ZZ Top, aka “That Little Ol’ Band from Texas,” returns to Ruth Eckerd Hall Friday, Dec. 27, 8 p.m.
CLEARWATER - ZZ Top, aka “That Little Ol’ Band from Texas,” returns to Ruth Eckerd Hall Friday, Dec. 27, 8 p.m.
ZZ TOP lay undisputed claim to being the longest-running major rock band with original personnel intact and in 2004, the Texas trio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Of course, there are only three of them, Billy F. Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard, but it’s a remarkable achievement that they’re still very much together after more than 40 years of rock, blues and boogie on the road and in the studio.
“Yeah,” says Gibbons, guitarist extraordinaire, “we’re the same three guys, bashing out the same three chords.”
With the release of each of their albums, the band has explored new ground in terms of both their sonic approach and the material they’ve recorded. ZZ Top is the same but always changing.
Evidence of that consistency and adaptability is found in La Futura, their first studio album in nine years. Produced by Rick Rubin and Gibbons, it reflects the solid blues inspiration that has powered the band since the very beginning with a contemporary approach that underscores the group’s inclination to experiment and explore new sonic vistas.
The album includes ten newly cut tracks including the widely lauded I Gotsta Get Paid that has become both a video and in-concert sensation. ZZ Top’s rich history is also the subject of a current box set release. ZZ Top: The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990 offers no fewer than 10 of the band’s most lauded albums all with the original mixes restored.
It was in Houston in the waning days of 1969 that ZZ TOP coalesced from the cores of two rival bands, Billy’s Moving Sidewalks and Frank and Dusty’s American Blues. The new group went on to record the appropriately titled ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud, that reflected their strong blues roots. Their third, 1973s Tres Hombres, catapulted them to national attention with the hit La Grange, still one of the band’s signature pieces today. The song is unabashed elemental boogie, celebrating the institution that came to be known as “the best little whorehouse in Texas.”
Their next hit was Tush, a song about, well, let’s just say the pursuit of “the good life” that was featured on their Fandango! album released in 1975. The band’s momentum and success built during its first decade, culminating in the legendary “World Wide Texas Tour,” with a production that included a longhorn steer, a buffalo, buzzards, rattlesnakes and a Texas-shaped stage.
As a touring unit, they’ve been without peer over the years, performing before millions of fans through North America on numerous epochal tours as well as overseas, where they’ve enthralled audiences from Slovenia to Italy, from Australia to Sweden, from Russia to Japan and most points in between. Their iconography (beards, cars, girls, and that magic keychain) seems to transcend all bounds of geography and language.
Following a lengthy hiatus during which the individual members of the band traveled the world, they switched labels (from British Decca’s London label to Warner Bros.) and returned with two amazingly provocative albums, Deguello and El Loco.
Their next release, Eliminator, was something of a paradigm shift for ZZ Top. Their roots blues skew was intact, but added to the mix were tech-age trappings that soon found a visual outlet with the nascent MTV.
Suddenly, Gibbons, Hill and Beard were video icons, playing a kind of Greek chorus in videos that highlighted the album’s three smash singles: Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs. The melding of grungy guitar-based blues with synth-pop was seamless and continued with the follow-up album Afterburner as they continued their chart juggernaut.
ZZ Top had accomplished the impossible: they had moved with the times while simultaneously bucking ephemeral trends that crossed their path. They had become more popular and more iconic without ever having to be “flavor of the week.” They had become a certified rock institution, contemporary in every way, yet still completely connected to the founding fathers of the genre.
They stayed with Warner Bros. for one more album, Recycler, released in 1990, and switched to RCA, where they debuted with Antenna and followed with Rhythmeen and XXX. Mescalero, their latest, is one of the deepest sets ever presented by the band, with 16 tracks brimming with virtuoso musicianship, humorously enigmatic lyrics and even a track sung entirely in Spanish.
Beyond that, both a lavish four-CD box set compilation, Chrome, Smoke & B.B.Q., and a two-CD distillation of that package, Rancho Texicano, were released in recent years by Warner Bros.
The elements that keep ZZ Top fresh, enduring and above the transitory fray can be summed up in the three words of the band’s internal mantra: “Tone, Taste and Tenacity.”
Of course, the three members of the band have done their utmost to do their part in assuring that ZZ Top prevails. As genuine roots musicians, the members of the band have few peers.
Gibbons is widely regarded as one of American finest blues guitarists working in the rock idiom. His influences are both the originators of the form (Muddy Waters, B.B. King, et al.) as well as the British blues rockers who emerged the generation before ZZ’s ascendance. In Gibbons’ early days of playing, no less an idol than Jimi Hendrix singled him out for praise. Part mad scientist, part prankster, he’s a musical innovator of the highest order.
Hill has long had an affinity for rock’s origins; his earliest performances as a child included Elvis songs convincingly performed. Not only is he a bass virtuoso in his own right, his vocal prowess is awe-inspiring. He’s the lead voice on Tush and his ferocious vocals are heard, to great effect, on Piece on the new album. Good-natured and diligent, Hill is the rock solid bottom of ZZ Top.
Beard has also been keeping the beat in that great tradition. As both a roots and progressive drummer, he has been acknowledged as key to the band’s powerful onstage and in-studio presence. In their early years together, he and Gibbons served as Lightnin’ Hopkins’ rhythm section which, as Beard tells it, was a life-changing experience. Beard, despite his last name, is the guy in the band without a beard. But when you’re with him, you’re with a beard. He’s a rockin’ paradox who provides the pulse of ZZ Top.
ZZ Top’s music is always instantly recognizable, eminently powerful, profoundly soulful, and 100 percent Texas American in derivation. They have sold millions of records over the course of their career, have been officially designated as Heroes of The State of Texas, have been referenced in countless cartoons and sitcoms, and are true rock icons but, against all odds, they’re really just doing what they’ve always done.
Reserved tickets priced at $125, $75 and $55 are available at the Ruth Eckerd Hall Ticket Office located at 1111 McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater or by calling 727-791-7400 and online at www.RuthEckerdHall.com 24/7. Pre-show dining priced at $20 is available before the performance. For reservations and more information, patrons are encouraged to contact the Ruth Eckerd Hall Ticket Office.