ZZ Top are Texan and proud of it. Their music explores all of the musical textures that their home state has to offer. To appreciate ZZ Top's larger-than-life image it's necessary to remember just how vast Texas is.
The other day we had to go to a place called Dalhart, Texas," says Gibbons, whose deep, rich southern drawl hypnotizes the way Will Rogers' must have. "Dalhart is closer to twenty-two states that it is to Austin, which is its own state capitol. That's a fact right there that would tend to open some people's eyes about just how vast the state is, and just what a glamorous place it must be to write about. that's what we try to capture."
Texans are famous for bragging about how wonderful Texas is. Billy always enjoys telling people, that Texans parent's tell their children "If you're very good, when you die you won't go to heaven. No. you'll stay right here in Texas!!"
1963: Billy got a Gibson Melody Maker guitar and a Fender Champ Amp for Christmas.
1963-65 After playing with The Starliners and with The Deadbeats, Rocky & Dusty Hill started The Warlocks with Frank Beard, in Dallas, Texas. Beard came from Fort Worth: Previously he had played with The Hustlers and with The Cellar Dwellers (who had a single to their credit). On their first recording they backed the singer Lady Wilde on a 45rpm that Ara, a small Texan label, released. In1966 The Warlocks recorded two singles : one for Ara and one for another even more obscure Paradise.
1967: The Warlocks changed their name to American Blues. Before the year ended, they went into Robin Hood Brian's studio to record their first album with Scotty McKay producing. In 1967 Billy Gibbons joined his first band, the Moving Sidewalks. They had a minor success with "99th Floor" which gave them the opportunity to support the Doors tour of Texas, and also Jimi Hendrix in 1968.
Hendrix, later, was interviewed by Johnny Carson, where he named the unknown Gibbons as his favourite guitarist. Billy Gibbons remembers walking into Jimi's dressing room to see Hendrix lying flat on his back rippin off one amazing riff after another. Jimi, noticing Billy watching, said "What do you think?" Billy said it was the best playing he'd heard for ages. It turned out Jimi was referring not to his playing, but his new hairstyle!!!!
Prior to this, at a 67 Doors gig which he attended as a fan, Gibbons met a man crucial to the bands later success - manager Bill Ham. (Although Bill Ham says that the first time they met was when he met the group whilst the were playing support on a John Mayall solo tour) Ham had always wanted to discover a "monster" unknown act. He wanted a low-down, dirty, smelly blues act. He had an album sleeve ready too. It featured the band drassed, almost as vagrants, sprawled amongst the trash, with an album title of "Back Down In The Alley". After the demise of the Sidewalks, Gibbons' noticed another Texan band, "American Blues". It was here he first met Dusty Hill and Frank Beard.
1968: Is Here! by American Blues was released through Karma Records as a limited edition. The cover of Tim Hardin's If I Were A Carpenter stood out from among the other tracks… It became their favourite piece: it was eventually released on a single the next year too. The album turned out particularly successful from the point of view of the band's performance, mixing all the influences of each member: blues, garage and psychedelia, blended into a hard rock from whose source several Texan groups drew on. Not long after, thanks to clamour stirred up in local spheres, the band signed for UNI, a subsidiary label of MCA, that was in the position to assure them a distribution at home level. In August the trio, accompanied on organ by Doug Davis, was again in the studio to record a new album.
1969: Do Their Thing kept to a similar path as the previous American Blues record but it hadn't the same creative inspiration. With failing commercial returns, UNI got rid of them and, not having succeeded to spread beyond Texan borders, they disbanded. Also this year, the members of American Blues first met "Billy Gibbons" - only, in true ZZ Top style, it wasn't the REAL Billy Gibbons - its was Lanier Greig masquerading as him. The American Blues were horrified when they saw him try to tune a guitar and fail dismally. This guy was supposed to be one of Texas' foremost guitarists!!
(The threesome eventually met in 1969. (The original ZZ Top lineup being Billy Gibbons, Lanier Grieg and Dan Mitchell. This lineup released a single on Bill Ham's Scat label, Salt Lick b/w Millers Farm. Soon after the recording of "Salt Lick" songwriter Jeff Barry asked Lanier to New York to try out a part in a new show called "The Cowboys". He went, and got the job, although short lived. By the time he arrived back in Texas, Gibbons had fired him. He quickly disappeared from the musical scene only to reappear briefly playing keyboards on a 1979 album by the band "1994" He was replaced by Bill Ethridge. Dan Mitchell was then replaced by Frank Beard while Dusty Hill subsequently joined in place of Ethridge). Billy told "Melody Maker":
" I met Frank through a fellow in Dallas and he came down and after one show he'd got a drummer who I had to meet. That was Frank and we teamed up there and then. Then the guy from Dallas, Billy Ethridge, quit so I needed a bass player, and Frank knew Dusty, and that's how he came to join us. I didn't know it, but Frank and Dusty had worked together for about five years before." Beard is alleged to have said to Gibbons (about Dusty) "He's our kind of guy." after Beard had once introduced himself to Dusty Hill in a bar. Dusty fell to the floor, plastered. It wasn't until he came round that he returned Frank's greeting!!
Billy described their first day thus: our first day together when the three of us decided to see how our talents mingled .... A little 3-minute thing turned out to be a three-hour jam. When we wrapped it up, we said, "Well, that felt pretty good ... I think we got ourselves a band!" There have been some other intriguing moments, too, like the second day. We decided to bring in our most influential recordings, books, art references, just stuff we were interested in, pretty heady for 19-year-olds. But darned if all of us had Jimmy Reed records right at the top of our list!
According to Gibbons, their odd name came from one or more of the following: the two brands of rolling-paper, Zig-Zag and Top, a tribute to blues legend Z.Z. Hill, and/or Gibbons seeing the two words running together on a dilapidated bill board. In 1969, the name ZZ Top was registered at Paris County Courthouse, TX. Early rehearsal's took place at the Gibbon's house. Dad Fred Gibbons did his best to ignore the din, but as soon as a bum note came out, he'd be screaming at them "That was meant to be a C sharp, you idiot!!" Frank recalled about Fred Gibbons, the musical perfectionist: "Freddy was the only person I've ever known to change the entire air conditioning in his house because it was a half-tone out of tune with his piano!"
A young Gibbons, Hill, Beard were playing a small room in Alvin. Only weeks since ZZ Top's formation and months before its first album, the emcee says the band is "direct from Salt Lake," after misinterpreting information about the group's marquee song, "Salt Lick." They played to exactly one paying customer, bought that first fan a beer when the set was over and proceeded to talk into the night with him. To this day, the group still sees the man at the occasional show.
The first recorded ZZ gig was actually with just the three boys present in the room, on February 10,1970, followed by a debut show at the VFW Hall in Beaumont. Billy remembers: "Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas held a twin-city concert night which is where it all started... The first ZZ disc was just out..."Salt Lick" and Miller's Farm"... kinda hard to find now ... but ...the first night's performance, a Friday night, followed with the famed appearance evening in Alvin, Texas, where we enjoyed an audience of 1 ... !!! The show 'went' 'on' as they say and it turned out to be quite an experience. We played our first-set, took a break, bought our patron a Coke, went back and finished the night with some smokin' sounds. Killer!
In 1970, the boys were booked to open on a blues tour with Lightnin' Hopkins, Howlin' Wolf, and Muddy Waters. The promoter didn't know, until the band arrived, that he'd booked a white band. They still went down well though, earning their credentials with a knowledgable black audience. Frank recalled: "There was a poker game going on the whole time...they'd be playing poker and somebody would come down and say "Muddy, you've gotta go on stage". And he'd growl and say "Don't anyone take my money". He'd walk off and leave his dough and his gun. He'd do his set and then come back and just get right on with the game"
The Houston record producer Pappy Daily, now met with Bill Ham and signed a deal with him to finance "ZZ Top's First Album" (1970) (and a handful of subsequent records). From here, the band went into the studio to cut "ZZ Top's First Album" for London Records , which although a fine record did not produce any national recognition, and the band remained a local draw. Somewhat cruelly, segments of the press cast doubt on Bill Ham's production skills, saying that if it was his intention was to portray the band as a bunch of country boys who'd just stumbled out of the moonshine shed, he'd succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. The seed was sown for a long-running mutual distrust between ZZ Top and the Press.
During the recording of the album, Bill Ham was also busily trying to negotiate a record deal with London Records, who had just lost The Rolling Stones. Bill slyly pitched the band to the label, as "the next Rolling Stones". Although a deal was struck, London were only committing themselves to covering mastering, pressing and distribution. Everything else would have to be financed by Bill Ham and the Daily Brothers.
It is said that during negotiations, Bill Ham demanded $10,000 for his band, but only got $1,000. Despite the fact that they gigged so extensively, they ploughed so much money back into the band, that on occasion they would have to sleep on the stage, after finishing gigs. With the money they invested, they bought a crucial piece of equipment ; two Marshall Super Lead stacks. The rest of ZZ Top's sound is, guess what? - shrouded in legend. Billy claims his guitar strings are all made from melted down car bumpers, and he doesn't use plectrums - he uses a peso!
For some of the material on that first album, an uncredited songwriting contributor was Lanier Greig. He appears to have had an agreement with Gibbons and Ham that he would stay uncredited, due to the fact that he was contracted to write for Acuff-Rose, and no-one wanted to have to pay them a percentage. The band became a huge draw in Texas, but nowhere else, where they perceived as "hicks". However, they plugged away, opening for anyone they could; from Alice Cooper to Peter Frampton.
The big break for them came in 1971 when ZZ Top were asked to open a show for the Ike and Tina Turner Review at an outdoor venue in Atlanta. Traditionally at the time, white blues artists could not easily cross the divide to gaining acceptance from a black audience. However, on this occasion, ZZ Top succesfully performed to an audience of 20,000 primarily black music fans. Billy Gibbons recalls: "Ike Turner came up to me after the show and said, "I want to compliment you and your band. You have a fine musical outfit." He said, "But you're gonna need some better clothes!"
Their subsequent couple of albums ("Rio Grande Mud", and the classic "Tres Hombres" ) produced a couple of hit singles, and the ZZ Top name and reputation began to spread. In fact, they became respected quickly enough for them to land a support slot opening for the Rolling Stones in 1972. Rio Grande Mud (1972), featured their first hit single, "Francine" (#81). Other gems on the album included "Just Got Paid.", "Bar-B-Q," "Mushmouth Shoutin", and "Down Brownie". Rio Grande Mud got it's first placing in the Billboard Charts at 151 on May 6th. Rio Grande Mud was again financed by the Daily Brothers. Although still quite a formulaic record, "Rio Grande Mud" tried to show the band as hard working rock 'n rollers rather than genuine bluesmen.
The most commercial song on the album was unquestionably "Francine". When it was released as a single, it had an English language version on one side, and Spanish on the other, The song, although credited to Billy Gibbons-Steve Perron and Kenny Cordray, had little to do with Billy at all. Its believed that apart from changing some structure, all Billy did was change the line "If I catch her with Billy G" to "If I catch her with Stevie P" One could be forgiven for thinking the bands efforts were in vain, as Dusty was in a bar in Mexico one night, and the band (Spanish speakers) performed the English version of Francine (which they learned phonetically from the radio, snubbing the Spanish version.)
All ZZ albums are shrouded in legend, but one of the foremost was Rio Grande Mud. For instance, the band had to stop playing "Just Got Paid" live, because the audience would pelt them with loose change! "Apologies to Pearly" also had a story behind it. Billy's legendary '59 Les Paul (described as making the band sound like "four flat tyres on a muddy road" ) was named "Pearly Gates". He used her constantly - except on this cut, which is why he named it "Apologies to Pearly" In 1972, ZZ Top appeared at the University of Houston's football stadium, and drew 38,000 fans to hear the band share the stage with Blue Oyster Cult, the Doobie Brothers, and Savoy Brown. 1973 saw the album that finally made the band stars - Tres Hombres. This time they moved the recording of the album to Ardent Studio's in Memphis (with some work done at their old haunt, Robin Hood Brian's). They also enlisted the help of ace Led Zeppelin engineer (and future Molly Hatchet producer) Terry Manning.
Tres Hombres (1973), fast became the boys first gold album thanks to, not only great songs, but extensive touring and radio airplay. Tres Hombres proceeded to sell a million copies and the next two albums Fandango! and Tejas did the same. The album contained the sleazy number which was to become their anthem : "La Grange," ZZ's first to enter the "Cashbox" Top 30, and most recognized song -- it tells the tale of "that shack outside LaGrange," the now closed Gracie's Chicken Farm whorehouse, east of Austin, TX. This number was allegedly based John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen." Legend has it that Billy would drive all over Texas looking for out-of-the-way brothels to write about!
Billy remembers the "real La Grange: "...it was about the Waldorf Astoria of whore houses in Texas, so posh that you couldn't cuss or even be really drunk in front of the girls. When you reach a certain age in Texas you can go visiting down to Mexico or make a trip to La Grange. At least that's the way it was. Place got closed down soon after we wrote the song. The sheriff was so pissed that he smashed all the ribs of the reporter that broke the story in the papers." The music of "La Grange" is actually just a re-working of a Slim Harpo number that was also done by The Stones as "Hip Shake" but it proved a breakthrough for ZZ Top. As the song rose up the charts, rumours circulated that "Canned Heat" were about to sue the band for allegedly plagiarising "Fried Hockey Boogie".
The song soon entered the Top 40 , followed by the twins "Waitin' For The Bus" and "Jesus Just Left Chicago." Rolling Stones review said: "Waitin' on the Bus is a real favorite. So is Jesus. And ZZ's signature song, LaGrange (one of Billy's hottest, but played on a Strat, not Pearly. Listen to it.) That whole album is hot, blue, and righteous. The tone is so incredible it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. This album is the ZZ centerpiece. All the previous cuts led to this, and this led to everything else. This is the one that established ZZ Top. No question about it. Don't care which is your favorite, this is the one."
"Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" is another classic from the album that is still universally loved to this day. Even Motorhead recorded a cover of it. Every song was considered a classic. Dusty recalls the making of sleaze-athon "Precious and Grace": There's a lot more Texan in the lyrics of Tres Hombres. "Precious And Grace" is about two women the band picked up on a drive from Dallas to Houston. Seems Dusty can't pass up the opportunity to make a little time. Only on this occasion, as he relates, "these two were as ugly as sin. Real ugly women. They'd just got out of prison. One of them had so many scars it looked like her face had caught fire and they'd stamped it out with a track shoe. But ahh . . . they were unique people," he chuckles. "And it's a story people can identify with 'cause it coulda happened anywhere but at the same time folks think its different 'cause it happened down in Texas, but, hell, everyone everywhere goes to whores, drinks beer and drives fast."
Yet another bizarre story came from the writing of "Master of Sparks" - Billy Gibbons remembers...A good friend and I put our heads together one day and went out of town to his folks spread where we got the help of the black foreman there to weld a bunch of sucker gauge which is the kind of pipe they use to build windmills, into a steel cage, a ball of sorts. We put a door on it, a seatbelt on a bucket seat. It even had shock absorbers to cushion the points of impact. Then we'd get drunk and roll this thing out of the back of a pick-up truck at 'bout fifty miles an hour and when it would hit the ground it'd send up a roostertail of sparks a hundred feet in the air. Man it would tear you up to get in that thing. It was the most amazing spectacle I'd ever laid eyes on. 'Course we kept it a secret from everybody 'cause, if our folks had found out, we'd all been off to military school, but then my buddy went and printed up flyers and distributed them at school sayin' to come and see the 'master of sparks' that night on jack-rabbit road which was Highway Six, our launch pad." "Well, sure enough, come sundown we got out there to find both sides of the road lined with cars waitin' to see this. Some guy even had the back end of his pick-up truck loaded down with ice and cold beer, he was givin' away free beer. So, after realizing what was coming down, both of us loaded ourselves in for the last ride and I guess we must of been going sixty miles an hour, drunk, laughin' like hell and, when we rolled ourselves out, we hit the ground so hard it squashed the ball out like an egg. Needless to say, it didn't roll too well and we spun off the road and hit a fence, tore bout a hundred yards of barbed wire down. I was screamin', he was bleedin', but, needless to say we were awarded the coveted title of having done the wildest thing."
The band, although now known across the country, remained true to their Texas roots, where they remained based. They were now earning more money than they ever dreamed about (if not quite enough to let Billy realise is dream of buying an entire shopping mall !!) Amazingly, they carried on economising so that the money could be ploughed back into the band - they would think nothing of crashing on the floor at their friend's houses. To illustrate, Dusty recalls: "We were in Lubbock, staying in this hotel opposite the venue. Our equipment didn't turn up and we had to cancel the gig - and we couldn't even afford our hotel room! We were all sharing one room; one had the mattress, one had the pillow and the blanket. We had to sneak out of the hotel. We were hanging out of the window on a rope!"
Top supported The Rolling Stones in Honolulu, 1973. Bill Ham arranged it with the promoters, Concerts West. Dusty recalls; "We went onstage and people just looked at us, dropped their jaws and moaned: "They're a cowboy band" In the end, though, we'd just blow them away and they'd scream for us to come back. We'd feel kinda funny with the Stones watching us from behind, waiting for us to finish". They also went out, supporting other big name acts like Alice Cooper and Deep Purple.
For a band considered blues-rock, the Top were kitted out like clones of Hank Williams. They had taken to wearing cowboy boots, stetson's and other western gear on stage. The suits come replete with rhinestone roses and sparkling maps of the Lone Star State on the back of the jackets and sell for about fifteen hundred dollars each. Just what all the cowboy fashion has to do with rock and blues music is an open ended query but the crowds seem to eat it up. "Nudie's suits have come to symbolize that flashy Texan image, all that bragging about 'my gun is bigger'n your gun', and we've kind of picked up on it," says Billy. By this time, they were really playing up to the Cowboy image, even branding themselves as "that li'l ol band from Texas"
In 1974 the band was the headline act at Willie Nelson's "Rompin' and Stompin' Barndance and Barbecue," which was the biggest concert in Austin, TX history. It was held on Labor Day, September 1. The rest of the bill ( in front of a mammoth crowd of 80,000) was Santana, Joe Cocker and Bad Company, who were making their American debut. Now that they were headlining such a prestigious event, they were more than just a locally popular Texas band. The overexcited fans ran riot at the gig though, demolishing large parts of it, which resulted in this being the last gig to be held at Memorial Stadium on the University of Texas Campus for two decades.
In the South, ZZ Top were now easily the most popular band around (attendance-wise at least). The Warehouse in New Orleans were regularly swamped with demand for tickets, to the extent that they estimated that they could sell each gig five times over. However, as soon as they crossed the Mason-Dixon line, things changed. Put in a 5,000 seat theatre in New York (the Felt Forum) half the seats remained unsold. This was now their biggest problem - how to break out from being huge...but locally. Suspicions abounded that when playing up North, jealous rival acts were sabotaging their shows, for fear of being shown up in front of their own fans. On August 16 1975, ZZ Top came as close as they ever had to a hit single, when "Francine" peaked at #41 on the Billboard chart, just as their new album was being released.
Fandango! was released in 1975, and unusually, it was a half-studio, half-live album. It was an important album for the band. Their previous three albums, it seemed, inevitably fell into the hands of nationally-published critics who didn't know, as the band put it, the difference between Elmore James and the kid boning up on wah-wah next door. The live segment was recorded during three days of concerts in front of a typically frantic audience at the Warehouse in New Orleans. The album remained on the charts for 83 weeks and sold in excess of a million copies. It also included live versions of songs from their debut album; "Shaking Your Tree", "Brown Sugar," and "Back Door Love Affair". Their traditional show-opener "Thunderbird" (a rocking ode to that 59cent-a-pint nectar of the gods) also featured.
The album included ZZ Tops first Top 20 hit single "Tush", which was been used on movie and TV soundtracks by the score since. Dusty recalls the writing of Tush: "wrote it in Florence, Alabama. It was about the hottest show we ever played. While we were rehearsin' in the afternoon we found this riff and just started playing it. I was up at the mike singing whatever came to mind and that's where my mind was at that day." The song, Frank Beard recalls, was written in one go: "We started playing this riff and the way it was written is exactly the way we played it that day. That was easy. It's not like beating your head against a wall writing"
Many radio stations across the country started to ban the song, on the grounds that it was "indecent". Billy Gibbons alays claimed that "Tush" was a direct reference to the song "Tush Hog" by Roy Head. However, "Tush" can also refer to a part of the female anatomy. Although "Tush" provided the band with their first top 20 hit single, it would have done far better if it wasn't for the lack of radio airplay. "Fandango" is a word that described the weeklong blowout that American and Mexican cowboys would indulge in when they'd come in from the range and whoop it up at the end of a trail drive. In other words, this is a party album. Another outstanding track, was studio cut "Balinese" which like most ZZ songs is steeped in Texas mythology. "Balinese," is a funky shuffle tribute to a gambling dive on a Galveston pier. "Mexican Blackbird" is a country-tinged tune based on the true story of a Mexican prostitute.
For me, the albums best song has got to be "Heard it on the X". This song has become a ZZ legend over the years, and all three guys have spun many yarns about it: Heard It On The X" is a tribute to the great X radio stations of Mexico which might feature a preacher selling autographed pictures of Jesus and an hour of great blues records separated only by an advertisement for goat gland operations which Billy explains "is a kind of sex change operation racket invented by this Dr. Brinkley who went to Mexico when they ran him outta the States a long time ago." The infamous "X" station was built in Mexico in 1936, just across the border from Del Rio, Texas. Brinkley, who was banned from the air in Missouri by the FCC for selling goat gland sex potions to witless impotent farmers, wanted to open an outlaw station so powerful that it would blanket not only Texas, right across the border, but also the entire United States (and beyond!) with its signal.
"To do this," begins Gibbons, effortlessly but fascinatingly weaving one of his scores of tales, "he'd have to have at least a half a million watts, which not only covered the U.S. and Canada, but also beamed south to Antarctica, East and West Indies, and parts of Europe." The market Brinkley and his Mexican cohorts were mainly after, though, was the Texas and Mexican audience of farmers and small town folk. "He would use country and western music to attract the farmers," Gibbons continues. "He was selling goat glands, chickens, harmonica lessons, HillBilly records, and gospel music. Everything under the sun was being sold.""They had-now dig this," Frank Beard interjects, "...they had autographed prayer clothes of Jesus Christ." The "X" also had Wolfman Jack at one point, and a lot of Texas teens grew up listening to the Wolfman spinning rock & roll, rhythm & blues, and blues records, to go along with the country, gospel, and native Mexican music that was also played on the station. Billy went on to say: "During the Second World War the Germans came over and tried to take the gear back to Europe with them to use as broadcasting equipment, because they couldn't buy it there. There was a big shoot-out down there, but they lost."
Featured on the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines during the same week. ZZ Top became the most popular band ever to play the New Orleans, City Park Stadium. Next project - a new album and like "Rio Grande Mud", "Tejas" was overflowing with imagery. "Tejas" is sometimes considered to be one of the bands weaker efforts, but still includes standard ZZ Top mythology in songs like "Snappy Kakkie" It's another word for piece of ass," Gibbons confesses, "but it's also affectionately referred to women, like a girl's name. It's a little child-like tune, about calling her name, Snappy Kakkie. 'I said, hey Snappy Kakkie do you want to play?' it's real child-like, yet the lyrics unearth the kind of ominous feeling of controls people put on one another. Government controls, maybe.
"Tejas" , although not as commercially successful as its predecessors, did show a more experimental attitude from the band, encompassing their normal feel as well as Country, and to a degree, dance music (although not as in "Dance music" as we know it today). The album spawned ZZ Top's fourth hit single, "Arrested for Driving While Blind" reaching #74 on the Cashbox chart. In some places Billy took to playing fiddle (a 1941 Rickenbacker electric) to get that authentic western feel on the album. In keeping with the direction they were heading in, "Tejas" soon went Platinum, but the real monster was just beginning to stir.....
The huge success they were by now enjoying only encouraged the boys to aim even higher, and 1975 - 1976 saw The World Wide Texas Tour being introduced. It kicked off on May 29th at Graves Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was, at the time, the most ambitious rock tour ever staged. On stage with the band were images of their home state, from haystacks, and farming tools to live bison, cactus, rattlesnakes, buzzards and even Longhorn cattle roaming the stage. $140,000 worth of livestock were used on the show. The Longhorn and a Buffalo were raised up on Sizzor lifts either side of the stage for fifteen second appearances. Cacti and other authentic vegetation was included. The band even included their mascot, a Havelina pig. During one performance, the lighting was so hot that the buzzard's wings started to smoke!!! Everything was used positively in the production - even the transporter trailers the band used were part of the show (having had Texan landscapes painted onto them). The animals were all very well cared for, as the ASPCA discovered on the frequent occasions when they inspected the production. The animals were cared for by Ralph Fisher, who really went to town on their care. The rattlesnakes were given their own air-condioned plexi-glass domes to live in. For weeks before the tour began, Ralph acclimatised the creatures by playing hours worth of ZZ Top music to them. Eventually though the snakes had to go, because the stage vibration was simply too upsetting for them.
The tour was a massive critical and financial success (grossing $11.5 million, the most ever for any act) but was physically and emotionally very draining. Not only was it huge in the revenue stakes - but logistically it was massive (1.2 million tickets sold, 1,440 man hours needed to erect the stage etc). $140,000 worth of Texas livestock was shipped across the country to set the scene. By tour-end, Newsweek reported that ticket sales exceeded Elvis Presley's, attendance exceeded Led Zeppelin, and record sales beat The Rolling Stones. The minimum time required to erect, dismantle, and then transport the set was three days. The outlook for the band was now extremely rosy - they had two platinum selling albums, still selling in large numbers. They had just finished the most commercially successful tour ever. They now had a legion of new fans who attended the Worldwide Texas Tour, who were looking to buy ZZ Top products. So what did the band do to capitalise on this... they want on holiday!!.... for three years!!!!!
ZZ's label used the sabbatical to keep the coffers full , by releasing the compilation "The Best of ZZ Top" in 1977, to ZZ Top - Starved fans. It included all of the classics such as "Jesus Just Left Chicago," "Heard it on the X," "Tush" and "La Grange." Frank set of for a "Weeks" cruise in the Caribbean and just didn't come back. Part of the time he lived like a hermit', the rest of the time like an international playboy. Dusty tried scuba diving off the Cayman Islands and sailing around the Pacific. Billy lived for a time in a Paris art colony and then, on the island of Madagascar. However, although exhausted from the overwhelming workload, ZZ Top used this opportunity to move from London Records, to giants Warner Bros, after some shrewd negotiation by Bill Ham.
Bill was demanding $1 million dollars for a label to sign up the band, and in September '78 he got it - from Warner Brothers. Bill also rather shrewdly made sure that Warner Brothers bought the rights to ZZ Top's back catalogue, in view of the way London Records had treated the Rolling Stones. When the Stones switched labels to record with Atlantic, every time they tried to release a new studio album, London would issue a rehashed greatest hits package - obviously, this damaged the takings for the new album. Bill Ham was determined that this was not going to happen to ZZ Top.
On their return, the band brought out their hugely popular "Deguello" which included what was to become yet another ZZ classic, "Cheap Sunglasses". They also returned with what would eventually become the most famous aspect of the guys - huge beards!!!! (Unbelievably, Billy and Dusty had each grown their beard's without knowing the other had done the same - oooh - Twilight Zone music!!) Their new image was to prove a boost to their career. As Frank recalled the story of how, one day in the lobby of New York's Gramercy Park Hotel,
"The elevator opens and this guy gets out. He's wearin' hot pants, black fish net tights, a feather boa and make up and he's carrying a bullwhip over his shoulder and two leatherette women on his arms. He marches through the lobby and I'm elbowin' Dusty goin' "Goddamn, look at that." And we look around - and everybody in the whole lobby is staring at us!" "Deguello" was named, in the ZZ Top Tex-Mex tradition, after the death march played by Mexican soldiers as they stormed the Alamo. Deguello (1979) included Isaac Hayes' "I Thank You," (I Thank You reached #34) and another favourite with fans, "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide." Billy made "I Thank You" even dirtier than the Hayes version by substituting the word "Me " for "It". This changed lyrics like "You didn't have to squeeze me" to " You didn't have to squeeze it". "I Thank You" gave the band only their second AM radio hit single.
The album did suffer a hitch, when distribution had to be temporarily halted. This was due to a legal argument amongst members of Elmore James' estate, which resulted in problems with other artists releasing covers of his music. Because "Deguello" included a ZZ version of "Dust My Broom", they were affected. Also on the album, was more evidence of Billy's increasingly odd sense of humour. "Manic Mechanic" was about a seven foot high racing driver who Billy claimed to know. ZZ Top never used musicians from outside the trio, (apart from Pete Tickle, their road manager, who played acoustic guitar on "Rio Grande Mud") so when a horn section was needed for Deguello, they did it themselves!! They learned enough sax to play a three part harmony, and credited the session to The Lone Wolf Horns. (Lone Wolf being Bill Hams promotions company)
Dusty recalls fondly: "Yes, we learned that part, and it took us forever! None of us were horn players, and we honked and squeaked, and made all sorts of cattle sounds, you know, we would draw all the wild animals over to where we were because they'd hear these sounds... Anyway, we learned the parts, and someone asked me why I didn't just go and hire a three-sax set. But once again, it didn't seem that odd an idea at the time. We took a couple of lessons and learned the parts and played them. And then what we did when we toured back then - this is a little time before the videos were pop-ular - we put it on a screen behind us. We called them The Lone Wolf Horns, like they were a separate three guys. I've since forgotten how to play, even that much."
The horns appeared on the tracks "Hi-Fi Mama" and "She loves my automobile". Frank explains : "We wrote "Hi-Fi Mama" and we said if ever a song needed horns it's this song. We've never used any outside help before on any of our records. Like Billy will get down on his knees and play an organ's foot pedals with his hands or something. We've always managed to get what we wanted ourselves. And so I said "Let's go buy saxes and learn how to play saxes. It can't be that hard. "The band went out and bought themselves a saxophone each, and then hired someone to teach them how to play basic stuff. Billy then transposed it all for the album. They worked out how to play by each blowing one note simultaneously, recording it, and then blowing the next note etc. However popular the album was with the fans, the band yet again had problems with the press reaction to it:
"Just in case it has escaped their notice, America has undergone one or two mighty big changes in the years ZZ Top has been away...five years ago, people might-at a pinch - have tolerated these mean lookin' hombres and their wooly west-via-Las Vegas supperclub blues mongerings. My grandpappy even reckons they had a couple of million sellers back then as well. But the times, they've been a-changing. ZZ Top last recorded in 1976, and no doubt back then, they did seem a litle subversive, a little dangerous. But since then, we've had the Pistols, we've had The Clash and we've had The Ramones. And try as I might, I can't find a single thing on this record which makes me sorry for that. Its out of date, out of time, and as soon as I finish writing this and get down to the exchange shop, it's out of my house".
However, two of ZZ Top's worst press enemies were converted by "Deguello" - Lester Bangs, and Robert Christgau. Christgau wrote: "These guys got off the road for real...sounds as if they spent all three years playing the blues on their front porches. The strident arena technique (which marred earlier records) is gone, every song gives back a verbal phrase or two to make up for the musical ones it appropriates, and to vary the trio format, they've figured out where to put them....I've heard a shitload of white blues albums....This is the best by miles" In 1980, ZZ Top made their eagerly anticpated return to playing live, with the Deguello tour. But.. shock, horror - they weren't dressed like cowboys anymore! John Travolta and "Urban Cowboy" made sure of that. And they had huge beards.... apart from Frank Beard, who claimed he was so far behind the others that he'd never be able to catch up!
The tour was the band's biggest grossing yet. Gone were the Texan landscapes, but in came The Lone Wolf Horns. Frank: "We made a film of the three of us playing saxophones, so , whenever we went on the road, we'd lower a screen and The Lone Wolf Horns would walk out and join us for three songs" 1980 saw the band leave the US for Britain for the first time. They played a special on "The Old Grey Whistle Test" on April 15, followed by two concerts at Hammersmith Odeon.The band found the UK very open to what they were playing, especially because bands like Def Leppard were emerging, and fans were quite willing to include ZZ Top as a heavy metal band.
As soon as the "Deguello" tour finished, Billy vanished on his travels again. He ended up on the Indian sub-continent, on a (he claims...)200 mile walk through Tibet in search of the Abominable Snowman. "I had an encounter with something up there," he remarks mysteriously. "I don't know what it was, but I wrote a song about it called "(I Wouldn't Touch it With a) Ten Foot Pole." The Deguello tour set the band up nicely for their second Warner Brothers album "El Loco". However, another six month holiday was needed first. During this time, the band finalised their new look, by getting themselves down to "Colonel Bubby's Purveyors of Fine Surplus" and buying their trademark boiler suits.
Like its successor, Eliminator, El Loco had a trio of songs which formed the foundation for the album:, "Groovy Little Hippy Pad", "Heaven Hell or Houston", and "Party on the Patio". On this album, the band's distinctive blues feel was watered down slightly by the arrival of synthesized music on the album. Frank recalled recording "Groovy Little Hippy Pad": "We built that song up at my house. We started out on the synthesizer, then built in all the other instruments piece by piece. That was a lot of fun, because the synthesizer is so relentless in its time keeping. I mean, it's just perfect. It's just a clock going off. We did the whole thing a piece at a time. All of it was just layered in there.....We did some strange things with "Heaven Hell or Houston". We didn't know what we were going to do with that. We had this piece of a song, and we didn't have a bridge for it. So we just kept the bass drum going and counted off "x" amount of bars and then went back and decided "Well, let's do something exotic" Up at Ardent in Memphis they brought in this box of special percussion instruments and we tried all of them. We were beating on microphone stands, you know. I think we ended up with some temple bells in there, and an agogo. And trying not to play as though you were taught. Playing left handed or something like that to give it a little bit of a rough feel so it would sound more native"
The second Warner album came out in 1981. "El Loco" featured more great fare from the rather dodgy "Pearl Necklace" to equally naughty "Tube Snake Boogie." It was the only album they cut using cubicles to record in, rather than as a live band. They didn't like the result especially, so reverted to recording as "live" unit. For trivia fans, this album also contained the song "Leila," quite possibly the only time the boys had a row during the writing process. In '81, they supported The Rolling Stones again, this time in the US. They had also had a large fan-base amongst fellow rockers. When they played in London in 1981 on the "El Loco" tour, the band's sold-out appearance was attended by such luminaries as The Police, Nick Lowe, and labelmates Thin Lizzy. However, musicians had always found ZZ Top engaging from the first listen. Duane Allman rarely spoke onstage, but he drew a standing ovation one night in Memphis shortly before death as he stepped to the microphone after one of the trio's brain jolting performances and said, "Hey, how about that ZZ Top!"
In 1981, ZZ Top joined a group, organized by civic leader Marilyn Lubetkin to raise and donate money to buy back J.D. McKissack's Orange Show. The show is an open-air, multimedia sculptural installation dedicated to the orange, and is a leading example of an art form called "folk art environment." In recognition of their help and support, the band was given a piece of wood from Muddy Waters' shack in Clarksdale, Mississippi. They eventually arranged to have it made into a guitar, which was then (in the best traditions of the blues) named "Muddywood," The sharecropper's shack was located on the Stovall Plantation near the town of Clarksdale in the Mississippi delta. The building was scheduled to be demolished because of it's poor condition. Billy was given a fallen roof timber from the shack, and after a trip to a custom guitar maker in Memphis, the MuddyWood Guitar was born. ZZ Top presented the Delta Blues Museum with the guitar at a ceremony at the museum. The guitar is now on display at the Delta Blues Museum. "El Loco" - both tour and album - were to be successful but not monster's to match previous efforts. The band had reached a crossroads - a change was going to be needed if they were to keep from standing still, and ultimately, fading away.
"Eliminator," was a monster, even by ZZ Top's standards. It sold 5 million copies that first year and eventually 11 million in the U.S. alone. It was their first to include lots of synthesized music, which had made a brief appearance on Deguello and El Loco. It was also their first album for years not to have a Spanish language title (lthough Gibbons claims the title should really read El - Iminator!!!) The album was named after Gibbons' 1933 Ford coupe. On it were the songs most MTV viewers would associate with the band: "Legs", Gimme all your lovin'" and "Sharp-Dressed Man." Controversy crept in when Linden Hudson (a sound engineer) claimed he co-wrote large portions of the album with the band. (This was "revealed" in the book "Sharp Dressed Men" by David Blayney) Hudson claims that in addition to not getting a credit for his "songs", Bill Ham tried to hide all trace of any contributions he had made. The band denied everything but after a five-year legal battle, payed Hudson $600,000 when he allegedly proved he held the copyright on the song "Thug." As said earlier, the co-writer of John Lee Hooker's classic "Boogie Chillun" filed against ZZ Top alleging that La Grange was a rip-off of his song. This was eventually settled.
Eliminator eventually became a multi-platinum album (thanks in large part to MTV's love affair with the trio of classic video's). ZZ Top videos, complete with the '33 Ford and bearded bad boys, became MTV staples and icons of the age. It remained on the charts for 135 weeks, selling 10 million copies, and peaking at No. 9. It remained in the Top 20 for more than a year. The idea to do a video to accompany "Gimme all your lovin'" originally came from Bill Ham. Swept along by the momentum, the band and crew ended up in the desert for the shoot - unfortunately, nobody had though of a storyline for the video!! The one thing the band definitely wanted was to not try to be actors - real actors performed in the video, with the band being themselves. The video was a huge hit (especially due to the birth of MTV) and encouraged the band to continue the theme in "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Legs". The fourth video, "TV Dinners" was totally different - it didn't use the cars, keyring, girls imagery of the other three.
The band say that the central character in the video for Sharp Dressed Man is based on Frank, apparently the Rod Stewart of the band!!! The "Legs" video saw ZZ Top introduce the world to furry, spinning guitars! The story behind them, as told by Dean Guitars was:
That's real sheepskin on those guitars! Billy Gibbons was at a party with Def Leppard in London, and he called me at like two in the morning. Billy said he was shipping me some sheepskins and he wanted them on a Dean guitar! So I said fine, and a week later the sheepskins show up at my factory, and I made a guitar and a bass. We used a horse-hair trimmer -- I was dating a girl who trained horses at the time -- and we trimmed the sheepskin under the strings. Then Billy and (ZZ Top bassist) Dusty Hill wanted the spinning units on them. I never knew that set of guitars would become so famous. The brilliant video helped make "Legs" the bands biggest hit single, reaching no. 4 in the chart.
By the end of 1984, the album had sold a staggering 7.5 million copies worldwide. The 'Eliminator Coupe' is currently on display at the Rock and Roll Museum. Also in 1983, in August they played the Monsters of Rock at Donington Park, and they also played a one show at the classic Marquee club in London in October. Eliminator later earned their first Grammy nomination. In 1984, the Eliminator world tour ended in Biloxi, February 12th.
ZZ Top appeared live for the first time on U.S. television in 1985 on the Tonight Show on NBC. Even Johnny Carson got into the act, sporting a beard of his own after the band played Sharp Dressed Man and Tush. In 1985 the band produced, what was incredibly, only their eighth album, "Afterburner". Although it was a huge hit, one commentator summed it up by saying, "Oh no, they've done Eliminator again". Afterburner featured the Top 10 hit "Sleeping Bag," (Sleeping Bag got to #8) as well as two other classic's ; "Velcro Fly" and "Rough Boy." During the recording of "Sleeping Bag", Bill Ham kept calling for a solo, and Billy'd make a pass and it was not acceptable. He'd make another pass, and finally figured, "Well, let's try it again." In the meantime, Ham was growing extremely anxious to lay something down, and he inadvertently was tapping his fingers on the desk and then the knobs of the MXR Pitch Transposer. Those knobs are touch-sensitive, and Gibbons couldn't figure out why his guitar was jumping from pitch to pitch. He was actually tapping on the Pitch Transposer and creating the bagpipe sound. Billy says he "just fell out of the chair; I said, "Don't touch a thing--we're leaving it!" ZZ Top are well remembered for having introduced a synthetic feel to their blues for Eliminator and Afterburner. Dusty remembers: "Somewhere along the line you'll always draw back on that bank of interesting tit-bits of knowledge. It'll find its way into your music. That's why we did 'Eliminator' and 'Afterburner' at that time. People might say we did it because the music was changing. Not necessarily; we did it because we hadn't done it before. Believe me, we're not hi-tech technicians when it comes to that type of thing. We're like monkeys, you know, when they say they put them in a room with typewriters they'll eventually type something, well, eventually we'll write something. But it's fun for us. We did that, and now we don't do that, and it's just the same thing."
By now, the band were almost as famous for their beards as their music. Billy remembers a $1 million per man offer (for himself and Dusty) from Gillette razors to shave the beards off: "These beards are part of the deal. It's another extension of the whole ball of wax; we got stuck with long beards. Gillette made us an offer to shave them off, but we had to reply that behind them, we're just too ugly." In '85, they went back to Monsters of Rock at Donington, this time headlining the bill. Also, the 212 show long Afterburner World Tour took off on December 3rd in Canada. It ended in Honolulu in March 1987. Afterburner sold over three million copies.
In 1986, Texas actually passed a law making the band "Official Texas Heroes." According to bassist Dusty Hill, there have been only four since the Alamo: retired football player Earl Campbell, plus Dusty Hill, Frank Beard and Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top. In 1987 came "ZZ Top Six Pack", which was a three-CD set. It housed of the material recorded for ZZ Top's first six albums: ZZ Top's First Album, Rio Grande Mud (CD 1); Tres Hombres, Fandango! (CD 2); Tejas and El Loco (CD 3). It was a talking point amongst fans, due to the fact that the extent of remixing that was undertaken in Memphis, meant that the songs on this set sounded very different to the originals. In fact, even if you buy those original albums now on CD, there is no way to get the "original" music ; with the exception of "Best Of ZZ Top" and possibly "Deguello", every CD reissue of an original vinyl release has similar remastering.
By 1990, the band had sold 50 million records. That year saw the release (after a five year hiatus) of Recycler (1990), which featured what many saw as their comeback single "Doubleback," which was the theme song created for Back to the Future III. They also cameoed in the movie. In comparison with the band's previous two albums, "Recycler", sold a relatively disappointing one million units . The Recycler tour had, unlike the Worldwide Texas Tour, no live animals, but is, as Gibbons says, a surrealistic vision. The production was staged in a 21st century fantasy junkyard. Beard's drum platform rested on the flatbed of a tractor trailer and was surrounded by the detritus of crushed automobiles and video screens. Throughout the two-hour, 21-song set lasers flashed through the audience, while during "Legs" and "My Head's in Mississippi," a laser generated naked cowgirl danced on the ceiling.
An anecdote Frank recalled about the sessions was the recording of "Give It Up" : "In 'Give It Up' there's a portion where it builds up to a stop and then a voice says, 'Fine.' Well, that voice is a preacher that we sampled!" The Recycler World Tour started off in Canada on October 2nd 1990. On March 26 1991, controversy over the corporate sponsorship of the Recycler tour erupted when ZZ Top's production company, Lone Wolf Productions, fired opening act the Black Crowes after the second of 3 shows in their hometown, Atlanta, Ga. The tour was sponsored by Miller Brewing Company. Repeated anti-sponsorship comments by Black Crowes lead singer, Chris Robinson, led to the band's dismissal.
Before the firing of the Black Crowes, ZZ Top bassist Hill spoke about corporate sponsorship. "Sponsorship... helps keep the price of the tickets down. So, I don't see anything but a good thing coming out of that," said Hill. He added, "Absolutely, as far as musically and our shows and everything, we do 'our show' and the promoters promote it."
Within twelve months of the release, tragedy struck when Bill Ham's wife, Cecile, was murdered. A 23-year-old man (on parole with three prior convictions) strangled her for her car, simply because he didn't want to walk to his halfway house.
1992 saw the release of Greatest Hits, featuring all those classic hits and two new singles, "Gun Love" and "Viva Las Vegas". "Viva Las Vegas" became a worldwide hit and yet another staple of live ZZ Top gigs. 1992 also saw the band in court. La Cienega Music Co. sued the boys, contending all three of its versions of La Grange were based on a 1948 John Lee Hooker blues hit, Boogie Chillen. La Cienega owns the rights to Boogie Chillen. In '93, ZZ Top headlined the Harley Davidson 90th Anniversary Birthday Bash, June 12th. In 1993 ZZ Top arranged a five album, $35 million contract with RCA, under which ZZ Top has produced three further albums.
Their first album under the RCA label, Antenna, showed the band trying to find their way back to their stripped down, blues roots. They got rid of the synths, and the album was full of good, ballsy music which took the listener back to the early seventies. Antenna featured the hit single "Pincushion," as well as "Breakaway" and Antenna tour opener "World of Swirl." There were also two rarer tracks released -- "Everything", which was only on the European pressing of Antenna, and "Mary's" on the Breakaway CD single. It was during the "Antenna" world tour, that the band played their first ever African gigs. However, Antenna only entered the charts at #14, but dropped rapidly and failed to yield a major hit single (even though Pincushion was a great lead song). But still, even as it sat at #151 five months after its release, Antenna had gone platinum, proving the band still had a considerable fan base
Another compilation appeared in 1994; One Foot In The Blues which was a collection of seventeen classic ZZ Top blues originals spanning their entire career. On September 17, 1996, Rhythmeen was released. It housed the single "She's Just Killing Me" (written specially at the request of Quentin Tarantino for his movie "From Dusk Till Dawn" the video premiered 24/1/96). Other singles included "What's Up With That" (released to US radio 26/8/96 on its own CD single along with bonus song "Stop Breakin' Down Blues", "Bang Bang" and "Rhythmeen." There was an additional track on the Japanese release called "Isn't Love Amazing" The album release was announced in conjunction with news of ZZ Top's 1996-1997 "Continental Safari" tour. The song "Whats Up with That" features some mean harp - but not by Billy, as he recalls..."That's hard-harpin' James from Santa Monica and, boy, can he play. I tried to stay out of his way. I took one phrase toward the back end of the tune, a surprise appearance with a Fender amp in one channel and, believe it or not, a Teisco Del Ray amp in the other. That's a couple of American white guys playing some serious blues. That's the nasty stuff there, man." The Continental Safari Tour takes ZZ Top to places they've never played before, like South Africa, Latvia Estonia, Russia and the Czech Republic. During the year, ZZ Top also guested as themselves in an episode of The Simpson's. 1997, ZZ Top appears on the halftime show at the Super Bowl final. The Mean Rhythmeen tour hits Europe in January and February. Many considered Rhythmeen to be one of the band best albums. Billy Gibbons said: " (its the) first pure trio record of our career".
Billy, in a 1997 interiew gave an insight to the recording of Rhythmeen: "Some pieces were already developed during the final show of the "Antenna" tour. If you wanna bring it to the point, we wanted all songs to be raw, hard and rough. One of the first songs for "Rhythmeen" already set the new direction. We came into the studio with a few basic ideas, and then director Robert Rodriguez asked us to do a song for the Quantin-Tarantino film "From Dust Till Dawn". We agreed right away and started with the basics for "She’s just killing me". Everything was done within 30 minutes -and that was really rough. Then we sent a tape of it to Robert. His reaction was "Don’t touch it! We’ll take it like this". That song was a start and we went on from there! There were simply three guys that sat down on the backbeat and powered up in the old ZZ Top tradition. "
The band worked as hard as ever to promote their new album. On 2/10//96 they on the Late Show with David Letterman to play their new single "What's Up With That." On 28/10/97 ZZ Top even showed up at the VH1 Fashion Awards!!! In 1998, ZZ Top were inducted into the Music Hall of Fame at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, Texas. The last album recorded by the band to date was 1999's "XXX". It was released on September 28, 1999. The title refers to ZZ Top's 30-year anniversary. The album contains twelve songs, four of them live cuts recorded in small clubs. Songs include "36-22-36," "Trippin'," and a live remake of "Pincushion" entitled "Sinpusher." The Japanese version has an extra track called "Ninja Shak" The band again appeared with Dave Letternman on 7/10/99 to perform their single "Fearless Boogie" At the turn of the century, ZZ Top is the only rock group to still have its sole, original lineup intact after three decades.
New York City, March 16, 1999 -- ZZ Top is among the honorees present at the RIAA ceremony for the first 45 artists to obtain the Diamond Award. Other recipients include Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles and the Beatles. "Imagine Jimmy Page standing next to ZZ Top and flanked by Metallica, Dolly Parton, Kenny G. and MC Hammer," Gibbons says, laughing. "It was the autograph party from hell."
On 5/3/00 the band hosted an online chat, answering questions and announcing new tour dates. Over 100 concert dates took place on the "XXX Tour" with, as a rockers dream, a special guest slot by Jacksonville legends "Lynyrd Skynyrd". Billy Gibbons referred to it as "a collision of the rednecks." The tour was successful, but part way through its run had to be postponed due to Dusty Hill contracting Hepatitis.
On 18/1/01 the band performed at the inauguration party of President George W. Bush. How could they turn down a fellow Texan? The set list included a new song called "Man Upstairs." NBC’s "Saturday Night Live" even declared ZZ Top a write-in candidate for President. The inauguration gig was billed ''The Best Little Ball In D.C.'' a sold-out private party for 1,000 guests at at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. Dusty recalled: "Got a little party going on tonight. It's an honor to be asked to play at something like this. We're playing it fast and loose tonight. I might play around with the lyrics to 'Tush' because something rhymes with that. [Laughs]. But I don't know personally if that's one of his picks. But once I hit the stage and get playing, I just play. I'm not trying to make light of the thing, because it's an honor. It's just about celebrating, and we do that rather well. [Laughs]. I'm sure there's gonna be barbecue and whatnot, everything out here. I saw a real nervous cow outside."
The members of ZZ Top have a history of supporting their home state, and vice versa. Former governors Mark White and Ann Richards named them goodwill ambassadors of the state in the '80s and '90s. And when Bush was governor, he declared that May 15, 1997, was ZZ Top Day in Texas, honoring them as ‘famous throughout the globe as "that little ol’ band from Texas." Billy Gibbons was also a guest on the John Mayall CD "Along for the Ride," which was released in 2001. Other guests on the album include Jonny Lang, Steve Cropper, Jeff Healey, Gary Moore, and Peter Green. Billy Gibbons is also featured on the new Hank Williams III album "Lovesick Broke & Driftin'" on the song "Trashville." ZZ Top appeared with Brooks & Dunn on the April 21 episode of CMT Crossroads. Their performance was taped on March 3 in Nashville in front of a studio audience at the Grand Ole Opry House.
Also in the Country genre, artists including Willie Nelson, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn and others have paid tribute to ZZ Top with a new album Sharp Dressed Man: A Tribute to ZZ Top. Billy Gibbons also makes a brief appearance in the Tim McGraw video "The Cowboy In Me." Billy Gibbons has appeared in a Quaker State motor oil commercial. It features some of his cars including Eliminator, Cadzzilla and the Hogzzillas. In the ad, Billy looks for help changing his oil, and a group of women in pit crew jumpsuits pop out. Mmmmm! What a surprise!! ZZ Top also undertook a European tour in October-November 2002. Support on many shows was from the great Irish guitarist Gary Moore.
On October 15 2002, Frank was rushed to hospital for an emergency appendectomy in Paris, forcing band to play shows without its original line-up for the first time in its history. Frank said at the time: "``I really hate to miss a show, but we're lucky that John's available. I'll be back in there as soon as the doctors give me the OK.” ZZ Top had only just resumed their XXX tour, which had to be postponed when Dusty was diagnosed with hepatitis C. In fact, when Frank got ill, his place was temporarily taken by drum tech and former Kik Tracee drummer John Douglas, Frank has his kits custom built by John Douglas'. So far, he's gone through eleven of them.
Gibbons' also had a few memorable moment's from the Rolling Stones' "No Security" tour this year: "Keith Richards allowed me and a buddy to stand behind the amp line. No one is usually allowed there except for maybe a stage technician. The band starts playing "Tumblin' Dice" and we pull out some dice and start playing craps right there on the amp. "Charlie Watts looks over at us from his drum riser and grins as he catches Keith's eye. Keith peers over, see's what were doing and looks very pleased. "I thought that was very cool."
ZZ Top still sound as good as they did at the start, and still lock tight musically. As Billy explains: The actual mechanics are as follows: Frank cuts a time groove, over which Dusty does his version of Duck Dunn/Steve Cropper simplicity. That will be worked over with that special dynamism that all great rhythm sections fall back on. After the comfort of familiarity starts being a part of the equation, then the experiment with composition variations starts suggesting directions for the guitar parts to fall in with. I'll usually start by locking into their groove and take it from there. "Most of our stuff is composed in a room with Frank in a far corner and we go ahead and play the first draft and then let him recite the lyrics, what he thought we said, then we write those down and that's the song," says Gibbons with a sly smile.
The band's home state of Texas has honored it no less than five times, including having two separates days declared as ZZ Top Day in Texas. ZZ Top also applied to be the first rock band in space - as Billy (who else) elaborates...We didn't exactly book reservations: we offered our services to NASA to be the lounge band on the shuttle. We promised that we had no bad habits, required only a 15-minute break every hour and were willing to eat very little. We got an immediate letter back from NASA saying they were considering our offer and would let us know. I guess they're still considering.
Billy Gibbons once said "We've done a little math and figured out this band has lasted longer than school, marriage and anything else we've done," "It has to do a lot with the value of personal relationships and that we simply still love playing music together."
To date, ZZ Top has sold more than $200 million in box office receipts and around 50 million albums.