ZZ Top is known for its penchant for beards, but now they’re venturing into Rick Nielsen’s wacky guitar territory with a 17-string bass.
Elwood Francis’s massive bass, which must be an absolute pain to string and hold even with a strap, was captured in a fan-shot video at the group’s November 5 show in Huntsville, Ala.
So, what’s up with that bass? Apparently, it was intended as a funny “hold my beer” moment for the band. Francis told Ultimate Classic Rock, “I was doing night internet searching [and] turned up a picture of this crazy 17 string bass. I sent a picture to Billy [Gibbons] and we laughed about it and made some jokes about actually trying to use it…A few weeks later, after I had forgotten about it, Billy shows up with [the 17 string bass].”
Well, if Billy Gibbons shows up with a crazy instrument for you to play, you’re gonna play the damn thing! Here’s hoping Francis has ample Advil on hand for any potential neck aches in the near future.
ZZ Top: Their 40 Best Songs, Ranked
‘Eliminator’ was one of the few albums where a band said to their audience “We hope you like our new direction,” and they actually *did* like their new direction. ZZ Top incorporated electronics into their sound and it actually worked. ‘Eliminator’ is no longer really thought of as a “comeback” album. It’s really just a classic. “Thug,” understandably, was buried under all of the album’s singles, but it’s one of the group’s funkist jams.
A blues jam co-written by Billy F. Gibbons and Tom Hambridge, an unsung hero of modern blues, who has worked extensively with Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi and George Thorogood. If you think you’ve heard every blues song there is to hear, but you don’t know this one, check it out.
Creatively, the 2000s weren’t a great era for ZZ; while they toured a lot, they only released one album, and ‘Mescalero’ was far from a classic. But this song, which kicked off the album, combined Tejano elements, with modern production technology, was a highlight.
As Billy F. Gibbons has said in interviews, ZZ was transitioning a bit on ‘Tejas.’ But as he said, “I'm not really sure what we were transitioning from and what we were becoming.” The band were using new studio technology and some of their songs - including this one - were a bit smooth. But this one still had such a cool vibe.
‘La Futura’ was produced by Rick Rubin, one of the few guys whose beard compares to Billy F. Gibbons’ and Dusty Hill’s. Seriously, though, he’s great at working with legendary artists and getting them back in touch with what people love about them (see his work with Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Mick Jagger, Black Sabbath and Metallica). This song wasn’t a single, but it has the swagger, the crunchy blues stomp, and the back-and-forth vocals of Gibbons and Hill that makes a ZZ Top classic.
Speaking of back-and-forth vocals between Billy F. Gibbons and Dusty Hill, this is a great example of that. And it’s been an anthem for ZZ Top fans for decades.
ZZ Top rarely recorded songs for anything other than their own albums, but their contribution to the tribute album to the leader of the legendary Texas psychedelic band 13th Floor Elevators is the band’s greatest obscure gem.
One of the hottest songs about an appointment with an acupuncturist. “Shook my soul and stole my dough,” Gibbons growls. “Left my condition down a deep, dark hole/I'm a pincushion, gotta face the facts/I'm just a pincushion, do anything she ask.”
It turns out that both nasty dogs and funky kings need love too. As Gibbons sings, all a nasty dog or a funky king wants to do “is get next to you.” Hmm, maybe it’s not love that they’re after…
Another jam that features both Gibbons and Hill on vocals. Their beards may be similar but their voices couldn’t be more different: Hill is a technically great singer, while Gibbons’s growl is unmistakable. But when they sang together, they sounded incredible.
A great blues rock jam, but we don’t recommend that anyone drive after being “bitten” by that Wild Turkey.
OK, this song might be a bit dated at this point, but it still sounds so good! This is one of their more keyboardy/synthy jams on ‘Eliminator’ -- Dusty Hill plays keyboards instead of bass -- but it still has the band’s signature bite.
ZZ Top put their modern spin on the blues with nearly every song in their catalog, but they also were good at doing their own interpretation on blues classics, as they demonstrated on this Robert Johnson classic, which was later popularized by Elmore James.
Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top were always being influenced by unexpected places; that was true with this psychedelic bluesy cover of Americana duo David Rawlings and Gillian Welch’s bluegrass jam “It’s Too Easy” (which Gibbons added some lyrics to, and added the “manana” to the title)
‘Eliminator’ was a huge hit, but following it up surely had to be a bitch. ‘Afterburner’ as a whole doesn’t match the heights of its predecessor, but this synth driven jam does.
“Well she don't care if I'm stoned or sloppy drunk, long as she got the keys and there's a spare wheel in her trunk.” A great blues lyric if there ever was one.
In which Gibbons and Hill trade stories about how they were influenced by what they heard on Mexican radio stations when they were growing up. At the time, all of those stations’ call letters started with “x.” Fun fact: they eventually performed this song on one of those stations so they actually heard “Heard It On The X” on the X.
It’s not a song about the weather: “It sure got cold after the rain fell/Not from the sky, from my eye/Somebody, can you tell me/Just what make a man feel this way?” They answered the question earlier in the song. The narrator explains that his “baby” ran off with another man. Ouch!
Trust your first instinct! In this blues jam, Gibbons sings about a woman who he “rolls all night long with.” But he knows something’s up and he later figures it out. “I just got back from baby's, big white house on the hill/If her loving don't get me...I know her husband will.”
This was a throwback to the classic ZZ Top sound on the modern, tech-savvy ‘Eliminator.’ Was Billy F. Gibbons singing about a woman or a car here?
Released in the same year as the Rolling Stones’ song of the same name, but the songs sound nothing alike. While the Stones lyrics are pretty self-explanatory, you’re not quite sure if ZZ Top is singing about a woman or a drug.
If you haven’t spent time with ‘La Futura,’ do yourself a favor and check it out. You’ll be singing along with this jam before the song’s 4 minutes 18 seconds run out. This jam is almost AC/DC- like, as it’s all about riffs, girls and good times (and it’s no surprise that producer Rick Rubin has cited AC/DC as his favorite band, and he’s produced them as well).
The lyrics are almost Dylan-esque, describing encounters in Mexico while “there was trouble on the rise.” There’s the “fine and fancy” man who did good things for the poor; they parted ways while “singing the same old song.” Then, the narrator meets a “Nineteen Forty movie star with a long forgotten name...She was a sexy mess in her pleated dress, still hanging on to fame.” That encounter had a better conclusion: “hand in hand we walked along, Each of us singing the same old song.” ZZ Top: fighting ageism since ‘71!
It’s reminiscent of Billy Gibbons’ pre-ZZ band, the Moving Sidewalks, especially thanks to the organ which is pretty loud in the mix. Even when the band were finding their way, they had incredible swagger.
A classically cheeky ZZ jam. Is he talking about the color or the liquor? Let’s check the lyrics: “Chartreuse: don't you know I like big caboose!” Clearly, it could be about a few different things.
Like ‘Afterburner,’ ‘Recycler’ attempted to reproduce the magic of ZZ Top’s huge reboot/comeback album, ‘Eliminator.’ It didn’t quite work across the whole album, but it definitely worked here: “My Head’s In Mississippi” sounded like a forgotten blues jam that was souped up and polished for a new decade.
Even as the band wasn’t very prolific with new music in the millennium, they always seemed to be on the road and they were always an incredible live act. This take on the ‘Eliminator’ classic takes off a bit of the studio polish and is a better version.
A cover of the soul classic by Sam and Dave. The original is one of those songs that is so perfect, you don’t think it needs to be covered by anyone.. Until you hear ZZ’s take on it, transforming it into a blues shuffle.
‘La Futura’ producer Rick Rubin got his start in hip-hop, working with Run-D.M.C. LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. And while he’s rarely worked in the genre since the ‘90s, he still has an extensive knowledge of hip-hop and how to produce it. So that might be why this reworking of a somewhat obscure song by Lil Keke and Fat Pat sounded so good in the hands of ZZ Top.
How good of a blues jam is this? So good that Buddy Guy covered it on his (very underrated) 1998 album, ‘Heavy Love.’ That’s pretty much the ultimate seal of approval for any modern blues group.
As we mentioned, ZZ reworked a hip-hop jam into their own song on “I Gotsta Get Paid,” and it wouldn’t surprise us if a hip-hop act did the same for this jam, which sees ZZ Top bragging about their sweet rides, their cool clothes and the “foxes” who ride with them.
Yes, you can consider “Waitin’ For The Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” to be two different songs, but one doesn’t quite sound right without the other. Sure they were written separately -- drummer Frank Beard co-wrote the second song with Gibbons and Hill, while they wrote the first one together. But when Gibbons heard how the album was sequenced, he loved them put together with no gap in between. Rightfully so.
The band went pretty far into electronic territory here: supposedly, only Gibbons appears on this song (the synths and drums are all programmed). But the images that we’ll always have in our minds are the guys driving around in their ZZ Top car. And yeah, we usually consider band members not playing on their own record to be foul play, but we’ll let it slide here… “Legs” is just too good to deny.
One of the greatest working class anthems of all time: “Just got paid today/Got me a pocket full of change/If you believe like workin' hard all day/Just step in my shoes and take my pay.” And the chugging blues jam actually makes you feel as if you just got that check and you’re looking to spend it.
The song somehow made straight up blues rock (albeit with a commercial sheen) sound perfect on MTV among the new wave idols dominating the playlist. And it sported one of Billy Gibbons’ best guitar solos. The video was a sequel to the unforgettable clip for “Gimme All Your Lovin’” and no one was complaining about seeing the ZZ car for a second time, not to mention its passengers.
“When you wake up in the morning and the light is hurtin' your head/The first thing you do when you get up out of bed is hit that streets a-runnin' and try to beat the masses/And go get yourself some cheap sunglasses!” We’ve all been there. Although after an optometrists' convention sported a huge poster saying, “Don't wear cheap sunglasses,” Gibbons had to acquiesce the point: “I suppose I'll have to agree. There is a cutoff point where optical considerations must be taken into account.” But hey, when you’re hungover, sometimes you gotta go with what you can afford.
The first single from ‘Eliminator,’ “Gimme All Your Lovin’” changed everything for the band. Not only did it introduce a new sound that made them a legit current band in the ‘80s (something many of their peers were unable to do), it also introduced a new, powerful visual identity. The ZZ Top Eliminator car, the ZZ Top keychain, the ZZ Top girls all debuted here.
Dusty Hill’s finest moment as a singer, he said that the song was written in about ten minutes. Sometimes there’s beauty in simplicity.
Owing more than a little to John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillin’” and “Boom Boom,” but hey rock and roll and the blues are all about borrowing and recycling. (ZZ Top were sued - unsuccessfully - by the copyright holder of “Boom Boom”). The song is about… well a whorehouse in La Grange, Texas known as “The Chicken Ranch.” Seriously: the place they wrote about was the basis of the Broadway show ‘The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas!’ And while the guys may have spent some time there, the band never played there. But, four decades later, they did their first concert in La Grange, in 2015.