ZZ Top is the only major rock band from the ’70s that still exists in the exact same form as on its first album, and for that you’ve got to give the bearded wonders credit. Rush would be up for similar acclaim were it not for John Rutsey playing on their debut album before Neil Peart took over the drumkit.
And poor John Rutsey.
The first Top album I ever bought was 1973’s Tres Hombres, which I scored for an unbelievable $2.99 at a second-hand store in Chilliwack. How some twit could have unloaded this then-new disc at a loss was beyond me, because I revelled in tunes like the righteously lowdown “Waitin’ for the Bus” and rollicking “Move Me On Down the Line”.
The first few times I heard the squealing feedback at the 1:53 point of the first guitar solo on “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” it caused a pleasurable tweak inside my skull somewhere.
That’s when I realized Billy Gibbons was one shit-hot picker.
The first time I saw ZZ–guitarist-vocalist Gibbons, bassist-vocalist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard–was when they played the Pacific Coliseum on the Fandango! tour in 1975; if I recall correctly they had a stage shaped like Texas which included a real live bull in a corral and some rattlesnakes in a cage.
That was when the band was at its leanest and meanest, and although I didn’t care for the poorly produced live portion of the Fandango! album, “Balinese”, “Heard It on the X”, and “Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings” gave me three great reasons to adore the “lil old band from Texas”.
As we all know, ZZ Top hit its commercial peak when it brought in synths and sequencers to modernize its sound on massive ’80s hits like “Legs”. Part of the reason its managed to stick around so long is because it’s been willing to adapt–in small ways, thankfully–to the vagaries of the popular music scene.
But here’s hoping that when the band plays Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre next month it stays true to its down ‘n’ dirty roots and bolsters its setlist with just as many rough-hewn ’70s gems as video-driven hits from the ’80s.