Telluride Blues & Brews: ZZ Top Tops Blistering Weekend Line-Up

Telluride Blues & Brews: ZZ Top Tops Blistering Weekend Line-Up

Tickets and passes to the 22nd annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival here. 

Please scroll down to the bottom of the story to read Billy Gibbons’s answers to my questions about weekend headliner ZZ Top.


If you’ve been around since 1969, fans know most of your secrets, but here’s a tidbit that might be breaking news for devoted followers of ZZ Top. In fact, we are popping a $1 million secret.

Several years ago, guitarist Billy Gibbons revealed that he and Dusty Hill, who’ve been sporting their trademark chest-length beards since the late ’70s, were once offered $1 million clams by shaver manufacturer Gillette back in 1984 to cut off their facial hair for a commercial. They declined.

However, the trio’s drummer, ironically named Frank Beard, prefers to be clean shaven.

Topping the list of top acts at the 22nd annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, is ZZ Top, hirsute and otherwise, returning to the Main Stage in Town Park with their signature choogling blues riffs and wry, tongue-in-cheek lyrics about legs, whorehouses, pearl necklaces, payday, and cheap sunglasses (but minus signature props such as haystacks, ranch tools, and Longhorn cattle?).

Guarantee you will want to shake a tail feather or two.

ZZ Top

ZZ Top

ZZ Top, aka That Little Ol’ Band from Texas, is joined by Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, Gregg Allman, John Hiatt & The Combo, Taj Mahal Trio, Anders Osborne, Blackberry Smoke, The Revivalists, Otis Taylor’s Hey Joe Opus, Rich Robinson and others for what promises to be a super-charged weekend of sounds (and lubrication), Friday, September 18 – Sunday, September 20. (Tickets/passes here.)

Together since 1969, the Houston-based band is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has sold countless millions of records, and continues to thrill audiences around the world.

While they updated their 1980s sound with echo and synthesizers – much to critical and commercial success – at their very core, the Top is a blues band, pure and simple.

The three Texans came together over a shared love of Freddy King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters. And to this day they celebrate their heroes, not only through their shared love of the Lone Star State, but also by staying true to the blues that inspired them.

ZZ Top has returned to the stripped-down, no frills sound of their earliest recordings – but still deliver more sound than anyone could think possible from a trio.

Let’s get it on, y’all!

ZZ TOP 2015 photo # 1

For a more detailed history about the band, here’s what Rolling has to say about the trio:

ZZ Top began as a rough-and-ready blues-rock power trio from Texas that became a huge mid-1970s concert attraction. Their real commercial peak didn’t come, however, until the 1980s, when the “Little Ol’ Band from Texas” became MTV superstars and sold multiple millions of albums.

ZZ Top was built around guitarist Billy Gibbons, whose career began with the popular Southwestern band Moving Sidewalks, whose “99th Floor” was a regional mid-’60s hit. They opened one night for Jimi Hendrix, and he later mentioned Gibbons on The Tonight Show as one of America’s best young guitarists. After Moving Sidewalks broke up, Gibbons and manager/producer Bill Ham recruited Frank Beard and Dusty Hill from a Dallas band, American Blues.

Beginning with the release of First Album in 1970, ZZ Top has toured constantly, building a national following that has made all the band’s albums gold or platinum. A year-long tour in 1976, “The Worldwide Texas Tour,” was one of the largest-grossing road trips in rock at the time. Onstage with the band were snakes, longhorn cattle, buffalo, cactus, and other Southwestern paraphernalia. The group sold over a million tickets. They didn’t record for the next three years, until 1979’s Deguello. Though ZZ Top’s only major hit singles had been Tres Hombres’ “La Grange” (Number 41, 1973) and Fandango!’s “Tush” (Number 20, 1975), their albums consistently made the Top 40.

With 1983’s Eliminator, ZZ Top made a quantum leap from best-kept secret to massive stardom. Thanks to smartly directed video clips for such songs as “Gimme All Your Lovin'” (Number 37, 1983), “Sharp Dressed Man” (Number 56, 1983), “Legs” (Number 8, 1983), and “TV Dinners,” Gibbons and Hill, with their long beards (ironically Frank Beard usually wore only a moustache), became MTV icons, as did the cherry red 1933 Ford coupe (restored by Gibbons) that gave the album its name, and which the band drove in the videos. Thanks to this exposure, a whole new audience began buying the band’s albums, and Eliminator (Number Nine, 1983) eventually sold some 10 million copies, remaining on the chart for over three and a half years. “Legs” introduced a pulsating synthesizer beat into ZZ Top’s crunching blues-rock riffs.

The trend continued with Afterburner (Number Four, 1985),…

Continue reading here.

And to learn even more, read on.

ZZ TOP approved photo 2015  # 3 (1)

Below are ZZ Top’s answers to our email interview.

Q1. Billy Gibbons, is it true that it was the family maid who engendered your love of R & B sounds and that Jimi Hendrix once named you his favorite guitar player in front of the world audience for “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”?

We owe much to “Big” Stella Matthews, our family’s housekeeper. We called her “Big” Stella so as to differentiate from her daughter, “Little Stella” — not a comment on her size. She took both of us to see quite a few R&B and blues greats in Houston ghetto venues. Got to see Jimmy Reed and Howlin’ Wolf at a very impressionable age. Jimi’s remarks, both on and off screen, remain as stridently impacting today than ever. Jimi’s inventiveness with all things electric guitar are still resonating beyond anything anyone might have predicted.

Q2. How did y’all meet and ultimately form ZZ Top in 1969? Was it love at first sight?

We had been experimenting with a fluid line-up for ZZ Top for a little while and the drum slot was set with Frank Beard. He, in turn, introduced Dusty from their alliance playing together in a group called The American Blues. He said of “The Dust,” “He’s our kind of guy” and certainly was right. We started to play together to see if this particular combination worked and, before we knew it, some hours had passed and we knew we had the formula. It was love, it was chemistry.

Q3. Where did the band name come from?: Two brands of rolling-paper, Zig-Zag and Top? A tribute to blues legend Z.Z. Hill? And/or Gibbons seeing the two words running together on a dilapidated bill board? Somewhere else?

Ah, the eternal name game question. We thought about AA Bottom and figured flipping it around would be better. Z.Z. Hill was from Naples, TX, way up north and east near the Louisiana border. We dug his music and, of course, his name did resonate.

Q4. Do you think, as Rolling Stone has suggested, that your Eliminator release was what put Top on the world stage? If not, when do you think you stopped being just another band from Texas?

We had more than a modicum of success in advance of the “Eliminator” juggernaut. A few gold albums and the radio hits “La Grange” and “Tush” and we had toured nationally and internationally but, as far as we’re a contender, we were and continue to be “just another band from Texas” or, to be quite specific, “That Little Ol’ Band From Texas (TM).”

Q5. How do you explain the fact you’ve managed to stay together and remain popular for decades?

See the comment about chemistry above — that explains it to a great extent, but the fact is that we’ve never seen a reason to split since we still having a good time. Would seem gratuitous to stop now just when we’re getting good at it thanks to four decades of practice. It’s true that most bands throw in the towel only to, inevitably, get back together so if you want to think of this as something of a reunion go right ahead. We don’t mind. We’re having too much fun.

Q6. What are you looking forward to most about returning to Telluride to perform at Blues & Brews? The free beer?

It’s all in the name of the festival. Our slogan has long been “you can’t lose with the blues” and, of course, one of our most requested songs is “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers.” Put the two together and you’ve pretty much got it all.

Q7. And finally, why did you turn down the $1 million from Gillette?

Let’s chalk it up to the fright factor. We just don’t want to face a mirror without these chin whiskers.  That’s priceless to us.

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