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History of ZZ Top

Like their home state of Texas, ZZ Top combines rural primitivism and cityscape in a way that led to a perfect synthesis between provincial rock’n’roll and high technology.

In the late 1980s, when Forbes magazine published its list of the world’s highest-grossing celebrities in entertainment, only one rock group, U2, topped ZZ Top among the top earners. However, they managed to stay away from the rock’n’roll public circus and remained immune to the “rock messiah” syndrome that usually haunts other artists. They’ve toured the entire planet in nearly thirty years, although they’ve never been far from their southern base in North America for long periods of time, and the description someone wrote of them when they first started, “that little old band from Texas,” still fits the bill. the glove.

Billy Gibbons, who was a graphics student, began playing guitar in The Moving Sidewalks, a psychedelic “garage” band in the 1960s whose debut single, “99th Floor”, was a chart-topper. The Texas charts lasted five weeks in 1967. Dusty mountain and Frank Beard, meanwhile, graduated from The American Blues, a Dallas band best known for dyeing their hair blue more than anything else. The three met in 1970, and the pact they made then has stood the test of time with overwhelming solidity. Apart from a brief guitar accompaniment by a stranger on one of their first albums, the three men provided themselves with every last note and rhythm, even if it was to learn to play the saxophone or lead a three-piece metal section, as it also occurs in some songs of their Degüello album. They never enriched their live performances with extra musicians and never recorded or played with other bands.

Their manager and producer since day one has been Bill Ham, a nonconformist Texan whose management style closely resembles Led Zeppelin’s first manager, Peter Grant. Ham categorically separated ZZ Top from television in the 1970s, favoring the band’s live performances over other methods that guaranteed easier success. Although such principles had to be hard-wired, the truth is that the band’s foundations were already unbreakable by 1976, when the Take Texas to the People tour took place, an ambitious production that spent a lot of time on the road. along with all their outdoor equipment and a large fauna (an ox, a 2,000-pound buffalo, half a dozen vultures, two six-foot rattlesnakes, a pig, and a wolf). Their aversion to TV softened in the 1980s, when they became MTV stars in their own right thanks to a trilogy of videos directed by Tim Newman for the tracks “Gimme All Your Lovin'”, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs”. featured on his successful 1983 album Eliminator.

Presenting themselves as a “rock mausoleum” since the 1980s, ZZ Top is the only group that has seriously faced the challenge of committing to a market, rock’n’roll, that always trades in the money of youth. This ability to persevere was undoubtedly contributed by the image that Gibbons and Hill created for the group when its members were barely in their thirties, the most prominent feature of which was the long beard, which had not been fashionable since 1997. the time of the Old Testament. From then on, this strategy freed them from worries, because if they don’t increase their weight dramatically, they won’t look older in twenty years than they do now.

Given that the band has released a huge amount of works throughout its history, we only mention those that were most relevant. The first is a 1973 LP called Tres hombres, which ranked third in his output at the time. According to some, it was the best album of his career. The album’s opening tracks, “Waitin’ for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” are two of the all-time great album openers, along with Route 66 from the Rolling Stones’ first album, and “Whole Lotta Love” from Led Zeppelin II. In fact, the two inseparable songs remained an essential component of the themes that directly affected him on the 1991 Recycler tour. Another interesting cut is “La Grange”, a lush tale set in a brothel. less successful in the US, along with “Precious and Grace” and the surrealist “Master of Sparks”, whose unconventional lyrics are embellished with somewhat questionable Texas folklore. Although Tres Hombres reached number eight in the US charts, it was never recorded in the UK and is one of the most overlooked LPs in rock history.

Another great work of ZZ Top is Degüello, released in 1979. It’s a new collection of seemingly mundane brilliance that illuminates Gibbons’ perfect command of guitar texture, among other things. He oscillates between the perfect Fender sound of “A Fool for Your Stockings” and the Marshall sound of “Cheap Sunglasses.” Half a decade before Michael Jackson and LL Cool J hit the scene, ZZ Top proved that they knew the street language perfectly in “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”. The band’s penchant for car racing is evident in another surreal fantasy lyric, “Manic Mechanic,” sung by Gibbons as if speaking through a broken megaphone. Dazzling versions of Isaac Hayes’ “I Thank You” and Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” culminate a spectacularly rich composition.

When someone asked Gibbons what a guitarist could do about his technique, his answer was to buy The Sound of the Drags (a recording that captured the distinctive sound of car racing), and I absorbed the warmth. to feel discharged. The success of the Eliminator album, released in 1983, depends precisely on capturing this “warm feeling”; So much so that the LP became part of the legendary history of rock’n’roll, along with the car, the girls, the videos and the ten million copies sold. The trick they discovered was simple, but surprisingly effective. They trumpeted the guitar sound, made the choruses more dynamic, and banished all kinds of rhythmic overload. Contrary to what is common on heavy rock albums, “Gimme All Your Lovin'”, “Got Me Under Pressure”, “Sharp Dressed Man”, “Legs”, “Dirty Dog” and “If I Could Only Flag Her Down” kept on basic battery pulse only.

In addition to Afterburner (1985), which reached number two in the UK, the band’s two compilation albums, The Best of ZZ Top (1977) and Greatest Hits (1992), share only two themes. “Tush” and “La Grange”, which shows the creativity of the group. Best of ZZ Top compiles a passable selection of the band’s work up to 1977, with a special focus on Tres Hombres (which features four of the ten songs in total). Greatest Hits, which catapulted to the singles chart with “Viva Las Vegas”, shows the most modern and commercial side of ZZ Top. However, there are several notable omissions (“TV Dinners”, “Velcro Fly”, “Stages”) and other rather questionable inclusions (“Gun Love”, “Give It Up”), which some say is a summary of low self-confidence.

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