The bittersweet fiftieth anniversary of the all-important transitional second ZZ Top album, Rio Grande Mud, will focus on the all-around improvements in recording quality and songwriting reflected in such perennials as “Francine”, “Just Got Paid”, “Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell”, and the introduction of “the squank” to guitar vernacular on “KoKo Blue”. Squankmaster Billy Gibbons, drummer Frank Beard, and the dearly missed Dusty Hill tell the colorful tales of the earliest days of ZZ Top here In the Studio for Rio Grande Mud’s five decade pit stop.The late legendary ZZ Top manager and producer Bill Ham was an old-school former independent record promoter from Houston that could smell a hit from a thousand miles away – but initially he didn’t hear the band’s first (and certainly most important) hit back in 1973 on Tres Hombres, and almost missed the breakthrough of what had become America’s longest running original rock band in history until the sudden death of Dusty Hill in 2021.You see, Ham knew that radio station airplay was the key to success in those days, so band managers like himself worked very closely with record label promotion executives to “front load” the sequence of songs on an album to put the perceived hit songs first.
So when ZZ Top’s critical third album Tres Hombres came out in July 1973, if the savvy manager had identified “Lagrange”, the heavily John Lee Hooker-inspired rave up about a redlight roadhouse outside Houston, as truly Top 40 material, why would he have buried it as track #9 on the album?
In this classic rock interview about their first four unique albums, guitarist/singer Billy Gibbons, bass player/singer Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard cover the topics of “Vampire Travel”; a three-legged beaver; blowing the roof off a New Orleans nightclub ; beer drinkers and hellraisers; “T” for Texas ,”T” for Tennessee ; wearing 60 pound Nudie suits while performing in summer at 3 in the afternoon in an Ohio cornfield… you know, all the rock ‘n’roll basics.
ZZ TOP covers pre-Viagra goat gland operations in Mexico; Southern Select beer ; the Mexican food feast photo in the original album cover fold-out; border radio XERF; and the “squank” ….just the usual rock cliches.
In the conclusion to our In The Studio fiftieth anniversary of the 1972 ZZ TOP album Rio Grande Mud and the follow-up, Tres Hombres, the boys discuss the infamous Chicken Ranch outside of Houston, the inspiration for their breakout hit”La Grange” and years later the Broadway musical Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; redneck roadsurfing from the back of a pickup truck in an iron cage in”Master of Sparks”; Queen Bee barbeque; and why legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal was not a ZZ TOP fan. – Redbeard