From the February, 1985 affair of Aerial Times comes Richard Grabel’s affection on ZZ Top, whose admission album, ZZ Top’s Aboriginal Album, came out 50 years ago on January 16, 1971.
[In 1984], aback their Eliminator anthology started aggressive the charts, ZZ Top had already continued been a awe-inspiring band. They could biking about the U.S. for as continued as they liked, amphitheatre bristles or six nights a week, animation ten or fifteen or twenty thousand admirers in any burghal they hit.
To New Music hipsters, however, ZZ Top were old ten-gallon hats, an crumbling accumulated of cool beards and beer guts.
But that was afore the aboriginal video from Eliminator, “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” accepted to be one of the added absorbing and artfully done videos accepting abundant circling on MTV, area it became that channel’s best requested video. That was afore the accumulation boarded on its best massive apple bout yet, amphitheatre everywhere, and forever. That was afore the twelve-inch remix of “Legs” brought ZZ Top to the attic of the ball clubs and to the Urban Contemporary airwaves, adequate them an absolutely new admirers of bodies who would commonly be allergic to the appellation “boogie band.” And that was afore Eliminator became a bartering phenomenon. By the end of 1984, the almanac had been listed on the U.S. archive for over a year and a half, affairs over four actor copies in the U.S. and addition million-and-a-half in the blow of the world.
So ZZ Top accept become alike added monumental. Alike added surprising, afterwards all these years, ZZ Top has become hip, with music admirers of annoyed affection acrimonious up on the irony that stings so acutely about the edges of the band’s lyrics and image, and with “Legs” proving the band’s adeptness to acclimate to today’s ball beating afterwards sacrificing its individuality.
Building on the success of the video for “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” the bandage has gone on to become accurate video stars. At September’s MTV Video Awards (an accident MTV hopes will become the bedrock video agnate of the Grammys) ZZ Top was nominated for six awards, and the video for “Sharp Dressed Man” won for Best Direction. The video affiliation of the band—with their characteristic image—and administrator Tim Newman (Randy’s brother) has led to a three-part alternation (the latest actuality “Legs”) of videos that are distinctive, funny, and comedy on an absorbing conceit of the bandage as ashen outsiders celebratory and bedlam at the alluring commotion that Newman’s mini-plots baker up.
All of what has happened to ZZ Top has been adamantine and adequately won, and able-bodied deserved. ZZ Top are a abundant bandage because they comedy authentic, close-to-the-roots, gutsy, white boy’s dejection and bedrock ‘n’ roll. They are funny, acute and apperceive their cultural signs and how to put them into a bedrock ‘n’ cycle context.
And ZZ Top accept a faculty of humor. They accept songs about accepting up in the morning with a hangover and activity out aboriginal affair to buy some bargain sunglasses. They accept songs about axle into an old Chevy to drive bottomward to Mexico and “pass me one of them brews from the aback seat.” They accept songs about a white boy hitting the artery and boasting in some annoyed argot he best up from the bounded Chicanos: “I’m bad/ I’m nationwide.”
And there is article so funny about the way Billy Gibbons lets you apperceive he knows how cool it is to be accomplishing the 297th adaptation of “Dust My Broom” by the way he howls out the additional verse: “I’m gonna address a letter to China/See if my baby’s over there/If she ain’t in those Hawaiian Islands/Must be in Ethiopia somewhere.” Elmore James would accept understood.
In fact, best of the humor, administration and accepted abomination of the ZZ Top bulk stems from the apperception of Gibbons, the band’s founder, guitarist and capital vocalist. Afore I met him I did some analysis on Gibbons and angry up some absorbing things. I began to doubtable that he ability not be your boilerplate rock-star dummy. I was right.
It is backward on a Sunday night in Buffalo. Earlier, ZZ Top had rocked seventeen thousand of the town’s teenagers. Now Billy Gibbons is analytic the Buffalo Hilton for an accessible bar. Instead we acquisition a Greek bells in the capital ballroom. The kid continuing at the aperture won’t allure us in, but he wants to talk.
“This is absolutely cool out! You’re absolutely from ZZ Top? I was aloof taping you guys off the radio the added day. Wow!”
So we get Greg, affiliate of the wedding, to accommodated us in the bar with some glasses of ouzo.
“So this is absolutely cool out,” Greg reiterates. “I capital to go to the actualization but I couldn’t get a ticket, so my mom said I should go to this wedding, so now actuality you guys are, so anyhow how was the show?”
“Great,” Billy says, “except we absent you. But it was great.”
“So, Greg, what we’re proposing actuality is that you get those musicians in there at the bells to duke over their instruments to us. My bass amateur is cat-and-mouse outside, he’s accessible to bawl on accordion, and… ha ha… had you activity there, didn’t we!”
What a card. On the added hand, Gibbons will about-face to you and out of the dejected say article like, “Do you anytime anticipate about area the planet is heading?” Or appetite to allocution about nuclear disarmament. He has artisan accompany who get accounting up in Time. He is acquainted into a lot of scenes, listens to New Order and accurate babble and annihilation abroad you can imagine, and already took allegorical bedrock critic/philosopher Lester Bangs on a hunting trip. Don’t let the apathetic Texas chant fool you. This is not a simple man.
The aggregate of Rip Van Winkle bristles and horn-rimmed specs, additional a apathetic accurate way of speaking, makes Billy Gibbons assume a bit like a anxious professor.
I admonish him of article he already said to an accuser about ZZ Top—that it’s fun actuality animation characters onstage.
“I bethink the quote, and it was apparently added applicable again than to the adumbration an admirers will see in a ZZ Top actualization now. Our costuming is added aback to basics. At the time we were cutting those huge flight apparel with Mexican sombreros. Now it’s changed.”
“Just in the aftermost year what has been a above benefaction for ZZ Top has been our actualization in videos. That has absolutely ashore a lot of admirers who couldn’t put their feel on us.”
“There, is a animation aspect left. We were amphitheatre in Denver and… I accept no account for these [Billy acclamation his beard], it’s aloof there. But anyway, we’re onstage, and Dusty says to me, ‘Check row five, two o’clock.’ And I attending over, and there were bristles guys that had these pin-on beards, and they had that pointing move that we do in the videos, and they were all in absolute step.”
ZZ Top’s videos are amid the best to be apparent in a acreage currently characterized by alliteration and cliche. They are flash, funny, acquaint a story, and accept the band’s trademarks all over them—their amusement and their abetment of those Western cultural icons, cars and girls.
“It was a abundant activity for this bandage to accept a cardinal one something, which is what happened anon with the video for ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’,’ the cardinal one best requested video in MTV’s history.”
“Warner Brothers abiding for Tim Newman to assignment with us. They’d had a nice video from him for the Randy Newman song ‘I Love L.A.’ Fortunately, he knew abundant about ZZ Top to apperceive it’s cars, it’s women, it’s affectionate of a good-time outfit, and this was no botheration for him. He’d attempt commercials, he knew all the contacts.”
“The aboriginal one accustomed the three girls and the guy. The guy gets befuddled out of his car, gets his clothes befuddled out afterwards him. The additional one, ‘Sharp Dressed Man,’ continues from the aboriginal one. It begins with the car from the aboriginal one abrogation the country for the city. Instead of the kid actuality downbeaten as a gas base attendant, he’s now the car esplanade accessory at a blueblood ball joint. The doorman’s bottomward on him, the maitre d’s bottomward on him, and ZZ Top ain’t gonna angle for it. We gotta advice this kid out.”
“When we attempt that aboriginal video, the guy that congenital the ZZ Top car couldn’t accept been added into it. He grumbled the aboriginal day about accepting to put the car on a bivouac and drive it to the shoot location. He capital some of the glory; he’d congenital this car, and now it was on the anthology awning and in the videos, and he capital to be recognized. So we said, ‘Listen, we’re activity to be accomplishing some 110,130 mile-an-hour stuff, can you handle it?’ And that aloof rang his bell. He got into that car and collection the hell out of it.”
“We collection up the abutting day aloof in time to see the three admirable adolescent ladies ascend into the ZZ Top car that, at the time, we hadn’t alike apprenticed in yet, and we see this billow of smoke as they drive away, and we go, ‘Why them?’”
“The videos accept brought in a new admirers and adequate the one that was there anyway. I anticipate the times accept accustomed our affectionate of music to be accepted by a added ambit of people. I knew it in Miami aback amethyst active showed up, mohawks, they’re all there.”
Then there is the “Special Ball Remix” twelve-inch distinct adaptation of “Legs,” which has brought ZZ Top to the ball club floor.
“Well, accept it or not, ZZ Top had cut what could accept been our adaptation of disco for the Deguello sessions. We did a song alleged ‘When You’re Out Backward At Night.’ And I was able-bodied acquainted of the bad connotations of the chat disco and the growing acerbity from the rockers, but we had complete this allotment the aforementioned way we did all of our tunes. But the engineers said, ‘No, this is a big mistake, nobody’s gonna get this.’”
A lot of bodies were afraid that ZZ Top acclimated a synthesizer on “Legs.”
“Well, I’m absolute into that. Absolute into it. It moves me. Best advanced musicians accept never alone the achievability of accepting absolute soulful with synthesizers. In the aboriginal days, granted, it was a little bit limited. But as the computer accent starts accretion and alms these kinds of possibilities, it’s accepting fine.
“As far as our use of it on Eliminator, it’s actual slight, but it’s there. Moog beatific their latest and greatest, the Memory Moog, which is actual adult and allows the abettor to get dejected aback he wants, and we acclimated it on some bass curve and some basal affectionate of beating things. If annihilation can be said about Eliminator abreast from that it’s the ’80s adaptation of Tres Hombres, it’s that the time is true. The time is appropriate on the money.”
“A song like ‘Legs,’ which has got this dawdling synth through the absolute thing, you absolutely accept to comedy with it, because the centralized cyberbanking alarm of the synthesizer will not lie. So we paid a lot of absorption to account the time. But that’s as far as we took it—a bass bandage actuality and there, and the time thing.”
Another affair you already said about ZZ Top is that “nobody knows added about the sin-infested corners of Houston” than you. How sin-infested are they?
“Real sin-infested. It’s apropos to actuality a built-in and accepting explored accomplished the southwest ancillary of town, which is the aristocratic ancillary of Houston. There’s a scattering of absolute artsy, thinking-type of Houstonians, and those are the ones that apathy the calefaction and the amusing community of not bridge the tracks. It aloof agency alive about which barbecue angle over on the atramentous ancillary of boondocks cooks on Sundays and has a adequate time aback anybody abroad is activity to church.”
Do you still feel abutting to that?
“Yes, I do. Well, see there’s a amazing agreeable ancestry in Houston dating from the ’50s. It was fabricated mostly of accent and dejection music. Through the backward ’40s up till about ’66, Houston was a above R&B market, it was a trend-setting atramentous market. Ray Charles to this day will affirm by Houston musicians. Fathead Newman was his capital horn blower. Little Richard best up his absolute bandage out of Houston, all those annal he fabricated were cut with Houston guys. Duke-Peacock Annal was based in Houston: Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Little Junior Parker, Big Mama Thornton. That’s what I chronicle to as far as aggravating to bethink that allotment of Houston. Houston has become a apple-pie glass-and- chrome city. You can still acquisition the dejected scene, but it’s smaller, aloof like everywhere.”
How about the accomplished Texas belief of beer drinkin’, hell raisin’ and bobcat chasin’? Is that still an influence?
“Well, I’m the alone one of my buddies that is as yet unmarried. So I’m still into it. They’d like to be, but their wives won’t let them.”
“I anticipate ZZ Top has been advantageous not to be branded as a country-western act. Alike admitting we came from Texas. I’m aloof as abundant a backer of the Cadillac with cow horns and ten-gallon hats and a algid six-pack as the abutting guy. And it break my affection to see the ashes of Urban Cowboyism actuality dumped in Texas.”
“What’s absolutely crazy is that this accurate ability is fabricated up of bodies who accept not accustomed that it has been digested and again befuddled aback at them. The absolute cowboys never knew what happened aback all of a abrupt John Travolta was accomplishing the two-step at Gilley’s on the cine screen. And now that everybody’s been a cowboy for a few years, they’re through with it, and now all of the glassy cowboy shirts that can’t be awash in New York anymore are activity aback to Texas.”
“Low riders, that was addition cultural scene. I bit off every chaw I could booty of that one. Low riding. We had one—The ZZ Top Low Rider. A ’65 Chevy convertible. It had those lifts, and the low riders admired us. Low Rider annual did a affection on ZZ Top! Bob Merlis [head of Warner Brothers publicity] alleged me and said, ‘How did you beat this? A white man cannot buy his way into that magazine.’ I anticipate it was apparently that I had one of the Imperials from East L.A. install the hydraulic arrangement in the car. The Imperials are badass, man, they are the low riders to accord with. Imperial material!”
“And they got the amusement in ZZ Top. The absolute Chicano affair was, like, Low Rider, the bible of the movement, and actuality we are, continuing up in the aback bench of this apple-pie ’65 Chevy, Califomia-style, laying on the ground, laying frame, and this attractive eyes of Latin adorableness laying sprawled out beyond the hood, and we’re playing—I’ve got an acoustic guitar, Dusty’s got an accordion and Frank’s afraid maracas. They admired it!”
In 1976, afterwards commutual a behemothic tour, ZZ Top abolished for three years. They aloof acquainted like demography off. One of the things Gibbons did during this time was adhere out in Paris with a accumulation alleged Artiste Contemporaire, creating actinic ambient music for art galleries.
“Yeah. Aggravating to rip off Brian Eno. I had abutting the Board of Trustees at the Contemporary Arts Building in Houston, through some assembly of Dusty’s brother and this accumulation of adept sinners from Houston. We all became absolutely abutting from blind around. And there was an advertisement of an actualization in Paris of some aged agreeable instruments that had been begin in some abbey in India. We were arrive to watch, and two of us from Houston went, and I concluded up staying.”
“So what was accident in Paris was award new means of authoritative art out of bargain mediums. Polaroid, Xerox. This was in ’77, and Xerox art became a bona fide allotment of the jailbait scene. What we were accomplishing musically was bromidic stuff, it was like air, but it was fun.”
A lot of bodies will be afraid to apprehend that the ZZ Top guitarist does ambient art music and goes on treks to Nepal and serves on the Board of Trustees of a celebrated art museum.
“Yeah. Well, ZZ Top—I’m not aggravating to advanced it as an art band. But, the added day, one of the finest adulation was paid. We were in New York, the cab disciplinarian had his radio on, and the absolute art band, Talking Heads—I accept the ones who accept been labeled as such—the DJ said, ‘Here’s the Talking Active accomplishing their clothing of ZZ Top.’ And it was ‘Pull over! Stop the car!’ We ran about the car dancing. We’ve been recognized! It was absolutely a moment.”
Gibbons was the guitarist in a mid-’60s garage/psychedelic/punk bandage in Houston alleged the Moving Sidewalks. In ’68, they opened a actualization for Jimi Hendrix in Fort Worth, and Hendrix arrive them to appear forth for the blow of the tour. Hendrix concluded up giving Gibbons his blush Fender guitar and calling him “America’s best able adolescent guitarist” on the Tonight Show. Aback the Moving Sidewalks bankrupt up, Gibbons met up with Dusty Hill and Frank Bristles to anatomy ZZ Top.
“Dusty and Frank had appear bottomward from Dallas to comedy at the Cellar Club, which was one of Houston’s few after-hours clubs. Their bandage was alleged the American Blues. They all had dejected hair.”
Houston in the ’60s had a active scene, with bands such as the 13th Attic Elevators and Red Crayola allowance to ascertain the consciousness-expanding complete alike afore the California groups who affected it.
“The Jefferson Airplane and the Dead were still folk bands aback the Elevators came out, these agrarian characters—from Texas of all places—that were into this East Indian appearance and anticipation processes.”
“The clubs were consistently actuality busted, consistently addled by the Houston police, who did not accept what was activity on.”
“It was a abundant acerbic scene. And acerbic was a accurate bewilderment to law administration about the apple because you had no stumbling-drunk syndrome, you had no incoherence, they couldn’t amount out what was activity on. No one was absolutely out of ascendancy as far as they could tell, but they knew things were weird. And they were accepting weirded out. They’d appear into the clubs and they’d leave afraid their active and going, ‘What is activity on in there?’”
ZZ Top alive is artlessly abundant bedrock ‘n’ roll. There is no Abundant Metal sluggishness, no decay or assuming off. In fact, Gibbons tosses off economical but searingly able guitar solos as if he were strumming the dejection on some Texas aback porch. The bandage brings the amore and atrocity of the roadside juke collective to the algid and dried ambiance of the arena. No crotch-rock bullshit, no condescension. They comedy blues—a modern, rocked-out but absolutely rootsy and accurate blues. And their admirers loves it.
And, then, they’ll be in the average of one of those abhorrent dejection aback you’ll apprehend that Gibbons is singing about actuality afraid up on some girl’s stockings. Or he’ll be singing about actuality a sharp-dressed man and you’ll accept a attending at his and Dusty’s dejected jeans and funny hats. And you laugh. It’s perverse, funny, actual animal and real.
I ask Gibbons if the amusement and elements of banter in ZZ Top don’t go over the active of best of their audience.
“I apperceive what you mean, but I try not to accomplish it that way. Because you can get it or not get it, but nobody’s larboard captivation the bag, so to speak.”
“That brings up a point about agreeable value. What I could never accept is how the American bands had such a awe-inspiring estimation of the dejection compared to the English bands. We gravitated appear the English sounds, the way the English guys were amphitheatre the blues, because they didn’t angle the addendum too high, they had nice vibrato, accomplished tones. We capital to comedy a technically adequate affectionate of music rather than what a lot of American bands were accomplishing to the blues, like Quicksilver and that affectionate of sound. So today you’ve got ZZ Top who, as musicians, try to break one-pointed in authoritative a applicable anatomy of white guy’s dejection and bedrock ‘n’ roll.”
“I was active with this banty and I was aggravating to affect her and I had this Telex almanac in the bandage deck, and they sang in French. So I did this affected translation, and she was autograph it down. It was like, ‘I ambition I could absorb added time with you/But I can’t amount out this synthesizer/It’s application all my time/But it’s bigger for you/Because I’m aggravating to compose songs about you/Your admirable skin, your hair, your eyes.’ And she was activity for it!”
Billy, how continued is your beard?
“I absolutely don’t know. Maybe twelve inches. I akin it aback from sixteen. Dusty’s is about fourteen inches, his is best than mine.”
And how continued can you accumulate ZZ Top ridin’ high?
“Well, there’s two means to access it. Picasso, or B.B. King. I don’t accept you can be it forever. But you can be a adequate one. You don’t accept to get crap-assed.”
“If there’s a account about ZZ Top it’s that the musicians are still accepting fun in the band, playing. To me it’s aloof a abundant atom to comedy music.”
I deathwatch up in Buffalo and about-face on the bounded bedrock station. Afore amphitheatre “Sharp Dressed Man,” the DJ says, “Last night, this bandage took seventeen thousand bodies to Texas.”
I was there. It was achieve alike bigger than Texas.
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