Upcoming album revitalizes bearded bards of Texas rock
There’s a lot to be said for a band that went from being saloon ramblers to bearded cowboys from outer space on MTV.
And after four decades of rockin’ around the globe, ZZ Top, the tres hombres of Texas rock, are about to roll into another chapter of their long and winding career. Next month the group will be releasing its 15th studio album, “La Futura,” produced by Rick Rubin, who cut his teeth in the early days of rap and was the man behind Johnny Cash’s musical comeback.
On Tuesday, August 14th, the band will give local audiences a little taste of where they are now at the Fox Theater (and if you procrastinated in getting tickets, so sorry: The show sold out last week).
ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard barreled through the ’70s with razor-cut riffs, a driving backbeat, and humorous lyrics filled with sexual innuendo and Texas slang. Known to fans as “that little ol' band from Texas,” they carved a niche as purveyors of blues-based rock with a modern country edge.
ZZ Top, above from left: Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill
From the opening lines of “La Grange” to the screaming soul of “Tush,” they had a flair for crafting melodies with undeniable catchiness. On tour, they brought their home state along for the ride, staging shows featuring live farm animals, native plants and a Texas-shaped stage.
As their reputation grew, so did their beards and popularity.
Their 1983 album “Eliminator” would become one the year’s runaway hits, due in part to the videos for the songs “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” All three featured sexy models and a tricked-out, red 1933 Ford Coupe that became part of the group’s hip new image. Soon, the ZZ Top beard could be seen everywhere from advertising campaigns to Halloween costumes.
Above: ZZ Top's "Eliminator" Ford Coupe
Today, they still bear their trademark beards and sunglasses. In 2004, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
To stir up some hype for the upcoming record, the group released a four-song EP, “Texicali,” earlier this year. It’s a solid reminder of what defines the ZZ Top sound: gritty guitars, driving beats and gruff vocals. No synthesizers, just pure Texas rock.
2012's "La Futura"
Guitarist and vocalist Gibbons, 62, was good enough to answer The Californian’s questions via email.
How does it feel to be considered one of the most iconic bands of both the ’70s and ’80s?
It feels fine ’cause we had a lot of good times then and we're still having them. We’ve extended our rock and roll “half life” by keeping on keeping on. Fun is the Hamburger Helper secret to our longevity.
What are your impressions of producer Rick Rubin?
His talent is his ability to listen and reflect on what he hears. That’s not easy for us, so his contribution was very significant. And, you know, look at that beard! How could this not have worked?
What was your favorite moment of the big MTV video days?
Winning in our category at the very first MTV Awards, now known as the VMAs, was pretty cool. We got to shoot the “Legs” video twice because the lab ruined the film after the first shooting and we had to reassemble cast and crew one week later, and we really got to know those girls pretty well.
One of the original ZZ Top video models, Jeana Keough from “Legs,” was last seen on the reality show “Real Housewives of Orange County.” You still keep in touch?
Not only are we in touch with most of them, but we’ve met their daughters!
What was your least favorite MTV moment?
It’s certainly one of the most absurd moments and it lasted longer than a moment, but when Frank “discovered” MTV he was home channel surfing and saw they were playing music. He stayed up for about 18 hours ’cause he didn't want to miss any of it, unaware that it was going on for 24 hours, non-stop.
Are your beards insured?
Yes, but the deductible is a killer!
Have you ever been offered money to shave the beards off?
Doesn’t matter ’cause there’s no way we’d do it. The prospect of seeing ourselves clean-shaven in the mirror is more frightening that just about anything imaginable.
You get a chance to check out any new bands?
Oh, yeah. We’re digging a few cool new ones. We’re liking Black Joe Louis and The Honeybears from Austin, and Amplified Heat, too. The latter are a three-piece that play it really down and dirty. Sound familiar? On the country side, we’re big pals with Jamey Johnson, who really knows how to rock it.
Will we ever see a ZZ Top autobiography? If it was made into a movie, which big-time Hollywood actors would you like portraying you three on film?
We can’t stop to get a biography down ’cause we’re still living chapters to be written about. For a film about ZZ Top, we’d have Frank portrayed by William H. Macy, maybe George Clooney or John Hamm to play yours truly and, of course, we’d ask the Looney Tunes folks to conjure up Yosemite Sam to play Dusty.
I once caught a ZZ Top tribute with a fourth member onstage, which seemed a bit odd. What kind of ZZ Top tribute would you approve of?
That’s ridiculous! If you can’t do it with three, don’t do it at all. We’ve heard a whole bunch of them over the years and were very impressed with Fandango!, a band whose drummer was none other than Billy Bob Thornton. There’s one out there called Eliminator, but not sure the beards are for real. They’re not a ZZ tribute band, per se, but Rick K. and the Allnighters’ version of “Sharp Dressed Man” is amazing because the drummer is so wild. More than 2 million have seen the YouTube video. Check it out!
What’s the best advice or compliment you’ve ever received from one of your musical idols?
Jimi Hendrix said he thought we were “more than OK,” and when Dusty and Frank were doing duty as Lightnin’ Hopkins’ rhythm section, they asked him to run down the changes in advance of the set. His response was: “Lightnin’ change when Lightnin’ want to change.” aThey were really on their toes as a result.
What kind of set list will fans be getting at your Bakersfield show?
Our aim is to cover as much territory as possible, so we’ll go way back to the beginning and bring it right up to the present with some stuff from the forthcoming album and maybe some stuff we’ve never recorded, to make it interesting.
Would you ever consider having live animals onstage again like you did for the Worldwide Texas tour of ’76?
Got that base covered, too. GiZZmo, the band’s mascot, has been known to join us onstage.
With guests Nashville Pussy
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Auguat 14th, 2012; the show is sold out
Where: Fox Theater, 2001 H St.
Information: 661-324-1369 or vallitix.com