“ZZ Top’s First Album” – ZZ Top (1971) [english]

Today we take the time machine to go on Trex Road. Raise your hand who, lover of American rock and blues, does not know the two most famous beards of Texas? That is that of William Frederick Gibbons, aka Billy F Gibbons, leader and founder of ZZ Top and that of the late Dusty Hill, legendary bassist, who unfortunately left us on July 28, 2021. A band that over the years, especially after their third album, Tres Hombres (1973), achieved considerable success in the United States and with the advent of videos, in the 80s, became a bright star in the Olympus of rock, leaving, however, for years, The beaches that had made them famous and loved them. A detour that led them to mix their music made of rough blues mixed with psychedelia, with a meltin pot of commercial pop-rock full of electronics, which left a bitter taste in the mouth to many fans. Let’s go back to the beginning of this trio, which everyone knows today. Let’s go back to the late 60’s when the gifted guitarist Billy Gibbons began to make a name for himself in Houston and surroundings, in the live circuits, trying to merge the music that, until then, was the most popular, namely psychedelic rock (was a friend of the great Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators) to the electric blues of the Delta tradition (he was a big fan of BB King). He started several bands, but it was when, together with Lanier Gray and Dan Mitchell, he created Moving Sidewalks that his career changed. As often happens, however, not immediately. The band began playing frequently as an opening for the 13th Floor Elevators and finally in 1969 they recorded their first album, Flash. The album had a good echo of public in the streets of Texas and this led to the band the fortune to open the concerts of the rising star of world music, namely Jimi Hendrix and his Experience. The friendship and complicity that was created with the left-handed Seattle allowed the two to exchange tips and innovative techniques, it is said that Gibbons introduced Jimi to the technique of slide. Urban legends not demonstrable apart, what is certain is that Hendrix during a famous TV show defined the band as the next crack of American music and did not go far. In fact, probably his words, combined with the commercial failure of the album, led Billy Gibbons to look for new paths, so he decided to replace the members of the band and drew on another active formation in the Houston area, namely the American Blues. The band was devoted to electric blues and bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard were just what he was looking for to give life to the rhythm section of his new creature. A trio, as was used in England in those years where Cream and Taste went crazy in addition to the Jimi Hendrix Experience. About the origin of the name there is no absolute certainty, indeed the band has marched us a lot and leaving the mystery is always a good commercial choice, it also creates unintentional interest (ask for confirmation to another ol’ Texas band, the Whiskey Myers). It is said that it was a kind of tribute to the love for the blues of BB King and ZZ Hill, some say (and this seems really hard to believe) which was a kind of genius move of marketing ante litteram and that is the choice to be at the end of the alphabetical order in record stores to be always easily purchased. The name ZZ Top was chosen and their first record recorded at Robin Hood Studios in Tyler, Texas was released on the shelves on January 16, 1971 under London Records. The album, consisting of 10 pieces, was a declaration of intent, but also an almost total shelving of psychedelic inspiration. On the other hand the Summer of Love was behind and now only a dot in the mirrors: the sound was dirty, raw and very oriented to the electric blues. It was not a resounding success, for that as mentioned we will have to wait for the third work, but put them on the map and made them appreciate. Word of mouth had begun and the beards were beginning to grow. Just press play and you realize from the first piece, (Somebody Else Been) Shaking Your Tree, that what will make the difference will be the sound of Gibbons guitar and the rhythm that will not take prisoners of the duo Hill-Beard. A moving train that drags and involves. The lyrics are a classic of the blues of love and betrayal, the scratchy pace of the six strings wraps us like a spider web to get to an exciting solo. The voices of Gibbons and Hill, who often swap the microphone, are well suited to the dark and rocky blues tones, but they are not the attraction and it is understood even better at the second track, Brown Sugar. A piece that initially rests on the dirty Texan sound of the guitar, but slowly explodes in a blues rock irresistible groove. The trademark is already well defined, a good thing that it has come to us despite a dangerous detour due to the passage in the terrible 80s. The guitar will become inspiration for the next generation, fast, dirty and never banal, its grate the air with repeated cracks, that being one with the rhythm section. The ZZ Top Sound was born and, together with the future long beards of the two leaders, it will become their manifesto. We continue with Squank and the canvas becomes even more intense with almost funk unscrewed, alternate the two voices also that of Hill is predominant in the piece and the protagonist but it is always her: the six strings of Gibbons. The riffs are never trivial and will excite crowds of young guitarists who will hang from the fingers of this Texas guy. Goin’ Down To Mexico is perhaps the song that best illustrates the sound of the Houston boys, a piece of electric blues with a haunted groove, that already seems to wink at something more rough, more rocky. For those who write one of the first pieces of a genre that over the years will become a real movement: southern rock. Dusty rock riffs, that dust of the desert that seems to scar the vocal cords of the singers, that seems to scratch the fingers of the guitarist, who seems to rise at every blow of drums. And what anticipation of Southern Rock would it be without a ballad? Here comes Old Man. A slow blues with slide guitar playing with a heavenly sound, maybe the voice is not suitable for these sounds, but the guitar paints a sound that probably inspired other greats (who said Lynyrd Skynyrd?). The next triptych composed by Nieghbor Neighbor, Certified Blues and Bedroom Thang are there to prove that their sound did not need further maturation, it was already defined, dirty, rough, dusty electric blues. Sort of a Delta blues after a nice trip to a desert in Texas. The fact that the 3 pieces do not deviate from this sound is the confirmation that you were not looking for anything else and maybe it was a bit ‘the limit of this album or maybe its value seen then the unexpected electronic contamination of the years of MTV. The lyrics today would certainly have unleashed the ire of various right-thinking and censors, but their strength has always been that: immediacy, love for women, parties and alcohol. No sophistication, no inspiration, no philosophy, just blues rock and fun. The only small deviation from the road traced by the 3 previous pieces is with Just Got Back From Baby’s. It’s always a nice blues with an intense groove, but the song has a particular charm: almost as if the jam sessions with my friend Jimi had left some ideas in Gibbons‘ mind. The sound of the guitar leaves you amazed, now dusty, now crystal clear and what about the magical lines of the Hill bass? A piece that separates from the rest in quality, there are no masterpieces in the 10 pieces but maybe this and Goin’ Down To Mexico are among the two most shining examples of early musical maturity. The album closes with the almost hard rock blues of Backdoor Love Affair. The guitar twirls the notes in a masterly way supported by a rhythmic beat and the text… Well the lyrics stay on the same line, nothing intellectual, but when you have this celestial guitar sound, who really notices the words while dancing on the boards of a dusty old saloon? A work that was a nice jolt to the musical world, perhaps more in retrospect than when it came out. The success was less than what will come, but it was reevaluated by fans years later, when the band lost a bit of sight of the direction and got guided by impresario Bill Ham who took care of the image (the idea of long beards) and shows with concerts that brought bizarre caravans of cowboys, rattlesnakes and atmosphere from Texas saloons. If you want to find out where the legend of the most famous beards of American rock was born and find out where the scratchy sound of the legendary Billy F Gibbons was born, you should definitely make this little jewel of Texas blues rock, or, if you know him, You can’t help but notice how some bands today would never have been born without a little ol’ band from Texas : ZZ Top.

My article is also a small tribute to the great Dusty Hill, one of the greatest bassists of American music, perhaps never celebrated enough, who deserves to be in Olympus for having helped create a way of making music that will never be forgotten. Thank you, Dusty.

Good listening,

Trex Willer by http://www.ticinonotizie.it

(you can find original italian article at this link: https://www.ticinonotizie.it/zz-top-zz-tops-first-album-1971-by-trex-roads/ )


Pubblicato da Trex

Sono un blogger e scrittore appassionato di musica indipendente americana. Scrivo gialli polizieschi e ho inventato il personaggio del detective texano Cody Myers.

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