‘The fundamentals of the culture are, after all, cars, girls and rock’n’roll’
Gimme All Your Lovin’ – ZZ Top
Warner Bros 7-29693 (USA) / Warner Brothers W9693 (UK)
Recorded at Ardent Studios, Memphis, Tennessee
Released March 1983
Writers Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill & Frank Beard
Producer Bill Ham
US #37 4/83 UK #10 10/84 (re-entry)
Beards, cheap sunglasses and that iconic 1933 red Ford Coupe are of course the trademarks of Houston formed ZZ Top, essentially a hard-rocking Texas bar band whose name would ensure they would be the last act in record racks and rock encyclopedias. A group of self-proclaimed ‘Beer Drinkers and Hellraisers’ who certainly don’t take themselves too seriously, they have now been boogying for over 46 years and remarkably with the very same line-up since forming in early 1970 – founder Billy Gibbons on guitar and vocals, Dusty Hill on bass and vocals and their notably beardless drummer who is of course named, Frank Beard. Always a good pop trivia question, Mr Beard’s facial appendage rarely seems to have expanded beyond a moustache! We should also mention their long-term manager/record producer Bill Ham, a former record-promotion man and buddy of Billy Gibbons who looked after the band’s activities from 1970 until 2006. And horror of horrors! While Van Halen are often ‘accused’ of bringing synthesizers to heavy-rock with their 1984 hit ‘Jump’, it seems that ZZ Top beat them to it! But we’ll come back to that later.
Coincidentally all three members were born in Texas in 1949 – Gibbons having been in numerous bands since he was 14 in 1963 including The Saints, The Deadbeats and The Moving Sidewalks. In late ’69 he hired Hill and Beard from The Warlocks and the newly named trio ZZ Top signed with US London Records releasing their debut album the following year. It’s generally acknowledged that it was their 3rd album, Tres Hombres, in 1973 that consolidated their sound. Redefining Texas blues, it was their first Top 20 album – the previous two hadn’t made the Top 100 – and included the breakthrough hit, ‘La Grange’, pretty much the ZZ Top ‘blueprint’ and a track based on an ancient John Lee Hooker riff. Explaining this progression of the ZZ Top sound, always so much more than the sum of its three parts, Dusty Hill noted, “Once you’ve learnt the forth chord, you’re outta the blues!” Lyrically speaking, much of the band’s material is made up of humorous sexual innuendo and double entendres – take ‘Tube Snake Boogie’ for example, a fan favourite from 1981 – the band themselves insist it’s about a surfboard… i’ll let you readers make up your own mind on that one!
Through the 1970s ZZ Top built a solid fanbase with almost continual touring until 1977 when their London contract expired after 5 albums and the band took a two-year sabbatical. It was during this period that Mr Gibbons and Mr Hill started growing those impressive beards, the band returning in 1979 with a new deal for Warner Brothers and the album Deguello. By this time, the only country outside the States they had any success was Australia where 4 of their previous albums had seen some chart action. El Loco followed in 1981 before the band finally cracked it big time in 1983 with their 8th album Eliminator, also the name of Gibbons’ custom made Ford Coupe that featured on the cover, and an album that would be greatly assisted by the adoption of so-called ‘new technology’ – those earlier mentioned synthesizers, Gibbons having acquired a prototype Fairlight sampler and experimenting with it to create new sounds.
Terry Manning, who engineered the band’s albums from 1973 to 1990 told Classic Rock in 2016, “To me, Billy is a true genius. He started to analyse why ZZ didn’t get played in dance clubs, and concluded that they were not up to the required rhythmic capabilities. He asked me what we could do. I started going to clubs and studying beats. The market had changed quite a bit from blues-based rock’n’roll. So I came up with some ideas we could implement to make a very different album.”
In fact it’s been alleged that much of the Eliminator album was recorded without the presence or participation of either Dusty Hill or Frank Beard, (though the band did work up the material together in lengthy rehearsals) and was basically constructed around synths, drum machines and sequencers with Billy Gibbons multi-tracked guitars to the fore. ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ was the first track recorded – and indeed the first track for which the band had ever made a video, which we’ll shortly be coming back to. With other hits ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and ‘Legs’, ZZ Top’s songs about fast cars and even faster women were suddenly in vogue, not least due to the addition of those dreaded synthesizers which notably pumped-up the ZZ Top boogie to full-tilt, though it’s fair to say that they were very subtly used.
According to David Blaney, a former ZZ Top stage manager who toured with them for 15 years, in his book Sharp Dressed Men, a studio engineer by the name of Lindon Hudson (strangely unmentioned on the album sleevenotes) helped co-write a lot of the Eliminator material but didn’t receive any credit. He was apparently acting as a kind of ‘live-in, high-tech music teacher’ to Billy Gibbons. While the band strenuously denied these allegations at the time, after lengthy legal proceedings they eventually settled out of court in 1986 paying Hudson a reputed $600,000 dollars while at the same time only admitting that he’d had input on just one track on the album. Billy Gibbons has more recently admitted: “Lindon was quite an influential, inspirational figure – he was right there with us when some of the material was developed and brought forward some production techniques that were then valuable.”
The main reason that Eliminator took off on a world-wide basis (the first time the band had seen any notable chart action outside of the USA) was the trilogy of videos for the three previously mentioned hits that grabbed heavy-rotation on MTV – featuring, among others, a trio of scantilly-clad and stockinged Playboy models and of course, the real star, that gorgeous Ford Coupe – which some male viewers may also have noticed! Happily, there wasn’t much acting expertise required by the band themselves. These decidedly tongue-in-cheek videos doubtless helped shift several million records around the world (mainly to a male demographic) though their impact and popularity is hardly surprising since as Billy Gibbons recently noted, “The fundamentals of the culture are, after all, cars, girls and rock’n’roll.”
There have been numerous explanations as to why the band called themselves ‘ZZ Top’, though this is the one I like best. According to Billy Gibbons it was a tribute to legendary blues guitarist B.B. King. The band were originally going to name themselves ‘Z.Z. King’ in his honour, but then decided it was too similar to B.B. King. So because B.B. King was at the ‘Top’ of the blues world, they changed it to ZZ Top. Despite many further album and singles successes, Eliminator remains ZZ Top’s most successful product, ultimately shifting around 10 million copies in America (15 million worldwide) and remaining on the UK charts, where it peaked at Number 3, for an impressive 137 weeks.
ZZ Top were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Their most recent studio album was released in 2012 while a live collection followed in 2014. Though founder Billy Gibbons released a solo album in 2015 there’s no talk of a split and the band toured in both the US and UK the same year. Finally, a handful of fun facts and first back to that iconic 1933 red Ford Coupe, owned by Billy Gibbons who had it custom built over a period of nearly 7 years. Apparently it cost him a fortune – he estimates around a quarter of a million dollars – however since it was used in those videos, he was thus able to write it off as a legitimate business expense!
Dusty Hill once managed to accidentally shoot himself with his own gun. This apparently happened when his girlfriend removed his boot where he kept his Derringer which fell to the floor and discharged, wounding him in the abdomen. Luckily he was able to drive himself (!) to hospital for treatment before too much damage was done! The band’s previously mentioned debut hit ‘La Grange’ was about a real-life brothel just outside of La Grange, Texas, known as the ‘Chicken Ranch’ which operated between 1905 and 1973 when it was closed down. It was also the subject of the later Broadway musical and movie, The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. Oh, and just before i go a wonderful little snippet to close. Back in 1984, Gibbons and Hill were offered 1 million dollars to shave off their beards for a series of TV ads by the Gillette shaver company – ‘No dice‘ said Gibbons, adding: “Even adjusted for inflation this isn’t going to fly. The prospect of seeing oneself in the mirror clean shaven… is not to be contemplated, no matter the compensation!”
Copyright (C) 2017 SongStories/Tony Burton