The trio composed by Gibbons, in addition to Dusty Hill and Frank Beard, has sold more than 50 million albums and were inducted into the transcendent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 2014, among other of their most successful triumphs.
Although they began their career in the seventies, they did not reach some commercial popularity until the eighties, when they approached an electric rock, using synthesizers in their songs. Once they became famous, they resumed their initial style, approaching Blues Rock. Therefore, during the nineties, they lost places in the charts, but they returned to approach their initial followers. Finally, after almost ten years without any premiere, in 2012 the group published its fifteenth album, returning to the world rankings.
10. WAITING FOR THE BUS / JESUS JUST LEFT CHICAGO
There is no doubt that the band’s third LP, Tres Hombres, and their heartfelt rock-blues era opening “Waiting for the bus,” from 1973, are one of the most powerful accelerations of ZZ Top’s career.
Bassist Dusty Hill came up with composing the song once he hadn’t taken the bus for a long time and then decided to make the Austin-Houston trip, where Hill stated that he meets interesting people in this mode of locomotion and that they could always invite him to a good wine. The singer Dave Lee Roth, who covered this tune with his group Van Halen, interprets the meaning as a man just out of prison who uses the bus itself to get to his Cadillac, parked this one, you know where.
This same theme cannot be conceived without the lively, and in unison, swampy blues that follows, that is, “Jesus just left Chicago”, seamlessly connecting with its sonorous predecessor. That sum of 7 minutes of both cuts was something that many radio stations broadcast in its entirety, a very rare and unusual thing to see on the American airwaves at that time. It all stemmed from a lucky mistake by the ZZ Top engineer when he failed to separate both songs in the original studio mix, where the band finally decided not to modify it and publish it as is because the union sounded good.
The headline phrase “Jesus Christ just left Chicago!” It was delivered by a boyhood friend of Billy Gibbons’ during a telephone conversation between the two, and later the guitarist himself wrote the song in the style of black Christian music as if he were a reverend giving a parish address. Perhaps, it was all a tribute to the so marked “bluesy” atmosphere of Chicago and New Orleans, which reached the ears of the inhabitants of Texas as if it were religious and not diabolical salvation, as it had been stigmatized in other times. to this genre or also to rock and roll. Other interpretive theories do not point to a spiritual melody but to something as different as drug dealers.
9. ENJOY AND GET IT ON
When driving at 120 mph with the car on a sunny, lonely, and sandy road, press down on the “play” key of your player to make this feline and indomitable boogie-blues-country-rock sound and resonate. This transports us to a very erotic reference: “Enjoy and get it on” which, in slang means, more or less, “Enjoy and have sex” and is that these vital issues between men and women are, in all probability, the song from the highly profitable 1976 album Tejas. This very LP, quite unfairly, did not get as much popular recognition, unlike most of the Houston band’s earlier work; which, after an extensive tour of the ZZ Top themselves in 1977, caused the project to stop until 1979: this year when success did once again smile at them.
8. GOT ME UNDER PRESSURE
People would ask Billy Gibbons if the “hustler” girl in the song was his or someone’s girlfriend. The vocalist and guitarist created the track and recorded a demo of it, along with Houston composer and engineer Linden Hudson, in the fleeting absence of the other ZZ Top members Dusty Hill and Frank Heard. Hudson himself contributed the part of the synthesizer and the drum machines of “Got me under pressure” (“She has me under pressure”), something that this technician used to renew, revitalize and relaunch the sound of the band in the 80s, before the anger of the most purist music lovers and fans of the most genuine blues-rock of the Houstonian combo and belonging to the 70s.
A song this one of hard-rock dynamiter, with that guitar that brings out sparks and that was included in the fundamental album Eliminator, 1983 (his best-selling LP with 17 million copies, although it may not be the best), where MTV also helped launch the invention commercially. Even in 2006, the car oil brand, Pennzoil, decided to use the cut for one of its spots.
7. SLEEPING BAG
This rocky song from 1985 traveled straight to # 8 on the US charts: higher than any of their other singles. The sung paragraphs deal only with the heat generated by a couple in the same sleeping bag. Related to this, the phrase in the text: “sleep next to the pharaohs in quicksand”, comes from Billy Gibbons’ complaint that he had a “sleeping bag” that looked like a mummy’s grave. The inspiration for the song came to Gibbons himself from when he was in the Boy Scouts as a teenager.
The American skater who aroused so much controversy, Tonya Harding, used to play this song in the background when she performed her spectacular exercises; something that was also captured in the film that was shot about the said athlete, with the actress Margot Robbie in the role of Harding. Although Gibbons, consequently, did not joke when seeing his song in the said film stating that one day the subject could be used as a background for ballet, the fact is that the musician also confessed that it was the hardest guitar riff he had ever played. The video on the subject completes the visual tetralogy of the particular red Ford Hot Rod vehicle from 1933.
6. KO KO BLUE
The lyrics of this fiery and sordid, yet very well adjusted and dynamic boogie-blues-rock suggest an interracial sexual encounter between a rough mountain man and a passionate African American woman. This song belongs to their second album Rio Grande Mud (1972), which naturally carries voluminous songs, although I have finally opted for this rambunctious, raunchy high tension cable that is “Ko Ko blue”. The torrential stories to music by 1930s bluesman Robert Johnson, perhaps, hover over this mighty song by Gibbons, Hill, and Beard.
It is necessary to name Bill Ham, regular producer of the band since the 70s, and who decisively helped shape the peculiar sound of ZZ Top, which catapulted them to the top. The fantastic “Ko Ko Blue” and the rest of the formidable and spirited cuts from the album like “Francine”, “Just God Paid”, “Chevrolet”, “Bar-B-Q”, etc. (including some co-written by Ham himself with the ZZ), were an important and qualitative stride forward to achieve albums, increasingly established as, for example, Tres Hombres (1973).
According to bassist Dusty Hill, the term “Tush” could have the meaning of “booty”, “luxurious” or also “beautiful buttocks” and is that the lyrics are completely interpretable. ZZ Top were inspired by the Texan musician Roy Head, who released the instrumental “Tush Hog” in 1967 and the trio also composed it while watching a rodeo show in Alabama. Included in the 1975 LP Fandango, the aforementioned song gave the band, that same year, its first international success, although in its native state the band was already well known. To his Les Paul guitar, played through a Marshall amp, Billy Gibbons also added a peculiar distortion loudspeaker called the Cooper Time Cube, to achieve an effective note delay.
When in 2001, the Texas politician George W. Bush was elected president of the United States, they asked the band to sing at the investiture of his countryman but pronouncing the last name of the president instead of the original word (that is, instead of “Tush”, it was about chanting “Bush”). However, ZZ Top refused to do such a performance.
4. GIMME ALL YOUR LOVIN’
As we have mentioned before with “Sharp Dressed Man”, this vibrant and fast track, “Gimme All your loving” (“Give me all your love”), is the beginning of the band with the synthesizers and the overdubbing of guitars; all this within the album Eliminator (1983), which sold 17 million copies. The lyrics have quite obvious sexual connotations and the video starring the actor Peter Tramm, as we mentioned before, had its continuation with the second by the “well-dressed man” himself. The anecdote was that the collection of the own clip of “Gimme All Your Lovin ‘” helped ZZ Top to pay some economic debts, due to the high cost of maintenance of the popular Billy Gibbons car, and that vehicle, curiously, also appears as a claim, in the images, to help in the amortization commented.
3. CHEAP SUNGLASSES
First of all, note that during that time of “Cheap Sunglasses” and the album Degüello (recently signed ZZ Top by Warner Bros.), from 1979, it was when Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill grew their famous and iconic 40-centimeter rectangular beards, which they would never shave anymore. According to the bassist himself about the song, when they used to go on tour, in each gas station they found, for sale, panels with very cheap and very horrible sunglasses. During 30 kilometers of highway that led them towards Austin (Texas), the triplet wrote the score, where then the magnificently spoiled guitar riff was obtained by Gibbons with a Marshall 200 watt amplifier.
The lyrics could perhaps be about the fact that you have to wear these dark-lens glasses in the morning to hide dark circles after a wild night out. The anecdote sprouted, when after publishing this superb rock, an eye doctor (after a convention with his colleagues in Hawaii) proclaimed that people should not use that poor product that ZZ Top sang about.
2. I’M BAD, I’M NATIONWIDE
This exceptional and very substantial song, from 1979, was inspired by ZZ Top by a friend of his from Texas, who had influenced Billy Gibbons, that is, a blues musician named Joey Long; which appeared on albums by Slim Harpo or Barbara Lynn. Long himself was traveling in a Cadillac, but since he did not have a driver’s license it was his wife who drove him to concerts and the one who drove the wheel of the car. Some fictitious elements are added to the song, such as that the protagonist was a multimillionaire and in the said vehicle were traveling women smoking Lucky cigarettes, as well as wearing silk stockings and shoes with “stilettos”.
Those mind-blowing effects at the end of “I’m bad, I’m nationwide” were created with a combination of pedals from a “Maestro” drum machine and an Echoplex duplicator. To qualify that “bad” in African American slang could also be interpreted as “being the best” or “being the most macho”.
1. LA GRANGE
It couldn’t be otherwise: this addictive, vigorous and frenetic boogie-rock, from 1973, is the No. 1 of ZZ Top’s career, you position yourself in the perspective that you position yourself. We recover here the mental flash that the song caused and it is none other than the town of La Grange, in Texas; where a crowded and visited brothel (called Chicken Ranch) was located by many beardless university students from that gigantic state in the southern United States. Indeed, these were taken there by the parents to make them lose their innocence to these kids, so to speak. In that atmosphere of pleasure, there was also an attitude of respect and the “madame” there did not tolerate nonsense or drunkenness on the part of anyone, not even politicians, who also came to a place that remained open for almost 70 years! Soldiers from nearby military bases were even brought by helicopter to said location. Quite a historical show.
The lyrics are poured out in a suggestive and fun way by a band that paid tribute to that site because it had finally been forced to close its doors in 1973. There was also a controversy since, in 1992, the mythical bluesman John Lee Hooker sued Texans because the guitar riff sounded a lot like his song “Boogie Chillen” and although ZZ Top got rid of the prosecution, they also acknowledged that yes, Hooker and his song had inspired them. Then, in 2015, Hill, Gibbons, and Beard performed the catchy song, for the first time, in the very Texan town of La Grange, thus seeming to close the circle on the matter.