State Building and not knowing who King Kong is.

“I was so thrilled when they made it a museum. It’s an amazing contribution to American culture.”

On Thorogood’s most recent visit, in 2007, he let his then-9-year-old daughter Rio play the Hammond B-3 organ which the Stones used on the “2120 South Michigan” instrumental track on “12 X 5,” which Thorogood updated with blues harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite. Dixon said her family acquired the organ when they purchased the building.

“My daughter started playing ‘Hey Jude,’ ” Thorogood said. “I thought, ‘That’s perfect. My daughter got to play at 2120 before me.’ When we play at the House of Blues [on Aug. 20], we will try to do some promotion from the studio.”

Capitol Records approached Thorogood with the Chess concept.

“I didn’t have a record deal,” he said. “We made some noise with ‘The Dirty Dozen’ [Capitol, 2009], and that had a Howlin’ Wolf song called ‘Tail Dragger,’ which I had been listening to since 1970. I always thought ‘Tail Dragger’ was a song that would have been great for Led Zeppelin. We gave it a good rock treatment and kids started buying it. Capitol took notice and said, ‘This is a Chess thing. We need a whole album of this stuff.’ A combination of Chess and Capitol? That’s two icons. How can we go wrong?”

Thorogood combed the entire Chess catalog between 1947 and 1968.

“It wasn’t as easy as people might think,” he said. “I had already cut 20 to 25 songs that had previously been recorded at Chess. We dug pretty deep. I wouldn’t have pulled it off without our guitarist Jim Suhler, who can play anything.”

Buddy Guy guests on “High Heel Sneakers,” a Tommy Tucker song Guy originally recorded for Chess, although he was best known for his seminal work with Cobra. “2120 South Michigan Avenue” producer Tom Hambridge produced Guy’s 2010 Grammy-winning “Living Proof” record.

“I saw Buddy playing without Junior Wells at Antone’s around 1977 in Austin,” Thorogood recalled. “He led off with ‘High Heel Sneakers,’ and I always thought of it as a teenybopper thing. He played it and it sounded like Chuck Berry playing rhythm, Jimi Hendrix on lead and Wilson Pickett singing. I later found out Buddy and Junior recorded it as a single. [It appears on their 1981 Alligator release “Alone and Acoustic.]

“I found the original cut, and it don’t sound like Danny and the Juniors.”

Thorogood’s record kicks off with the Thorogood-Hambridge original “Going Back,” a sizzling blues-rock tribute to the Chess legacy:

“Ooh take me to the South Side baby/Blues turned into gold, R&B turned into rock

“Magic was made behind those walls/Cadillacs lined the block….”

The tune closes out with snappy salutes to Little Walter, Bo Diddley and even the Blues Brothers.

“I had to bring in Jake and Elwood,” Thorogood said. “They helped the blues movement in their own way. That has to be recognized. That song is a good way to lead off the record.”

(BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter/dhoekstra@suntimes.com July 7, 2011)

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George Thorogood, ‘Going Back’ – Song Review

By Matt Wardlaw 

George Thorogood is stepping way back to salute his influences from the legendary Chess Records roster with ‘Going Back,’ the lead single from a brand new album, ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue’ set for release on July 12.

‘Going Back’ works well as an overview of what we can expect, a project outline of sorts that finds Thorogood name-checking many of his heroes with rapid fire precision as the final seconds of the song run out.

“Howlin’ Wolf / Sonny Boy Williamson / Muddy ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ Waters / Little Walter / Chuck Berry / ’Big Bad’ Bo Diddley / Rolling Stones / Jake and Elwood.’  It was via the Rolling Stones that Thorogood discovered the Chess Records family of artists, when he heard the Stones instrumental ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue’ on their album ‘12 x 5.’  The name struck a chord with Thorogood, who investigated by sending a letter to that address, which he had discovered was the home of Chess Records. Once he received their catalog of artists in the mail, his musical path was forever altered.

“From 1956 to 1965 / Mississippi Delta found a home / On Chicago’s deep south side.”  From the opening moments of ‘Going Back,’ you can hear the emotional investment that Thorogood has with the music of Chess Records. There’s an extra bit of punch behind the casual looseness of Thorogood’s vocal that immediately indicates that he’s all in for this project. This ain’t no record label-suggested move to sell some records.

“I’m going back to the Windy City / I’m going back to the nitty gritty / Back to the South Side sound / Where it all went down.” The brash junkyard dog feel of Thorogood’s vocals meld with some of the dirtiest guitar riffs that he and the Destroyers have put down on record in years. In other words, this stuff is less ‘Get A Haircut’ and more of the ‘Move It On Over,’ ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’ quality.

“You walk down the back alley / Oh no no no no, not that alley over there / You still hear those voices sing / Takes you back in time/ Back when the blues was king.” Thorogood takes us around the backstreets, down the secret passageways of roads that are less traveled, but loaded with history. Conversing with his guitar, Thorogood cautiously points out the nooks and crannies that are best left alone.

Hearing ‘Going Back’ as a preview, it’s reasonably safe to say that we can expect good things from the forthcoming ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue’ record. Thorogood has delivered one of his best singles in years and it’s a toe tappin’ juke joint bustin’ good time, a mood that will hopefully hold true for the rest of the album.  

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Thorogood’s new CD one of his finest

Chess Records has been called America’s premiere blues label.  Not without reason.  Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson all called the label home.  So too did Etta James, Buddy Guy, Little Walter and a host of other legendary players.  The artists who recorded for Chess Records, in the 1950’s and 60s, influenced the careers of countless other artists on both sides of the Atlantic.  Blues rocker George Thorogood was one of them.  Thorogood was influenced by several Chess artists, most notably Waters, Hooker and Chuck Berry.

He’s acknowledged the influence Chess Records had on him on several of his records, starting with his debut album in 1977.  That record included cuts by both Elmore James and Bo Diddley.  In all.  Thorogood has recorded 18 Chess Records covers, three of which appeared on his 2009 record The Dirty Dozen.  But he’s never before paid tribute to the label to the extent he does on his latest record, 2120 South Michigan Avenue.

This prime-plus offering, which takes its name from the street address of Chess Records in Chicago, features 10 classic songs Thorogood pulled from the label’s extensive catalogue.

Those tracks are augmented by two originals penned by Thorogood and a cranked up cover of the Nanker Phelge instrumental 2120 South Michigan Ave. which was immortalized on The Rolling Stones’ 12 X 5 record in 1964.

Thorogood’s originals include Going Back, which pays homage to the home of Chess Records, and Willie Dixon’s Gone, a fitting tribute to the man who gave us such blues classics as Hoochie Coochie Man, Back Door Man, I Ain’t Superstitious, Spoonful and The Seventh Son, two of which Thorogood serves up on this record.

Produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Tom Hambridge – who also shares the writing credit for both Thorogood originals here – this set is easily of the finest records Thorogood has made in some time.  I credit that in part to the fact Chess Records and the artists who recorded there have a very special place in his heart.

In the liner notes for the record he describes Chess as being the source of much of his musical education.  “That was my school, the college that I had to learn my trade in,” Thorogood wrote. “I had to figure out how these people did these things.”  And as this record clearly attests, he did indeed figure things out.

Thorogood is in fine form throughout the record.  His vocal work has seldom sounded better and his guitar is smokin’.  Longtime back-up band The Destroyers also seem to be in their happy place.

Thorogood could have easily carried this record on his own but he chose to call up two old friends, guitarist Buddy Guy and legendary harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite.  Both, to no one’s surprise, brought something worthwhile to the table.  Guy lends his talents to the Robert Higginbotham (Tommy Tucker) chestnut Hi-Heel Sneakers, while Musselwhite blows some serious notes on Willie Dixon’s My Babe and the record’s title track.  Would love to hear this one played live.

Choice cuts on this set include Hi-Heel Sneakers, Spoonful, Seventh Son, Mama Talk o Your Daughter and Going Back.  And if you buy the vinyl version of this recording you get a bonus track, Sweet Little Rock And Roller.  (Rating 4 out of 5 stars)

Doug Gallant

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George Thorogood & the Destroyers – 2120 South Michigan Avenue

In 2009, George Thorogood and his long-time band the Destroyers put together The Dirty Dozen, an odd album that comprised of a handful of new recordings and never before heard material from the band’s archive. Among the new tracks that Thorogood recorded for the album was a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Tail Dragger.” The song must have captured the imagination of somebody in the executive suites at Capitol Records, because they asked Thorogood for an entire album of Chess Records covers.

The project turned out to be one that was very close to the blues-rock guitarist’s heart. As a teen, Thorogood heard the Rolling Stones instrumental “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” named for the address of Chess Records in Chicago, and wrote the label asking for a catalog. The music that Thorogood would discover on Chess directly influenced his choice to get into music, and had shaded and shaped his career ever since. Naming his Chess Records tribute album 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Thorogood and band rip and roar through songs originally recorded by such reknown artists as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and others.

George Thorogood’s 2120 South Michigan Avenue

Thorogood’s “Going Back,” written with producer/musician Tom Hambridge, opens 2120 South Michigan Avenue with a bang. With a raunchy boogie-blues vibe and Texas-styled, Z.Z. Top guitar riffing, Thorogood sings “from 1956 to 1965, Mississippi Delta found a home on Chicago’s deep South Side.” From this point the lyrics pay homage to, and name check such Chess Records greats as Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and others, including Jake and Elwood blues, as Thorogood’s rhythm guitar paints wide swaths of color upon which guitarist Jim Suhler adds his precision leads.

Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy, an invaluable Chess Records sideman who recorded a handful of sides for the label, lends his scorching six-string to the manic shuffle “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” a song Guy recorded for Chess in the 1950s. As the band builds a strong rhythmic backdrop, Guy yanks, spanks, and shreds his strings in a manner that Leonard Chess would most definitely not have approved as Thorogood delivers a fine, inspired vocal performance.

Let It Rock

Any discussion of Chess Records can’t ignore the contributions to the label by songwriter, producer, and session bassist Willie Dixon. A keen wordsmith, Dixon wrote hits for a multitude of Chess label artists (and more than a few for artists on the rival Cobra Records label). Thorogood and his crew tackle a number of Dixon numbers, beginning with the jaunty “Seventh Son.” The Destroyers crank it up here, with a rowdy, reckless rhythm driving Thorogood’s livewire vocals and Suhler’s soaring fretwork. Slowing it down to a malevolent, dull ache for Dixon’s “Spoonful,” the band falls into a deep groove, the rhythm embellished by Suhler’s dark-hued solos. Thorogood’s vocals are deeper and properly menacing, although they fall short of the Wolf’s larger-than-life growl.

Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” is a bona fide rock ‘n’ roll standard, the song banged out by garage bands and arena rockers alike for better than five decades now. This is the kind of blues-influenced, meat-and-potatoes rock that Thorogood and the Destroyers cut their eye teeth on, so they hit a mean lick here with a teetering, chaotic performance that jumps from your speakers and grabs you by the ears. By contrast, Bo Diddley‘s self-titled ode sounds downright exotic, with the infamous Diddley backbeat capturing the listener’s attention with its mesmerizing vibe. Again, Thorogood and the boys can do this kind of stuff in their sleep, and they create a truly joyous noise here, with shimmering guitars and dancing rhythms.

Willie Dixon’s Gone

The underrated J.B. Lenoir’s “Mama Talk To Your Daughter” is delivered as an up-tempo rocker with a shuffling rhythm and rapidfire vocals, Thorogood’s guitar rattling and buzzing like a downed power line as Suhler embroiders fiery solos throughout the ramshackle performance. Blues harp giant Charlie Musselwhite, who learned his craft at the feet of the Chess masters, brings his experience to bear on the Dixon-penned Little Walter hit “My Babe.” As Thorogood and the guys lay down a solid rhythmic backdrop, Musselwhite adds a few instrumental flourishes, jumping in for elegant solos that display his fluid mastery of the harmonica.

Another Thorogood/Hambridge original, “Willie Dixon’s Gone,” is an unabashed rocker with an autobiographical bent. Above a locomotive rhythm courtesy the Destroyers, assisted by Thorogood’s greasy slide-guitar, the singer remembers the good old days passed, deciding that the “the good times ain’t as good as they used to be, whiskey ain’t as strong, and the blues ain’t as blue since Willie Dixon’s gone.” If radio programmer had any ears, they’d put this one on the airwaves and make it a giant hit. Musselwhite sits in again for the sultry, Chicago-blues-by-way-of-London instrumental title track, layering his dancing harp notes above the guitars and Kevin McKendree’s rich B-3 organ riffs.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Thorogood’s 2120 South Michigan Avenue is the artist’s first full studio album since 2006’s acclaimed The Hard Stuff, and his best album since 1982’s Bad To The Bone first made him a star during the blues-rock boom of the 1980s. The two original songs here fit right in with the spirit and the energy of the Chess material, and Thorogood and the Destroyers tackle the cover songs with raw, gritty enthusiasm, resulting in inspired and loving performances that pay proper tribute to the artists that influenced the band members to get into music in the first place. Highly recommended for both Thorogood’s existing fans and newcomers that may want to know what the guitarist is all about. (Capitol/EMI Records, released July 12, 2011)

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