'80s - ZZ Top (2013)
'El Loco Predicts La Futura!'
The first new studio album from ZZ Top in nine years is LA FUTURA, set for release September 11th by American Recordings.
The album harks back to the hallmark raw sound of the band's formative years and will, inevitably, be considered a return to form on multiple levels.
LA FUTURA, produced by Rick Rubin and Billy F Gibbons, the band’s guitarist/singer, finds the legendary group infusing the newly recorded work with the electric blues/roots approach that typified ZZ Top's earliest work while, at the same time, reaching for new sonic horizons.
Known affectionately as "that that little ol' band from Texas," they came together in 1969 and have had the same three band members ever since: Billy F. Gibbons (guitar and vocals), Dusty Hill (bass and vocals), and Frank Beard (percussion).
ZZ Top's early sound was rooted in blues but eventually grew to exhibit contemporary influences. Throughout their career they have maintained a sound based on Hill's and Beard's rhythm section support, accentuated by Gibbons' guitar and vocal style.
Chatting recently with guitarist Billy F. Gibbons, and taking it from the top, being that ZZ Top has been together now for 40+ years, and still contain all original members, I asked him to reveal his special sauce secret! "No secret at all, Señor. In fact, we're front and center with keepin' on keepin' on, because we're having a good time is as good a reason we believe. We think it as 'The ZZ Everlast Eternal Tour'."
And is it true that the band were nearly called ZZ King back in the day?! "ZZ KING, sure! BB is THE good reach, of course. Then, there's TOP and ZIG ZAG rollin' papers, and AA Bottom!"
Your album titles have, for the most part, always been very Texas-flavored, save for a decade run of more conceptualized ones between '83 and '94. But now you are back with 'La Futura,' so please tell us more about where this new title originated? "The irony bounces back to the sound of our earliest days. For a fleeting moment, the working title wrangled around, 'ZZ Top's Latest Album' to bookend 'ZZ Top's First Album.' However, the TexMex flavor of the early-wave era brought it all the way back to LA FUTURA, opening the door for that which is yet to come."
Indeed, ZZ Top have been evolving with the release of all their albums, exploring new musical ground along the way. So, with the 'La Futura,' what are some of the latest aspects you have unearthed and brought musically to the fore? "Well, it's still the same three guys playing the same three chords yet we hunkered way down and came up with a sound we think is louder, grittier, chunkier and funkier than ever before. It's still true to our motto: You just can't lose with them bad, bad, blues."
Is it true that the first single off the new album, 'I Gotsta Get Paid' is an interpretation of '25 Lighters' by Texan hip-hop DJ DMD and rappers Lil' Keke and Fat Pat? My goodness, how did that all come to be?! "Yes, it's what's known as a 'derivative work.' We were fans of '25 Lighters' since it came out in the 1990s as we shared rock-meets-rap time in the same studio -- Digital Service -- in Houston. It's took more than a couple of decades to successfully weave it into a rock solid Top song, which definitely paid off! Heh, heh ... not to mention a tribute to the other greats spawned from the Houston ghetto, both Lightnin' Hopkins and rappers DJ DMD, Lil' Keke and Fat Pat."
And why has it taken nine (9) years to make? What were you doing for all those years?! "Near non-stop touring of 9 -10 months of the year to places we hadn't previously preformed in like, Argentina, Chile Brazil, [the ABC of SA], Eastern Europe, and around the planet again! Rick Rubin cut the deal with the band in 2008 so it's safe to to say it took 4 years to session up the album. Honestly, time flies when you're havin' large times."
Indeed, not one for solo albums, have you ever at least considered putting one out? "Absolutely. There's more than one album in the can ready for release under the BFG brand in the future. The music is everything from Gulf Coast rock to extreme electronica. Won't run the risk of confusion or collision with the certified ZZ Top-esque sound. Keep yo' head down to the ground."
You own some classic guitars - a Gretsch Billy Bo and a 1959 Gibson Les Paul (known as Pearly Gates) - but which is your go-to for most all ZZ Top guitar work? "Pearly Gates is certainly a cornerstone fave, She's the real treasure. Added into the mix a whole 'guitarsinal' came into play. From the vintage to the voracious, every kind of 6-string thing got slammed toward the fruition of FUTURA."
Since you've done this for 4 decades, what are you finding to be modern day benefits to recording a new album (over, say, the days recording Rio Grande Mud or Tres Hombres) - and at the same time, what still doesn't sit with you well about the new technology? "Speed without tape winding, and a richness of sound without compromise ... exactly as those early studio excursions. Three guys bashing it out for the session. Todays equipment is modernesque "ana-meets digilog." Man, listen to those tubes glowing!"
Reflecting back to a few of your past albums, if you could sum these up in just three (3) to five (5) words each, what would you say about them today:
a) Tres Hombres (1973) - "Haw, haw, haw, haw"
b) El Loco (1981) - "Translation: "The Crazy One"!"
c) Eliminator (1983) - "Gimme All Your Sharp Dressed Legs (I cheated, that's 6 words so you can delete "Gimme" or "All" if it's a problem!)"
d) XXX (1999) - "Pincushion makes for a Dreadmonboogaloo!"
I have to say your appearances on 'Bones' are great, but how did that all come about? "Hart Hanson, the series' creator, has long been an admitted ZZ Top follower and now, good friend. When Hart set about casting a rocker Dad of Angela Montenegro, played by sweetie pie Michaela Conlin, he figured he'd send up a smoke signal. Not really too much of a stretch to play a bearded guitar slinger and that's picture-perfect typecasting for you!"
So, once and for all, what's under the hat(s), Billy?! Is there a real reason why you like to wear the hats you do all the time, even when not performing? "One's hat is a good friend and companion. It's a Texas holdover I suppose, way back gunslinger days. That, too, is where our trusty "chapeau d'afrique" comes in. I don't recall being without a trusted sombrero or sky-piece!"
When was the last time you were completely clean shaven ... and how much money would it take to have you shave your beard of today (for charity, of course)? "Around the time the earth cooled and fish began to walk on land. Can't consider, even for a moment, shaving off these chin whiskers. Keep the change 'cause it ain't in "La Futura". HA!"
Finally, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins (the bird) ... do you?! "Of course!! Who doesn't stand in admiring wonderment of flightless birds in tuxedos? They hang with their mate forever. I believe we can relate! Rock on!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
ZZ TOP Tour Dates:
September 7 - Scarborough, ME - Scarbourough Downs
September 8 - Mansfield, MA - Comcast Center
September 9 - Big Flats, NY - The Summer Stage at Tag's
September 12 - New York, NY - Beacon Theatre
September 14 - Cincinnati, OH - Riverbend Music Center
September 15 - Maryland Heights, MO - Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
September 16 - Sevierville, TN - Smokies Stadium