One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer — (Approximately) Five Paragraphs on a Five Star Song

(one man’s attempt to better understand the music that moves him…)

artist: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
track: One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer
album: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
year: 1977
runtime: 8:26


This is a song with homes in three different decades. In 1953, Rudy Toombs wrote One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer, and Amos Milburn performed it. It charted and stuck around for fourteen weeks. A decade later, in 1966, John Lee Hooker took the song apart and put it back together as One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. Altering the order of the verses, he created a new song from the bones of the old, creating a spoken storyline, and shifted Milburn’s jump blues song to a southside shuffle. And then again, another decade later, George Thorogood grabbed Hooker’s version and mashed it up with another of Hooker’s tunes — House Rent Boogie — creating an epic blue-collar story of misdirection, mistrust, dissolution, lies, drunkenness, and the most practical of all solutions: how to create short-term amnesia three alcohol units at a time.

Flow, Mood and Feel:

Thorogood and his Delaware Destroyers made the song all their own whilst simultaneously providing an homage to the great John Lee Hooker. Lyrically, Thorogood tips his hat to Hooker from back to front, remaining true to the legend’s words and phrasing. Musically, the structure of the songs remain mostly the same, though Thorogood does amp up the speed to a much faster pace — despite the fact that the finally constructed song clocks in at a whopping eight and a half minutes.

This song is insistent and demanding — I imagine that the Destroyers were in fine cardio shape during the live tour of this song and other contemporaneous album material: despite the boozy subject matter of this song, playing this song requires a not-insubstantial amount of stamina.

Grace Notes:

The lyrics are Twain and Steinbeck and America. “I’m outdoors.” “That don’t confront me.” The phrasing is true to Hooker’s original vernacular, and of an age we inhabit no longer.

The two songs don’t hand off the baton delicately to each other, or even making a show of any sort of mesh — rather, they tear apart at 3:35, when Thorogood unceremoniously dumps all memories of his landlady/lover, his precarious financial situation, his homelessness and his recent loss of at least one good friend, and focuses completely on his new muse: the bartender. And also, of course, the three glasses of concoctions he repetitively demands to be set before him.

When to listen to this song:

When you’re weighing the pros and cons of renting your in-law unit to a musician who is dating your niece.

Like what you read? Give Alex Clemens a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.