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How sweet it is 

From the raunchy wail of his slide guitar to his gutsy, truck full-o'-sugary-gravel voice, George Thorogood is a musical icon, a man who embodies the enduring link between the blues and rock 'n' roll. And his new album, Ride 'Til I Die, is standard-issue Thorogood --- simple, straight-ahead, rockin' blues.

            "Technically, I learned the blues," he says. "But emotionally, I rock." Thorogood is one of those rare artists whose albums actually capture his incendiary live show energy. And Thorogood's live shows are relentless, no-frills, barn-burning hootenannies.

"That's always been the idea since day one," he says. On stage, Thorogood slinks with the menacing swagger of a panther one minute before prancing about like Little Richard the next. He is truly one of the last great song-and-dance men.

"It's all a matter of schooling," he says from a left-coast tour stop. "I grew up a fan of The J. Geils Band. I've always had a spot in my heart for exuberant performers like Jackie Wilson, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis." He loves their music as well, covering many roots classics while penning his own in that style.

            "Whether you create a song or cover a song," he says, "there're two roads to go: reality or fantasy. The real world is probably a song like 'Long Gone' and then there's the fantasy like 'Bad To The Bone.' 'One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,' that's reality. I mean, everybody's had rent problems. Everyone's had romantic problems."

George Thorogood and The Destroyers have been prowling around for 25 years, keeping it up for new generations. Besides the veritable rock 'n' roll history lesson you get at Thorogood's shufflin' feet via his Diddley-Hooker-Muddy-Berry beat, he preaches fun.

"A lot of the youngsters come up and have never seen that, can't identify with it, or even care to acknowledge it," he says. "And that's kinda sad. It's a lost art." An art that moved a young George with one defining moment.

"When I saw John Hammond play for the first time, all I could think about was 'that's what I want to do some day,'" he says. "'I wanna make people feel the way he's makin' me feel right now.' He was rockin' the blues. He was putting all kinds of energy and spirit behind it that was like something I had never seen before. It was really wild and electric and exciting to me."

Thorogood's appeal is wide reaching. Fans of the blues, classic rock, blue-eyed soul, and good 'ol rock 'n' roll wind up getting down with Lonesome George.

"The majority of our audiences are women," he says, laughing. "I'm just like Dean Martin and Tom Jones." But he also acknowledges the beer-swillin', bike-ridin', fist-pumpin' dudes who love him. "Aw, I can't live without my brothers."

Thorogood's rock 'n' roll is pure bravado. It's drenched in blue-collar sweat and machismo. It is the cock-sure swagger of the hero. It is the howl of a man, spelled M-A-N. Or rather, T-H-O-R-O-G-O-O-D.

"It's tongue-in-cheek, man," he says. "I mean, I'm a regular guy." But he still sounds rough and tough and mean, in that classic Hollywood bad-ass kinda way.

            "WeIl, I've always been a Lee Marvin fan," he says.

George Thorogood And The Destroyers, Space Trucker, The Coupe de Villes, and Tom Hambridge play Sunday, May 18, at Highland Bowl, startng at 12 p.m. Tix: $8-$10. www.lilacfestival.com.

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