George Thorogood makes a bold proclamation midway through our interview: "I'm the Indiana Jones of rock 'n' roll."

He qualifies it further, adding, "I’m the rock 'n' roll archaeologist. I’m digging up these archives that nobody even knows they exist." In his eyes, "There's a difference." While others simply do cover songs in Thorogood's view, he and his longtime band, the Destroyers, have a different aim. From their earliest days, they wanted to put their own stamp and identity on the songs they were recording.

The result is a career spanning more than 50 years, powered by Thorogood's versions of songs like "Move It on Over," "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," "Who Do You Love" and his own compositions. Thorogood has written plenty of his own stuff, beginning with his signature hit "Bad to the Bone."

He'll have his catalog on prominent display when he hits the road this summer with John Fogerty. "We've got new ideas coming every day, Thorogood quips. "All of my ideas that are new, I stole from Willie Nelson."

Thorogood discussed Nelson and plenty more with Ultimate Classic Rock Nights host Matt Wardlaw.

What is one of your good Willie Nelson stories?
We were doing the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary tribute, which I got invited to. I shared a dressing room with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe my name was on the thing. G.E. Smith brought me in and said, “Here’s your dressing room.” I said, “Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson? That’s who I’m going to be in the same room with?” He looked at me and he smiled and he winked and said, “The outlaws.” So during that time, when you’re in the room with those three individuals, if you talk to Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, you’re gonna get it in stereo. Kris is a pretty regular guy. Willie’s whole conversation is “hello,” “good afternoon” and “goodnight.” He’s not a snob, he just doesn’t talk! He’s just not a verbal guy like Johnny Cash is.

I had this guitar that I had all of my heroes — people I always worked with in some way or fashion — sign the guitar. I brought it to get Johnny to sign it. Now, Willie Nelson happened to be in the room. Years before that, I shot a video with Hank Williams Jr. called “All My Rowdy Friends are Coming Over Tonight.” Hank invited all of these big stars — Cheech & Chong, Waylon Jennings, Dickey Betts — and he brought in Willie Nelson. We all shared the same trailer. So I went up to Willie in New York and I gave him a pen and said, “I want you to sign my guitar.” He stood there for a second, like, not getting ready to sign it. I said, “Don’t you remember me?” He said, “Should I?” He knew who I was, that’s not what I mean. I said, “Well, years ago we did a video and I shared a trailer with you. It was Dickey Betts, you and Waylon Jennings. We were in it off and on for two hours. You were right in there.” He said, “Well, why didn’t you speak to me?” My answer was, “A rookie isn’t supposed to speak!” You know what he said?

READ MORE: When Bob Dylan Joined the Massive '30th Anniversary Concert Celebration'

What did he say?
He said, “You’re right, give me the pen. I’ll sign your guitar.” You see, because I had done the right thing. These are not lightweight people. These are the heaviest cats in the world. I was the rookie and rookies don’t speak! That’s it. Period. Now, keeping Thorogood shut up, that’s a miracle! [Laughs]

How did you prepare for that Bob Dylan tribute?
You’ve got to understand something. People have said, “When you heard about it, when you got there, were you prepared?” I said, “Motherfucker, I’ve been preparing for this since I was 15! Since I first heard "Like a Rolling Stone." Are you out of your mind? Of course I prepared!” [Laughs]

How did it feel?
It felt like you were celebrating your birthday, Christmas Day and the first day you get out of school for summer vacation. Bob Dylan wanted me to come there. Are you out of your mind? [Laughs] I only had to change my underwear two or three times all night. I’ll give you a real funny story. I went up and did “Wanted Man,” which Bob Dylan wrote for Johnny Cash. I had to go on after Stevie Wonder, who did “Blowin in the Wind.” I kept going on and on about how thrilled I was to be part of it, and Tom Petty, George Harrison, he’s one of the Beatles and so on. I’m going crazy. Finally, Kris Kristofferson, he’s a great guy, he’s got that great voice. He brought me down to Earth. He goes, “George, look, I know you’re excited about this. But don’t read too much into it. You went on after Stevie Wonder. Which we said, ‘Thorogood’s the only one dumb enough to go on after Stevie Wonder!’” I filled that gap that nobody else wanted to do. So I said, “It’s better to be in the king’s presence and have people throw you scraps than being in the gutter and have somebody throw you champagne.”

Watch George Thorogood Perform 'Wanted Man'

You performed "Wanted Man" at the Dylan tribute. I think that's what people have always appreciated about you. You go for the deeper cuts.
You know, when I started, Matt, the well of going for obscure material by our idols, such as Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, the well was almost dry. The Rolling Stones depleted that. So did the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and J. Geils Band and John Hammond. There were very few things ... I said, "I have to get a song by Chuck Berry that nobody knows, or one by Bo Diddley." I really had to do some research, because there weren’t too many left. “It Wasn’t Me” was one of them. Chuck Berry didn’t even remember recording it.

I think, but I’m not quite sure, but I think the band backing him up when he did it was the Butterfield Blues Band or members of that group. So I selected that on purpose. I wanted our band to have our own identity with the material that we chose. You see, I don’t do covers. What I do is obscure material. There’s a difference. Joe Cocker does covers. Linda Ronstadt does covers. George Thorogood does obscure material.

READ MORE: George Thorogood Releases the Career-Defining 'Bad to the Bone'

You're hitting the road with John Fogerty this summer. What do you recall about discovering John's music back in the day?
I first heard Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio. On that same day was the first night that I was introduced to Led Zeppelin. I heard those two bands within 48 hours. I couldn’t decide which one was better than the other. That’s how great Creedence was. Of course, Led Zeppelin changed the world. But I heard them both at the same time. It’s like you’re having Miss America and you have Jane Fonda and Jessica Lange both competing. What do you say? You’re stuck!

There's footage of you and Fogerty at a baseball game together in the '80s. When did you both form that bond?
Well, it was by coincidence. He was very reclusive at the time. No one knew where he was or what he was doing. Somebody got a phone number for his office. But it wasn’t John’s number. It was his brother Bob’s number. I called without knowing that. Of all things, John just happened to be walking through the office at that moment. He picked up the phone and I said, “Hi, my name is George Thorogood. I’d like to speak to John Fogerty.” This very high voice said, “This is John.” So I went, “Well, I’m George Thorogood.” He goes, “Hey, I know all about you. You’re the greatest bluesman in the world. You’re the white blues guy, you’re the Jackie Robinson of blues. You broke the color line.”

That was the first thing he said to me. So then we struck up a mutual thing about music. At that time, both of us were extreme baseball freaks and we made that connection. Now, that was just a bonus to it all. He took me to a ballgame and we went to a couple of games. We got to know each other. Things went well. We’ve worked together before in different ways. He asked for us on the next leg of his tour. He was a bit confused as far as why over the years, I didn’t continue the relationship. Well, John started his life all over again. He remarried and had a child and relocated where he lived. I didn’t want to bother him, Matt. Plus, it’s John Fogerty! It’s not just anybody. So I wouldn’t say we drifted apart. We were still, both of us, in each other’s hearts and each other’s minds. I was just giving him some space. If I pick up the phone with John Fogerty, I’m not going to hang it up!

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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso

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