Published Apr 01, 2000The Lone Star State o with its guns, mass executions, poisonous snakes, and straight guys wearing chaps and bandannas o couldn¡¦t be more alien to Canadian sensibilities. Yet there¡¦s something magical (in a golden, deep fried sense) about Texas that makes it more appealing than the rest of the United States. Texas is where ZZ Top o the coolest American rock band ever o comes from.
Thirty years as a recording entity hasn¡¦t blunted the Top much. Admittedly, tweens aren¡¦t stampeding to the mall record store with pissy pants and fantasies of bearded grubs in their minds. And sure, latter-day ZZ Top albums haven¡¦t broken much new ground (although the bowel-shaking, detuned guitars on their latest, XXX, are pretty gnarly). But c¡¦mon, who the fuck wants new ground? Like a Houston backyard barbecue, you always know what you¡¦re going to get with ZZ Top: searing leads, dodgy lyrics, a ¡§fuck you, I¡¦m from Texas¡¨ rhythm section, and maybe a plateful of ribs.
The biker/redneck aesthetic? Well, despite their looks, these dudes didn¡¦t just crawl out of a David Duke fundraiser. Back in the day, Billy Gibbons¡¦ licks so enamoured Jimi Hendrix that he gave the young guitarist one of his favourite axes. Bassist Dusty Hill first cut his teeth as a 15-year-old, backing up Freddie King before all-black audiences. Drummer Frank Beard o well, no one really talks about him (other than his ironic beardlessness).
Alas, someone always brings up that whole ¡§Sleeping Bag¡¨ business, don¡¦t they? Back in ¡¥85, drum machines in rock music seemed pretty lame to me too, but give it another chance. And listen to the really fucked-up ¡§Groovy Little Hippie Pad,¡¨ from the ¡¥81 LP El Loco (the album cover depicts them smuggling sacks of weed, dressed as crazy Mexicans). Kraftwerk cowboys perhaps? These tracks still beat many current electronic treatments of drivel-ass shit that nobody wants to hear even in a laundromat.
Of course, it¡¦s ZZ Top¡¦s earlier stuff that really kicks ass. If you¡¦re an aspiring rock dude, then immediately buy vinyl copies of the band¡¦s entire ¡¥70s catalogue: ZZ Top¡¦s First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, Fandango, Tejas and Deguello. (You must also, unfortunately, submit yourself to a strict regimen of red meat and testosterone injections o it¡¦s just the way it is.) As you will discover (just as bands like Fu Manchu have), ZZ Top are the god-appointed three wise men of rock, who also number amongst that rare breed of whities who can play blues boogie without embarrassing themselves.
ZZ Top are not about fruity posturing either. I occasionally enjoy the ¡¥70s pageantry of Steven Tyler¡¦s ragdoll-on-smack thing, or the image of a loin-clothed Nuge swinging from a vine, screaming metaphors for vaginas and wild boar hunting. But it is still the Top¡¦s stately swing that takes the burrito. Who else could make songs about heroin (¡§Brown Sugar¡¨), Mexican whores (¡§La Grange,¡¨ ¡§Mexican Blackbird¡¨) or drinking and driving (¡§Arrested For Driving While Blind¡¨) sound so dignified?
It was their commercial breakthrough album Eliminator that first led me to this riff rock pot of gold, this nirvana of bluesy shuffles, this epiphany of phallically-symbolic facial hair. I was in grade seven. The album, not a particularly ¡¥80s-oriented work, initially died a death on the charts. But then the videos hit the airwaves, something pretty much guaranteeing platinum sales back when MTV only had five different things to play. ¡§Sharp Dressed Man¡¨ blew my mind. Facial hair, unfortunately, still evaded me.
I still haven¡¦t really tried growing a ZZ-style beard, though I have dabbled with handlebar moustaches. Some people may mistake it for a Freddie Mercury fixation, but queer associates have assured me that there is a subtle difference between ¡§¡¦70s cock-rocker and ¡§¡¦70s cock sucker.¡¨ Such a fine line.
As for ZZ Top, they still tour gruellingly, though the band rarely makes it up to Canada. Maybe they had some trouble with the law, or perhaps they know their obsession with cars, booze and prostitutes doesn¡¦t jive with Canadian politeness. Indeed, the band would probably fizzle into sub-atomic particles the second they crossed the border. Anyhow, it¡¦s way more fun to go on a road trip and see them play in some TrashBlanco Dome, with the current incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd opening up.
And by the way, it¡¦s ¡§Zee Zee,¡¨ not ¡§Zed Zed.¡¨ Will we repressed Canadians ever learn?