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

Hands up who loves American rock and blues, doesn’t know the two most famous beards in Texas? In fact, one of the two is the most famous and that is that of William Frederick Gibbons, aka Billy F Gibbons, leader and founder of ZZ Top, a little ol band from Texas. A band that over the years, especially after their third album, Trex Hombres (1973), achieved a remarkable success in the United States and with the advent of videos in the 80s became planetary stars in the Olympus of rock, leaving, however, for years the shores that had made them famous and loved. Diverting their music made of raw blues mixed with the psychedelia of the ’60s to a meltin pot of commercial pop-rock full of electronics that left the bitter in the mouth of many fans. The debut could not be more different from what then led them to success, although in recent years their style has returned to the rock and southern sounds of the past and have still managed to give emotions to fans of the first hour. But let’s go back to the beginnings of this trio that everybody knows today, let’s go back to the late ’70s when gifted guitarist Billy Gibbons started making a name for himself in Houston and surroundings, in the live circuits, trying to merge the music that up to that time was for the most important, namely the psychedelic rock (he 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 formed several bands, but it was when, along with Lanier Gray and Dan Mitchell, he created Moving Sidewalks that his career changed. As often happens, however, not immediately. The band began to play often as an opening act for the 13th Floor Elevators and finally in 1969 recorded the first album Flash. The album had a nice public echo in the streets of Texas and this brought 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 created with the left-handed Seattle allowed the two to exchange suggestions and innovative techniques, it is said that Gibbons introduced Jimi to the slide technique, Urban legends not demonstrable apart from 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, pushed Billy Gibbons to look for new ways to success, so he decided to replace the members of the band and attracted another active group 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 they used to do in England in those years where they went crazy in addition to the Jimi Hendrix Experience also Cream and Taste. On the origin of the name there is no absolute certainty, on the contrary the band has marched a lot and leaving the mystery is always a good commercial choice, it creates interest even involuntary. It is said that it was a kind of tribute to the love for the blues of BB King and ZZ Hill, some (and this seems really hard to believe) they say it was a sort of ingenious move of ante litteram marketing and that is the choice of being at the end of the alphabetical order in record stores to be always easily purchased. The fact is that the name ZZ Top was chosen and their first record recorded at Robin Hood Studios in Tyler, Texas appeared on the shelves on January 16, 1971 under the London Records label. The album composed of 10 pieces was a declaration of intent but also an almost total disregard of psychedelic inspiration, on the other hand the Summer of Love was behind and now only a dot in the rearview mirrors : the sound was dirty, rough and very electric blues-oriented. It was not an amazing success, for what as said we have to wait for the third work, but put them on the map and made them appreciate. Word of mouth had begun and beards were beginning to grow. Just press play and you notice from the first piece, (Somebody Else Been) Shaking Your Tree, that what will make the difference will be the sound of the guitar of Gibbons and the rhythmic that does not make prisoners of the duo Hill-Beard, a train that drags and involves. The lyrics are a classic blues of love and betrayal but the scratchy gait of the six strings that wraps us like a spider web to get to an exciting solo. The voices of Gibbons and Hill who often exchange the microphone well adapt to dark blues and roche but they are not the attraction and you can understand it even better on the second track, Brown Sugar. A piece that initially rests on the dirty Texas sound of the guitar and its voice but slowly explodes into a blues rock to irresistible groove. The trademark is already well defined, a fortune that has arrived to us despite a dangerous deviation due to the passage in the terrible 80s. The guitar will become inspiration for the generations to come, fast dirty never banal, its grate the air with repeated blows, that being a whole’uno with the rhythm section. The ZZ Top Sound was born, which together with the future long beards of the two leaders became their manifesto. It continues with Squank and the canvas becomes even more intense with almost funk unscrewed, alternating the two voices also that of Hill is predominant in the piece and the protagonist is always her: the six strings of Gibbons. Riffs are never trivial and will delight crowds of young guitarists who will hang from the fingers of this Texas boy. Goin’ Down To Mexico is perhaps the song that best illustrates the sound of the guys in Houston, a piece of electric blues with demonic groove that already seems to wink at something rougher, 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 riff, that dust of the desert that seems to scar the vocal cords of the singers, that seems to scratch the fingers of the guitarist, that seems to rise at every drum stroke. And what anticipation of southern would be without a ballad? Here comes Old Man. A slow blues with slide guitar protagonist with a heavenly sound, maybe the voice is not suitable for these sounds but the guitar paints a sound that probably inspired other great (who said Lynyrd Skynyrd?). The next triptych consisting of Nieghbor Neighbor, Certified Blues and Bedroom Thang are there to prove that their sound did not need further maturation, it was already defined them, dirty raw dusty electric blues, Some Delta blues after a nice trip to a Texas desert. The fact that the 3 tracks do not deviate from this sound is confirmation that it was not looking for anything else and maybe it was a bit ‘the limit of this record or perhaps its value then the unexpected electronic contamination of the years of MTV. The lyrics today would certainly have unleashed the ire of well-thinking and various 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, always a nice blues with an intense groove but the piece has a particular charm as if the jam sessions with his friend Jimi had left some ideas in the mind of Gibbons. The sound of the guitar is amazing, now dusty now crystal clear and what about the magic lines of Hill’s bass? A piece that stands out from the rest for its quality, there are no masterpieces in the 10 pieces but perhaps this and Goin’ Down To Mexico are to be counted among the two most shining examples of early musical maturity. The album closes with the blues almost tending to hard rock Backdoor Love Affair, the guitar twirls the notes in a masterful way supported by the usual rhythmic pounding and the lyrics… well the lyrics remain on the same line, nothing intellectual but when you have this celestial sound of guitar who really notices the words when he is dancing on the boards of an old dusty saloon? A record that was a nice jolt to the musical world perhaps more in retrospect than when it came out, not that it was unsuccessful (although quite reduced compared to the third) but it was revalued by fans years later when the band lost sight of the direction and was led by the impresario Bill Ham who edited the image (the idea of long beards) and shows in concerts with bizarre cowboy caravans, Texas rattlesnakes and soaring atmospheres, not to mention the following years. In short, a band that was young and inexperienced but that was already in a sparkling form that probably over the years is a bit ‘lost or came out in flashes. If you want to find out where the legend of the most famous beards of American rock was born and find out where the scratching sound of the legendary Billy F Gibbons was born, you absolutely have to make your own this little jewel of Texas blues rock or if you know it you can not help but notice how some bands today would never have been born without a little ol’ band from Texas : ZZ Top.

Good listening,

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

you can find original italian article at this link : http://www.magazzininesistenti.it/zz-top-zz-tops-first-album-1971-di-claudio-trezzani/?fbclid=IwAR0xFYtLE9xRNojT0i6zlJbVJ1oHTvOOM-wJnRJ1dXYF8D5Qpiz1Xhd6bJI )