George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ Jeff Simon
Forty years ago he went electric with his guitar-slinging, blues-wailing childhood friend. Since then, millions of albums have been sold and as many miles traveled, and he’s still the unstoppable heartbeat of his good buddy’s band.
by Bob Girouard
Photo by Steve Jennings
A George Thorogood and the Destroyers concert is like a prize fight. At a recent show, the blues-and-boogie rocker came out swinging with a full-tilt assault of classic tracks. “Bad to the Bone,” “Move It on Over,” “Who Do You Love?,” “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”—with each immediately recognizable intro, everyone in attendance jumped up like the opening bell of a new round had been rung. And it’s clearly the audience that Thorogood and his steady musical companion, drummer Jeff Simon, are locked in on. “From day one,” the guitarist tells MD, “Jeff has kept us focused on what this thing is all about: the fans. Through the years Jeff has been the beat and the backbone of the Destroyers.”
The guitarist and drummer forged a bond in blues in Wilmington, Delaware, years before the young musicians would be able to order their own bourbon, scotch, or beer at the local watering hole. “I’ve known George since he was nine years old,” Simon explains. “We grew up together. He and my brother, Pete, who bought my first drumkit, were my two biggest influences. I’m not a technician, but I’ve learned a lot over the years simply by observing. Back then we studied Rolling Stones records, dissecting everything Charlie Watts played on the drums. For me he was and still is the guy.”
Turns out there’s more than meets the eye to that last statement. In 1981, Watts and company took the relatively unknown Destroyers out on tour with them, and when Thorogood’s Bad to the Bone album was released the next year, the band quickly became a permanent fixture on rock radio. But it was no overnight sensation. Ten years earlier, Thorogood, who’d already paid some serious dues playing acoustic blues on the bar circuit—when he wasn’t humping gear for Hound Dog Taylor—decided to get loud, and formed the Destroyers with Simon. “The two of us were literally living out of my van when we hit Boston and a blues club called Joe’s Place,” the drummer recalls. “George opened up for Brownie
McGhee and Sonny Terry, which lit the fuse to other connections and led to forming a trio and our first [self-titled] recording, which was released in 1977 on Rounder Records. Currently George is in the process of doing a solo acoustic album for the same label, so he’s coming back home, so to speak.”
The influence of pioneering blues drummers like Muddy Waters’ Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Bo Diddley’s Clifton James, James Cotton’s Kenny Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf’s S.P Leary is at the core of Simon’s playing; Little Feat’s late, great drummer, Richie Hayward, also left a lasting impression, in some very specific ways. “When we toured with the Feat in ’93,” Simon remembers, “I got to watch him every night. I incorporated splash cymbals into my setup because of him. He was also responsible for my viewing the drums as way more than just a timekeeper. He was just a gem as a human being as well.”
A sense of humanity permeates all the best R&B and blues music; according to Simon that really hit home for the Destroyers back in 1975, when the group opened a club date for Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers. “The most important thing that happened to us was gaining the encouragement and approval of those guys, [despite] the color of our skin. It wasn’t about race, it was about honesty.” Simon valued that experience, and today spends much of his downtime doing outreach work with the HART (Handy Artists Relief Trust) Fund, an arm of the Blues Foundation that provides resources for musicians in need.