Delaware-born blues rock veteran, George Thorogood, best known for the early 1980s hit, “Bad to the Bone,” tackles “Wang Dang Doodle.” The song is steeped in blues history, and Thorogood’s version strips it down to its roots.
The sound of George Thorogood & the Destroyers
In the early 1980s, it was difficult to turn on Music Television or rock radio without hearing George Thorogood & the Destroyers. The group’s razor-grinding guitar riffs, throaty saxophone lines and blues rhythms earned them ever-expanding audiences. Songs such as “Bad to the Bone”, “I Drink Alone”, and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” established Thorogood as a performer familiar with blues history.
“Bad to the Bone” is an original, and the video, with its depiction of a pool hall battle between Thorogood and blues great, Bo Diddley allows Thorogood to pay homage to not only the music, but also the people and lifestyle associated with blues music.
Thorogood has a 40-year history of playing blues-based rock music. As a result, when he tackles a blues classic, such as “Wang Dang Doodle,” it is worth noting.
History of “Wang Dang Doodle”
“Wang Dang Doodle” was written in the early 1960s. The phrase refers to a wild party thrown to welcome relatives and friends from the south, to Chicago (originally). Several versions of the song have been recorded. The most notable are ones by Koko Taylor (mid-1960s) and Z.Z. Hill. (1982). Arguably, the best version of the song is Taylor’s. However, I grew up hearing Hill’s take on the song.
To be performed properly, the singer needs a gravelly voice to convince audiences of the realities of the hard-partying scene. Further, a blues guitar line that practically dances as if it were a bass, is required. At its core, “Wang Dang Doodle” is a guitar-rich blues venture. The lyrics paint a picture of a newfound urban lifestyle and detail a certain kind of agency through culture for black Americans.
George Thorogood retraces musical history: “Wang Dang Doodle”
Performing without The Destroyers, Thorogood infuses his version of “Wang Dang Doodle” with thick, bluesy, acoustic guitar chords. His vocals are like that of blues performers from the early decades of the 20th century. The delivery is faster, and less clear than modern versions. A harmonica shoots through the song and gives it credence as a blues track, as if such were needed.
In Thorogood’s version, “Wang Dang Doodle” sounds less like a party invitation, and more like a recounting of what had been done in the past. The acoustic sound has a more rustic feel, like the work of a bluesman traveling by train, for example. Some listeners will miss the electric, brassy sound of some earlier versions, but that doesn’t detract from Thorogood’s work. More than 50 years later, Thorogood shows listeners where “Wang Dang Doodle” has come from, while also signaling the staying power of the blues.