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The Future Is Now

ZZ Top breaks 9-year recording hiatus with Rick Rubin-produced effort

For most of the ’80s, ZZ Top was an inescapable presence thanks to a plethora of videos, often times containing underdog storylines revolving around gorgeous gals, a 1933 Ford hotrod and the hirsute threesome serving as a Greek chorus of cool to the aggrieved protagonist. But amidst all the bells and whistles, the most impressive feat pulled off by this Texas power trio was using 1983’s Eliminator to adapt its bluesy hard rock boogie sound and modernize it with synthesizers and drum machines sans any kind of artistic compromising. 

 

And while the band’s television face time has drastically dropped nowadays, guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard haven’t lost their penchant for coloring outside the creative lines by way of last year’s El Futuro, the group’s first studio outing since 2003’s Mescalero. With fellow iconoclast Rick Rubin at the production helm, the outfit’s fifteenth studio album not only features the gritty riffing and dirty blues fans have come to expect, but “I Gotsa Get Paid,” a reworking of “25 Lighters,” a hip-hop song by fellow Houstonians DJ DMD with Lil’ Keke and Fat Pat. For Gibbons, the collaboration was about as unsurprising as ZZ Top becoming fast friends and subsequently being inspired by Depeche Mode prior to recording Eliminator.

 

“We got to know [DJ DMD, Lil’ Keke and Fat Pat] as well as a lot of the Houston hip-hop underground greats while we all used the same studio and engineers,” Gibbons said. “We’d hang out in the lounge and they’d play us theirs and we’d play ‘em ours. Although it took the better part of two decades to transform “25 Lighters” into a guitar-driven rocker, ‘I Gotsta Get Paid’ got it right. [It was] worth the effort.”

 

As untraditional as ZZ Top might get, the blues has always served as a bedrock inspiration the longtime friends, particularly Gibbons, who credits a family housekeeper for turning him onto the likes of Bobby Bland, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. This devotion to the blues extended to the creation of Muddywood, a guitar made from a piece of wood from Waters’ shack in Clarksdale, MS that was subsequently sent out on tour to raise money for the Delta Blues Museum. This reverence of the past also led to Gibbons participating in last year’s Just Tell Me What You Want: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac. It was an invitation the guitarist couldn’t resist. 

 

“We’d crossed paths with just about every version of Fleetwood Mac there’s ever been over the years so when the idea of our participating in the tribute album was floated we went for it without hesitation,” he explained. “Matt Sweeney, Blake Mills and I selected ‘Oh Well’ as it’s got a real ZZ vibe and, truth be told, Peter Green was an early inspiration.  Lots of good stuff on that album; we especially like the Kills version of ‘Dreams,’ Entrance Band’s ‘Green Manalishi’ and J. Mascis and Lee Ranaldo’s take on ‘Albatross.’”

 

For all the positive response received by La Futura, it was Gibbons reuniting with the original members of the Moving Sidewalks, his pre-ZZ Top band, that garnered the most acclaim. The legendary Texas psychedelic garage rock band toured with Jimi Hendrix and The Doors and released its sole album, 1968’s Flash, before members Tom Moore and Don Summers were drafted into the Army. The Moving Sidewalks was relegated to music history until Flash was reissued last year to great fanfare. Gibbons announced a reunion squeezed in amid ZZ Top tour dates in January. Pleased by the response, he’s taken it all in stride as part of ZZ Top’s ongoing journey. 

 

“We were offered a chance to re-gather, as it were, at the recent garage rock fest in New York that led to the recent booking at Austin’s Psych Fest.  We rehearsed a lot but the truth is that the other three had even more refined skills than when we went our separate ways.  

It all came back together very naturally ...totally a happnin’ thing,” Gibbons said. “It’s all part of that ever present challenge of broadening horizons. The excursion we just took with the Moving Sidewalks kind of shows that you can go forward and backward at the same time.”

 

ZZ Top will be appearing on Wednesday, May 15 at NYCB Theatre @ Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury. For more information, please call 877-598-8497 or visit www.livenation.com