Q&A: George Thorogood on the Tragedy of Leukemia, Donating, and Live Aid

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George Thorogood doesn’t call donating money to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society “charity.” He calls it “a tragedy.”

The American boogie blues legend, whose albums have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide over four decades,  watched his father-in-law's successfil fight leukemia, a blood disease (he is now in remission).

On his Canadian and U.S. tours, he has been directing a dollar per ticket sold and 100 percent of net proceeds from a specially designed t-shirt to the two organizations whose aim is to  “cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.”

In the U.S. the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is the largest funder of cutting-edge research to advance cures and has invested more than $1.2 billion (USD) in research. In Canada, in 2017, alone, the LLS invested almost $7.4 million (CAD) — 4.1 million in innovative research and $3.3 million towards patient services and education — a 37 percent increase over 2016

While Thorogood would likely prefer to talk about his latest album, Party of One — at 68-years-old, his first-ever solo album (without his backing group The Destroyers) — he took time out while on tour to have a discussion with Samaritanmag about giving back, as well as what he remembers from performing at Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s dual-city famine relief concert Live Aid in the 80s.

It’s simple to add a dollar to your ticket price and direct it to a charity. Have you done that before?

Yes, many times. I don’t look at it as charity when you’re donating money to blood research for leukemia. I think that’s something that needs to be done. A charity might be raising money for playground equipment for children — that’s a charity. This is a disease that is killing people everyday and we need money for research, so I think charity might be a light word for it, with all due respect. Maybe we’re being charitable, but it’s anything but a charity.  It’s a tragedy is what it is.

How do you decide which society or organization you’re going to direct your funds to?

I won’t say it’s a coincidence that someone in our family was stricken with this disease, but they were going to do it anyway regardless of the situation with my father-in-law; they were going to set this up.  I’m talking about people who work with me. They were the ones who really got the ball rolling. I can’t take all the credit for this.

Do you ever visit the patients, visit the hospitals, and perform?

Oh no.  I don’t have the courage or the strength for something like that.  I do the gigs. I push the cause. We sell the t-shirts.  I do interviews, but if I did something like that it would have to be when I’m not touring because if I did I don’t think I would have the energy. I don’t know how it would go. It might inspire me to play better. It might scare me or shake me up so bad, I’m no good for the rest of the day.  I just want to raise the money and give it to the foundation and they spend it in a wise way.

What do you remember from performing on Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985? You’d been in the music business close to a decade by that time. Did you meet Bob Geldof and Midge Ure? 

I didn’t get a chance to meet Bob. He was busy. We were so busy that we had to get on stage and get off because there were hundreds of musicians and technicians backstage and there wasn’t room enough for all of them so we had to leave once we were done with the work, so I didn’t get a chance to meet him.

Of course, we all were part of the mission here. Why do it just one year right?  Do it every year. People are starving all over the world. It’s not just one country. It’s terrible. We never get anywhere. We don’t feed these people — let’s do it every year, you know?  All these people are flying a business; they got enough cars; they got enough boats; they can spare the time and the money.

Was Live Aid the eye-opener, the impact that you could have as a musician on these types of issues?

No, everybody felt that way all along. That’s why Bob probably did it. Everybody was aware of it. It was just trying to make a move and do it, in our own way. We’d played benefits before that, all over the country, our country anyway [America]. We didn’t get a chance to do it in Canada, but we did those kinds of things. So they put this thing together. It wasn’t like an eye-opening thing. People starving who need food, you know.  So there you have it.

Before the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, what have been the main causes you’ve supported?

Well I support all the causes. I just don’t have the time or the energy to do a benefit.

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.