ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band from Texas (2019) Script

This is your good neighbour along the way, broadcasting across the land from XERF in Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, Mexico.

I've known these guys for a long time.

If you look around the whole spectrum of the rock 'n' roll world, there's only one of them.

They're unique, they're eccentric.

Okay, guys, tell me.

ZZ Top, how did you come up with a name like that?

We will tell three stories about it.

But none of them will be true.

When you'd see them onstage, it was like, "Wow, there they are."

It was like seeing Bugs Bunny in person.

I think the mystique of the band is what brought me to them.

The look of a beard like that.

What's the rest of your face like?

All these videos, all the stuff, it only added to the mystery.

'Eliminator', where the car is everywhere.

You don't see who's inside.

These choreographed moves, it all keeps you from really knowing who they really are.

Even their sound had a mysterious quality to it.

I don't think you can put your finger on what it is.

It's easy to say it's based on the blues and all that kind of thing, but I think it's got something else in it.

But they may not even have an explanation for it.

Really if you wanna know where everything came from, you have to go back to the beginning.

I'm a huge Elvis fan, always have been.

This is actually like a blanket-type thing.

So, I have Elvis things all over the house and all over.

I used to carry so much on the road that I started getting a separate dressing room and it started becoming a little strange.

When I was a kid, my mother was a waitress.

And Elvis used to come into where she worked.

He was not that well known outside of Memphis at that time.

Anyway, he had a record that was on the jukebox.

She brought it back with her when we moved back to Dallas.

And I used to sing to it.

The first time I got money for singing a song, I was 8.

My brother, Rocky, two and a half years older, he and I sang a song one time and there was a table right here beside me and people started throwing change on that table, at least quarters.

So, we were singing, the guitar player was playing the guitar lead.

I leaned down to my mother, I said, "What is that?"

She went, "That's for you."

So, I stopped singing and started raking the money in.

I don't know what Compton's like, I don't know what Harlem's like, I've never lived there.

But I can remember walking down the street where I lived in Dallas, I was singing cos I didn't wanna really look at the surroundings and I didn't want to smell the air.

I didn't want to hear what was going on, so I would sing.

You had to know how to work your way around that neighbourhood.

You did and didn't do certain things, so you don't walk around singing or dancing.

You're liable to limp out, and playing in a rock band gives you instant cred.

Anyway, I don't really remember how exactly it happened, we were still playing this one beer joint, and my brother played guitar and I sang.

We decided, "We need a bass, this is stupid."

I went, "OK, well..."

I thought he was talking about hiring somebody but he went, "No, you're it."

This is a group called Lady Wilde and the Warlocks.

This is about '64, so I guess I was about 15.

That's my brother, Rocky. That's me.

The girl was actually from England.

She'd married a soldier.

And that was Lady Wilde.

And in '64 in Dallas, if you had someone from England in your band, that was it, you got bookings.

But this was a club, the Disc a Gogo and we were the entertainment, but our drummer, at the time, was quitting the business.

So, my brother came up to me and pointed at Frank who was playing with another group, they were onstage.

He went, "He's going to be our new drummer."

And I went...

I looked at him, he had on loafers and white socks and I went, "I don't think so."

He went, "No, you don't understand. I'm not asking you.

That's going to be our drummer."

I was 15, and had a high school band, played some frat parties, did this, that, and the other.

And finally, we got a job playing at The Cellar club on Friday night and Saturday night, in Fort Worth, Texas.

We were going to play from 8 till 12, and then, the headline act was going to come in at 12.

So, we went out, and we played and when we were through, The Warlocks came in.

Dusty and Rocky had on matching blue sharkskin suits, and Banlon socks like the blues players wear, and I noticed that Dusty's fingernails were manicured.

My God, these guys are right one step below the Beatles.

I mean, they were just...

I only owned white socks at the time, I was a complete rube.

Anyway, I watched The Warlocks that night, came back for the Saturday night show, and they walked up and offered me a job, playing with them.

That's when I met Dusty.

I enjoyed playing with Frank the second we hit a note, it was just really cool.

When we played together, we had a way of interacting that had an identifiable sound to it.

And him and I, we locked so in on that and that was a great step forward for us.

When Frank joined the band, all this music was going on.

And now there's a lot of bands circulating, so a lot of competition.

So, we wanted to come up with something different.

People started to get long hair, which was dangerous in Texas at the time, but still...

So we went, "You know, let's dye it blue and call ourselves American Blues.

So, I not only have long hair, in the 603 in Texas, I've got long blue hair.

I think people thought I was nuts.

Anyway, the American Blues lasted quite a while but, eventually, it was like we played ourselves out of the market.

Everybody in town had heard us.

And I thought, "I can't just keep just doing this.

I'm just going round and round and round."

And I just went, "You know what? I've had enough."

I lost track of Dusty, and then my girlfriend got pregnant and I had to get married.

So I'm married and got a baby and living in my parents' house.

I was selling a little pot, too, to make ends meet.

Plus, I started taking acid.

So, my life was changing.

I packed up my drums, my wife and my baby, and left home.

It was 3 Norman Rockwell scene.

I mean, Mum's crying, Dad's pissed off, and I'm loading shit in the car, you know.

I mean, it was a sitcom.

Anyway, we drove down to Houston.

They had an entirely different scene in Houston than they did in Dallas.

One of the big bands of Houston were Moving Sidewalks.

And when we came down, that's when I started hearing about a guy named Billy Gibbons.

I'd also heard his song on the radio, so I knew who he was.

And I just had to meet this guy because, man, what a guitar player.

I mean, he tore up guitar strings.

He was wonderful.

I mean, he could really, really play.

I grew up in Houston, and Houston was always a hotbed of musical talent from the blues perspective.

But, by the mid-605, as the times began to change, so did the music.

All of a sudden, there was a group that showed up called The 13th Floor Elevators.

The 13th Floor Elevators embraced the term psychedelic to describe what they were doing.

They had a message, they had a mission, and it was runaway insane.

No one had seen anything like it.

This one guy even played this crock jug which made this gurgling, bubbling sound.

They called it the electric jug.

So, The 13th Floor Elevators were having an impact on the whole Texas music scene.

And as our way of acknowledging the impact, I said, "Gee whiz, let's see.

Elevators go up, we should be the Moving Sidewalks

'cause that goes forward."

So, it was forward and up.

We'd written this song, the '99th Floor' which became a well-received single and it put us on the map.

We got signed, we toured with Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Jeff Beck Group.

And we even landed some dates with Jim Morrison and the Doors.

And there was this promoter at the time, who said, "There's this act that wants you to join the tour.

It's a guy by the name of Jimi Hendrix, he's got this band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience."

And I said, "Yeah, Jimi Hendrix, that's crazy."

They wanted us to play 40 minutes of material, and the only way we could do 40 minutes was to include two songs that we had learned from the Jimi Hendrix record.

'Foxy Lady' and 'Purple Haze'.

I'll never forget the opening night, we played 'Foxy Lady' and we were going into the intro to 'Purple Haze' and I happened to look over on the side of the stage, and there in the shadows was Jimi Hendrix with his arms folded, grinning.

And we came offstage and he said, "I like you, you've got a lot of nerve."

This was 1968, and at the conclusion of the Jimi Hendrix Experience tour, two members of The Sidewalks were drafted.

However, we still wanted to carry on.

So, having learned the power of the trio from working with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, we decided that we could probably do it as a trio.

Then we decided to rename it.

We had an apartment, and across the wall we had collected all the posters of blues players.

We noticed there was this recurrence of a BB. King, D.C. Bender, ZZ. Hill.

And we said, "Yeah, let's take the 'Z.Z.' from this end, and let's take 'King' down at this end."

So, initially it was ZZ King.

I said, "No, the 'King' is at the top."

I said, "How about ZZ Top?"

Shortly after, we cut a single, but we needed a manager.

I remember playing a show and Bill Ham showed up backstage with a good friend of ours and he introduced us, he said, "This is my buddie, Bill Ham."

Bill Ham said, "Gee whiz, I like what you guys do, I'm getting into the management business.

Would you guys have an interest in considering talking about management?"

Well, little-known fact, Bill Ham had been a recording artist back in the 503.

He had several singles that became quite popular way, way back.

So, he knew music, he knew songwriting.

This was not some guy that was just good at sales.

This was a guy that knew creativity.

So, we connected, and he seemed to believe in us.

So, we said, "Let's try."

The next thing you know, the cigars were being passed out, in fine rock 'n' roll fashion.

"Boy, I'm gonna make you a star."

So, ZZ Top is up and running as an organ trio, and that lasted for a while.

But our fair organists wound up auditioning to take the part for a new TV show that was being pitched called Mork & Mindy.

He had other aspirations, as did our drummer.

I didn't wanna be a solo act, and that's when, lo and behold,

Frank Beard showed up.

When I drove down to Houston, I hunted all over the place, found Billy Gibbons, made him go...

I mean, just threatened him, made him go to the rehearsal studio and we jammed.

I was jacked up on speed.

I made him jam for about eight hours until his tongue just fell out.

It didn't take 30 minutes, it didn't take 30 seconds.

I knew that Frank Beard had the kind of chops I was looking for.

He played fiercely, he played with determination, and I decided... enter Frank Beard as the new drummer for ZZ Top.

At the conclusion of this jam session with Frank on drums, he said, "By the way, I know a bass player that would really round this out.

I've got a guy named Dusty."

Next thing you know, we're in another jam session.

Now the new face is Dusty Hill, playing the four-string bass.

We started it off, I said "Well, let's do a shuffle in C."

That's about as straight ahead as it goes.

I'll join you here.

'Shuffle in C', yeah, it wasn't a real song, it was just shuffle in C.

And I'm serious, that song lasted for a long time.

And it was just really cool.

Everybody was just like, "Whoa."

Once Dusty took the stage, something magical occurred, and that first shuffle in C lasted for three solid, uninterrupted hours.

At the end, we pulled it to the curb, and I said, "You know what? I think this is going to work."

And that's really the genesis which led up to the trio that you now know today as ZZ Top.

The first order of business for us was getting ten great songs together.

And at that time, I guess we had been in the woodshed for maybe, four or five months' time, working it out, getting the arrangements built up.

And then, taking off for the recording studio.

When we first went to record our first album, we probably had been together six months.

We were ready to do a rock 'n' roll album, go in the studio.

Next thing I know, we're driving to Tyler, Texas.

Tyler is just supposed to be the Rose Capital of Texas.

Well-deserved, beautiful flowers.

But anyway, we pull up, and I didn't know what the deal was because the studio was a house.

I don't know if it used to be a garage, or if it was just built on the side of house.

But in the back of the control room there was a door that led into the house.

Everything was nice and neat, doilies on the chairs, it reminded me of my grandmother's house.

But Robin Hood Brians knew what he was doing.

I got a call from Bill Ham.

He said, "I've got a group, I want to bring them up, they're called ZZ Top."

I said, "OK." So, he booked about three days.

And we set up and did two days, maybe three, of recording.

Bill Ham, I will say, was smart and really knew music, and he wanted a bigger sound, something different.

"Well, only one set of drums, one bass and one guitar.

What can you do?"

We were a three-piece band.

Our favourite bands were Cream and Jimi Hendrix Experience, so we were going to be in that vein.

Although Billy and Dusty do sing harmony, we weren't The Hollies by any means, or The Beatles.

We didn't sound like that.

We kept looking for a sound.

I mean, I tried everything I could do.

I put microphones all over the studio, I had one right on the amp, I put one behind an amp.

I put one in the hallway, I put one up in the ceiling, I put one out of phase.

So, we kept looking for this bigger, better, different sound.

It was a grand challenge, but Robin Hood could relate to the music we were delivering.

And he had state-of-the-art equipment, but most importantly, Robin Hood knew how to use it.

And he was hell-bent on getting a good capture.

I kept telling Billy, "Billy, I did a little trick on a record.

Double the guitar, but sort of screw up the tuning on the strings a little bit and it gives it that 12-string flow."

He said, "No, no, we can't overdub."

Bill Ham made a hard fast rule, "There will be no overdubbing."

I said, "Billy, you pick up the ball when I throw it to you."

So, we worked on sounds and everything until about 1 o'clock.

I turned to Bill Ham and I said, "Bill, you've been promising these guys you're going to get them some ribs from the Country Tavern."

I went over and I winked at Billy, and Billy picked it up.

He says, "Yeah, my man, I can't play me no blues

'til I get me some barbecue."

Bill said, "OK, where is this place?"

The Country Tavern is about 25 miles over there.

It's over across the county line.

So, when Bill Ham left, I said, "Billy, we've got about an hour and 15-20 minutes."

I said, "Record one song, and play the rhythm simple enough that you can double it."

And he did.

So, then I came out and just messed with the strings and pulled them, just to get them a little out of tune.

And he doubled it, panned that 45 degrees, voila!

So, that was the sound, and when Bill came in with all these ribs, he said, "Damn, you didn't tell me that place was in the next county!"

And I said, "You know, Bill, we go there so much, it just seems like across the street to us."

Billy said, "Bill, we've found a sound.

See what you think about this."

He reached over and pushed play.

Boy, Bill listened to that and he said, "Yeah, that's it!

That's the sound I want."

How the song 'Brown Sugar' starts, you know.

Man, they told me It starts out with such a tip of...

It's blues, in a traditional sense.

And then, all of a sudden, it turns into ZZ Top.

It starts here, but it ends somewhere completely different, and that journey with ZZ Top is what's really fascinating.

One of the threads that go through all three of us, we all listened to these same stations, those X stations out of Mexico, which were illegal in the States.

But they had a lot of blues programmes:

Freddie King, BB. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf.

And all three of us, not knowing each other growing up, had listened to the same shows, and were heavily influenced by them.

Yeah, we loved this stuff, but we also loved rock 'n' roll.

We never said we were a blues band, we've never said that.

We're interpreters of the blues.

They took the licks from the blues, and then they played them rock 'n' roll.

They played them with the big amps and the loud drums.

It was the combination of the blues licks, that unique, overdriven sound from the amps, and the lyric content.

So, ZZ Top plays the blues, but they don't sing the blues.

They turn blues into party music.

Word had gotten out that there was this loud rockin' trio from Houston.

And true enough, we did make for a gangly group of renegades.

It was craziness, but it was all because of the incessant touring.

I mean, we never stopped.

We were working all we could.

We would play at a roller-skating rink, and then we would play the next night, say, at a National Guard Armory or something like that.

So, it was like throwing a stone into the water and where we could go, it would grow and grow.

We were playing, frankly, wherever we could, but we weren't playing the big places.

I mean, we weren't playing in Dallas, we were playing in Waco, before the church thing.

We weren't really playing even in Austin or San Antonio, we were playing New Braunfels or something.

The early days of ZZ Top were really strange days.

One of the first gigs was rather unusual.

We came down to this place in Alvin, Texas.

We were expecting whatever, hoping for a sell-out.

We'd be happy if it's half full.

This place had a stage and it had curtains, and we're behind the curtain.

And when the curtains opened there was one guy.

And he's looking around like, "Hey, I'm in the wrong place."

He turned around and started to leave, and we're on the microphone, we go, "Wait, wait a minute.

Stick around, we're gonna play the whole show for you."

He didn't know what to do, he just stood out there.

We played about an hour.

We took a break, went out and motioned to the guy and bought him a Coke.

Yeah, we bought him a Coke because we were thankful he stuck around.

Then we played an encore.

An encore is supposed to be when they demand to have you back.

Well, we thought, "The kid deserves some more."

That guy still comes around to this day, and he won't tell us his name.

He just says, "Remember me? I'm the guy."

I said, "Of course we remember you."

In those early days, even though we were touring around like crazy, we didn't do interviews, we didn't do TV.

Bill Ham wouldn't let us.

If you didn't see us onstage, or hear us on record, you didn't hear or see us.

We were not to play on anybody else's record, we were not to do TV shows, we were not to do interviews that weren't approved, we were not allowed to do anything like that.

Bill Ham, I think he was very traditionally old school.

He was following the Colonel Tom Parker model, that was just the accepted thing.

I had to ask every once in a while, "Hey man, why aren't we doing Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson or something?"

And he'd go, "Boys, the least they know about you the better."

And I went, "How can that be?"

And he goes, "Well, the word will get around."

I said, "What if it doesn't?"

But the thing is, when we did play a place, nobody had seen us.

People were very intrigued by who we were, 'cause they had no idea.

There was at least one show where the mystique thing really paid off, and that was the Memphis Blues Festival.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Memphis is a magical place, it gave the world a new kind of music.

The Beale Street blues, the Memphis blues, songs that were to be translated and sung in every language known to man.

So, this promoter from Memphis, Tennessee called us up to take part in a blues festival at the Overton Park bandshell there in Memphis, which was a miniature version of the Hollywood Bowl.

And that was really our first big jump out of the region.

It was full of great blues guys.

Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert King, I think, Lightnin' Hopkins, just a whole slew of really great blues guys and us!

The main thing I remember is, downstairs in the basement, there was a poker game going on.

At that time, we hadn't met Muddy Waters, so, I said to the promoter, "Man, me and Billy would really love to meet Muddy Waters."

Me and Billy were standing there awkwardly, over watching the game, but at one point, he goes, "Hey, Muddy, I want you to meet two friends of mine.

This is Dusty and Billy."

And he goes, "Nice to meet ya."

And that's it, man. I mean, that was it.

So, rule of thumb: don't get introduced during a poker game.

Nobody has the time for you.

The blues festival was in full swing, but the weird thing was that the promoter had only gotten familiar with ZZ Top having heard the record.

He never bothered to look at the watercolour drawing on the back of the album cover to realise we were white guys.

So, he shoved us all the way to the end of the show, thinking everybody would be gone and these white guys wouldn't interrupt his blues presentation.

But sure enough, by the time we hit the stage, no one had left, it was still packed.

Everyone was so into it.

In fact, halfway through our set, way in the wee hours of the morning, far after midnight, I'll never forget seeing Furry Lewis walking onstage, waving a handkerchief egging us on, "Go on, go on!

Play that stuff, play that stuff!"

So, it was quite a reward to be part of that scene.

And that's what really started the connection with Texas meets Tennessee.

The next thing that unfolded in Memphis was we learned that Led Zeppelin was cutting their third album out there under the auspices of the great engineering staff at Ardent Recording Studios, right there on Madison Avenue.

I thought, "Gee whiz, Led Zeppelin here in Memphis, Tennessee?"

That got my attention.

Billy was actually looking for me because I'd just recently before that, engineered the Led Zeppelin III album, mixed it and mastered it.

And he was saying, "I want to go to Memphis and I want to work with Terry."

The new album had been partly recorded at Robin Hood Brians' place in Tyler, and they wanted to finish it at Ardent Studios, and get that Zeppelin type of mix sound.

We found ourselves entering Ardent Studios and those guys created such a powerhouse team.

I mean, they pulled out all the stops, no holds barred.

We dug it.

Those early sessions, Billy was going for some extra overdrive.

With 'La Grange', he tried to sing distorted.

I remember Billy came in, he said, "I just don't have it today, I can't do that thing, we can't do the vocals yet, but give me a few minutes."

I said, "What are you gonna do?"

He strips down to everything but his pants, his trousers and shoes.

This is wintertime, and he runs around this huge block three or four times, just...

He came back in the studio and goes, "There it is."

It's just, whatever it took.

'Tres Hombres' had so many elements going for it.

It was crisp, it was the first record that was big and bold.

We were enjoying the benefit of that level of talent that lifted ZZ into a great sounding group on record.

I was 13, rifling through my mum's disco records.

I found this green record with three faded photographs of hairy cowboys.

I put it on and it completely floored me.

It painted this picture of Texas, which was totally exotic.

It was an unimaginable world, it was totally alien from where I was from in London.

'Waitin' For The Bus' is probably the only lyric I could have related to at the time.

You'd heard Cream and you'd heard Led Zeppelin, and you'd heard this kind of English version of blues, and it was kind of pop.

But when ZZ Top hit, it was like, the curtain was removed and it was put back on the ground, for what it really was.

You don't expect to hear a John Lee Hooker-type boogie song on pop radio.

But there it was.

That music came out of nowhere, Texas blues music with a rock edge just shot onto the charts and onto the radio.

It was kind of a turning point.

Things began to percolate.

It resulted in ZZ Top's first big hit record, which was 'La Grange'.

And then came an interesting turn, this explosive announcement.

We got the word from Bill Ham, "The Rolling Stones want you guys to come over and play in Honolulu."

The word was that Jagger had heard our stuff, and he liked it.

And he asked if we wanted to play with the Stones, open for them in Hawaii.

You've got to understand, I love, and always have, The Rolling Stones.

I mean, I just...

It was just great 'cause we weren't anybody.

You know, you get to go to Hawaii, for one thing, and open for the Stones for three shows.

That was amazing.

We decided we were gonna go over two weeks in advance, and it was all under the guise of, "We're gonna warm up."

Well, the only warming up we did was walking on Waikiki Beach and getting some suntan.

Charlie Watts sat at the poolside bar probably about 12 hours a day.

He was a fixture at that bar.

Keith Richards wore white pants that were as dirty as you can possibly get them.

He wore the same pants all three nights.

I remember the hotel, hanging out with The Rolling Stones guys.

After the first night, Bill Ham came to me and Frank and said, "Well, you've already run up this bar tab pretty high.

You guys have got to cut back." "Oh, man."

He went, "Two drinks a night."

He had us on a two-drink limit.

So, Dusty and I found that they made a drink called the 'Chimp in Orbit', which came in a glass that was about this tall and about that big around.

It sat on the ground and had a giant straw.

He came in and he saw that, saw me and Dusty sitting there.

And I go, "This is only my second one."

He just turned around and walked out.

He didn't say a word.

We did three shows in two days.

And I had heard that on the same tour, Stevie Wonder was on one of their shows and actually got booed.

Stevie Wonder!

So I was scared shitless, I really was.

We walked onstage the first show, we had cowboy hats on, boots and jeans.

And you could hear a pin drop.

When the curtains opened and they looked at Billy and Dusty, you know, and they had the cowboy hats on, there was just a veil of horror fell over this entire arena.

It was like, "Oh, fuck. Country band."

I turned to Frank and Dusty, I said, "All right, fellows.

We've got to hit it."

Mick watched us.

He put on a hat and some coveralls, and stood on the side of the stage with a broom, like a janitor, and watched us play.

I looked over the side, and I see Jagger looking at us but he's got a broom turned upside down like a beard.


So, he's got a pretty good sense of humour.

It was so much fun, I can't tell you.

We got an encore each show.

An encore!

I was just on cloud 29.

Those three performances were just electric.

We did our job, same bluesy thing that got us together in the first place.

It settled the score.

And this wave of enjoyment permeated through that whole arena.

The next day, I was sitting at the airport, and I was reading the paper.

They didn't mentioned us, absolutely nothing.

Almost worse than saying you're crappy, or they don't like you, is just dismiss you.

That happened a lot to us.

As far as the journalist and the press in general was concerned, they couldn't understand us.

First of all, Texas was an oddball place, and here is this oddball band playing this oddball kind of music.

And there was a great amount of confusion.

We were functioning far outside the pale of what journalism was trying to embrace.

That was back to that thing of, "You've gotta go to California, you've gotta go to New York."

And we refused to do that.

I think we were just provincials over there.

They lumped us off with all the Southern rock bands.

They called us a 'Southern' rock band.

They didn't know what to call us.

You see, "That little ol' band from Texas", I don't think it was meant so much as a compliment, when it first was said.

We grabbed a hold of it, we thought it was a cool line, but I think it was actually supposed to be a cut.

The Village Voice said, "ZZ Top has a sound like hammered shit."

So, I had been hired by Bill Ham to wrestle this opinion to the floor and turn it positive.

I had worked with Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Kiss, Queen, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and people like that.

So, I thought I could handle ZZ Top.

I went down to Texas, I interviewed them in a hotel room in Houston.

I got all the background I could but I didn't feel I had a handle on the fucking, goddamn soul of the band, what it was that made them tick.

And something started to come out of these guys.

The rest of us in the United States of America, we have 50 states, and we all think that kids in all 50 states grow up with the same version of the history of our country.


What the guys were revealing to me was that they grew up in a foreign country.

They grew up in a country with its own founding fathers, and they were not George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Their founding father was Sam Houston.

When I was a kid, you took Texas history before American history.

See, that right there tells you something.

I'm told I had an ancestor in the Alamo.

The pride in Texas is a real thing, I take it with me everywhere I go.

I'm a 7th generation Texan.

I know that my father's family came into to Texas in 1836, I know that my grandmother, Bessie Dawson, walked behind a covered wagon in 1899 from Louisiana.

We like Texas, and we like being Texans.

So, we started bringing that to the fore.

Obviously we took it much further when we did the Worldwide Texas Tour, which was just one giant piece of craziness.

I mean, wow.

I guess probably about '74, a friend of mine approached me in my dressing room.

I was clowning a rodeo.

He said, "My boss wants to meet you.

He's the manager of ZZ Top."

I said, "ZZ who?"

Because I was into Country.

So, I met with Bill Ham in my dressing room.

He asked me a lot of questions about training, and how much experience I'd had and stuff.

I said, "Well, yes, I've trained a lot of animals."

And he said, "Can you train a buffalo?"

I said, "I can train anything with hair."

He said, "OK, you're hired."

This is Texas, and this is 'that little ol' band from Texas', ZZ Top.

ZZ Top's Worldwide Texas Tour is coming!

Bill Ham was the most sophisticated strategist of touring that I've ever seen in my life.

Bill wanted to create a mystique, so they put together a tour called the Worldwide Texas Tour.

They put together a 75-foot wide stage in the shape of the state of Texas.

They had four trucks painted with a continuous diorama of Texas landscapes, just rolling down the highways of America.

At that point, Texas was considered unsophisticated by New York people, Hollywood people, and as a result, people like Janis Joplin, who grew up in Port Arthur, Texas, pretended she was from San Francisco.

Well, gradually it dawned on ZZ Top and Bill Ham.

It was time for a movement for Texas pride.

It was time for them to take Texas culture to the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, that 'little ol' band from Texas', ZZ Top!

We finally had a little money to make a production.

We'd never made a production before.

We didn't know how to make a production.

And then, some idiot, I don't know which one of us it was, I can't remember, but it's like, "Let's take a buffalo."

"Yeah, well let's take a Longhorn steer."

"Well, let's take some rattlesnakes."

"Let's take a javelina pig.

And let's take some buzzards."

So, all of a sudden, we've got this theme.

Seven trucks' worth of theme to go out and do concerts with.

Which one's that, two? Two.

He was with us last year.

This buzzard was with my rodeo clown career for 42 years, and then with ZZ for several years.

I think we figured she's 49, almost in six more months she'll be 50 years old.

When ZZ asked me to come along with them, then I suggested the buzzard.

She was staged behind Frank Beard.

Frank used to tease them.

He used to kind of tease with them and stuff, but the buzzards didn't want anybody messing with them.

The buzzards were right behind me.

If I was playing a slow blues, they would get very interested in me, like, "Is he dead?", you know.

So, I'd start moving the arms a lot more.

The Worldwide Texas Tour was a huge tour.

It was elaborate, even for the time, and it was extremely expensive.

And we weren't big enough to do that, and everybody told us, but we did it.

It was audacious, and we liked that.

That very idea of doing that, is what it means to be Texan.

It was like a circus.

It was like a Texas circus.

You had livestock onstage, for Christ's sake.

Who'd ever done that?

Who'd ever seen animals onstage with you?

It was like a rodeo, a circus, and a rock show all wrapped into one.

For the band, the Worldwide Texas Tour finally, once and for all, had placed ZZ Top as, "Oh, those three guys from this weird place called Texas.

Did you see them with the travelling zoo?"

80, Texas, at that time, was starting to become discoverable.

Cowboy hat sales, which had been relegated to the borders of the great Lone Star State, was now up in New York City at a western wear shop.

And all due, in no small part, to this mythical trio called ZZ Top.

They've come a long way from the one-night stands in beer halls that gave them their nickname of That little ol' band from Texas'.

But the down-home Texas approach looks like a solid hit with the teenagers in grassroots America.

Good night, everybody.

Thank you so much! Glad to be back at home.

The Worldwide Texas Tour was a grandiose outing from the beginning to the closing.

We had made the rounds coast to coast and border to border.

The band worked seven days a week, and by the time we pulled it to the curb, it's safe to say that all three band members, we wanted to take a step back.

When that was over, we were just exhausted.

We'd literally been on the road since we formed in late '69.

I kept thinking, "Surely, we keep going at this pace, we're gonna burn out."

Everybody just wanted to go do a little something.

I mean, you know, get off the road.

At the end of the Worldwide Texas Tour, with the animals and the insanity that brought, there was a definite tiredness.

I think creatively, everybody was a bit down, especially Frank.

He was really burnt out at that point.

I think it was a little bit of a drudge.

It was hard, but somewhere in there, I got $72,000.

I remember, that was the first big money I ever got.

I got a cheque for $72,000, somewhere in there.

What did you do with it?

I spent it on drugs.

Every bit of it.

I never had enough money to become a proper addict until '77, and then I accomplished that.

The first time I ever did any drug at all, was I injected LSD, and boy, I liked it, you know.

I mean, it was looking for God and that whole thing.

I really became a seeker of truth, you know, all of that.

And then, the pills thing came about just from the workload.

And the heroin thing came about because I just liked it.

I mean, if you've never done heroin, you know...

It's great, it's a vacation for the mind.

And I liked it.

I liked it a lot.

Clapton only snorted heroin, which is like so fucking not cost-efficient.

You have to do five times as much to get the same buzz.

But he was making more money.

But it's not cost-efficient.

All the money I pissed off, that's a regret.

I sold my original Ludwig kit

to buy drugs with it.

Relationships I fucked up.

Debbie and I, that was the reason we broke up.

In the back of my mind, I knew I needed to kick heroin, I needed to stop doing cocaine.

I had done it all, and I couldn't go any further.

So, I called and told Ham, I said "Look, I'm going in to a 30-day programme."

And Bill Ham said, "All right, take as long as you need."

So, I went to a 12-step programme.

I just wanted to get sober.

I wanted to be like people I admired that could sit home, watch TV and go to bed, and that was OK.

Frank goes all out at what he does, and that includes the bad things.

He was sick.

If you're a very good friend, you love a guy, you don't want to see him die.

You just want to see your brother get well.

For me, success is a great thing.

It can also really screw with you.

Not really sure who you are, or if people around you treat you badly, or treat you really nice, according to who they think you are.

I just wanted to feel normal.

So, I got a job at the airport.

I got a work shirt that said "Joe" on it.

I cut my hair and I worked there for a couple of months.

I was really happy.

You know, Friday night, go to the beer joint, dance, drink and flirt with the girls.

And everybody knew me as Joe.

It gave me a sense of being grounded, I guess.

Billy, I think, spent a lot of time in Europe.

Lord knows what he was doing then.

We were gonna take three months just to kind of reorganise, relax a bit, chill out, which turned into six months, which then turned into a year, which became two years.

So, I took off to see what was happening out there.

I was pogoing with punks in England, and then dipping into learning the ways of the gurus from India.

It was a pretty wide-ranging set of unusual experiences.

I think it was a big growth period.

I think all of us decompressed.

The break that we took, even though it was my initiative, worked out for everybody.

Billy and Dusty cleared their heads and I got sober.

During that period, the record label put out a greatest hits album.

And Bill Ham sued them about it, he said, "Hey, you didn't have the right to do that."

He got us out of that contract, and we were free and we moved to Warner Bros.

It turned out to be a big move.

Warner Bros, at that time, ruled.

They owned the record business.

And they were waving a contract, they said, "We want ZZ Top."

They wanted us to get the gang back together and that's what we did.

We all came back together with a renewed and really a fresh sense of enthusiasm.

And also, a willingness to experiment.

Let's get crazy with it right now!

During that extended hiatus, there was this growing punk scene that was really explosive and robust, and it had such energy and force.

There was something rebellious underneath it all, which we liked.

Those influences certainly steered us in a different direction.

We were changed.

I mean, it wasn't quite so organic bluesy.

It still had a lot of that, but there had been a lot of influences that each of us had been through during this time off.

So, we were willing to go down different roads to find new music.

We did so many crazy experimenting things, including on the vocals.

I remember Billy called me up and said, "Oh, I've just been watching the Phil Donahue Show.

They had a guy there who didn't want to reveal who he was, so they had him blacked out and you could only see his shadow, and they had his voice all changed.

You've got to see this show, cos his voice sounds awesome."

So I called up Phil Donahue's office, and said, "What did you use to distort that voice?"

The guy said, "Well, I don't want to reveal it."

So, I finally begged and he told me what it was.

So, I got one of those boxes, that's one of the things we used to disguise guitars and voices.

So, yes, we went for a different feeling, sonically, and we were consciously trying to get more eclectic.


When you're running around town in your gold Cadillac or your tailored Cadillac, just let 'em know that you're bad and nationwide.

The other thing is, when we reconvened after the hiatus, it was discovered that we'd all gotten rather lazy.

None of us had shaved for three years, and this new version of ZZ Top appeared.

They take off a little time, they come back, and they've got these long beards, except for Frank, obviously, whose name is Beard.

I had a beard, but it wasn't near the beard they had.

So I shaved it pretty much right after we got back together, when I saw they had this much, and I had this much.

Frank didn't mind being beardless.

After all, he had the name, and he could go to the shopping mall without being interrupted.

He wouldn't go to the mall with me or anything, he just went, "I'm not going out in public with you because you get recognised now.

We can't go anywhere in peace."

I went, "Well, thanks, buddy."

So, I would hang around with him anyway.

"This is the drummer right here."

What started out as a disguise, over time became a trademark, I guess you'd say.

It goes where we go.

We're still trying to figure out, "Is it better to have the beards over the covers or under the covers?"

The everlasting question.

I'm not a big fan of beards. I thought it looked awful.

I know these guys and they don't look like that.

Is that fake?

It was kind of a shock, but it hid their faces.

It kept the mystery, but it let them come out to the world.

It started another kind of mystique.

It started the cartoon characters, ZZ Top people, which it turned out, hit at the exact right moment.

I remember, Debbie and I were lying in bed one night, flipping TV channels, and I saw this music thing.

They showed a music clip, and then another one, and then another one, and we watched and we were enjoying it.

About an hour later, I called Dusty and said, "Hey, man, there's this special on TV.

It's all about music, you need to watch it."

Frank called me, he said he stumbled across this station, and he thought it was a special.

He went, "Man, this is a great show. You've got to tune in."

I tuned in, and then I called Billy.

He said, "It's on this weird channel, it's way down at the bottom."

After about four hours, I called and said, "Hey, Frank, when does this come to a conclusion?

We've been watching four hours, and it keeps going."

About three, four in the morning, we were like, "Goddamn, how long is this thing, you know?

We've got to go to sleep."

We all are so excited about this new concept in TV.

We were fascinated by the possibility of video meets music.

That discovery of MTV is what brought the notion of putting three guys in front of a camera.

And Tim Newman, the great director, stepped forward.

I had produced a video for my cousin Randy Newman of this song called 'I love LA'.

And apparently, Bill Ham had seen the video and had requested a meeting.

So, I had this meeting with Bill Ham and he said, "We wanna do a video for the song 'Gimme All Your Lovin'."

He said, "The video's got to have a car and it's got to have girls."

It was sort of like, the unspoken thing was, "Besides that, do whatever you want."

That was the creative brief.

Tim Newman had an idea, he said, "I've heard about this hot rod car, can we bring it in?

Because I've got three pretty girls to match you three ugly guys."

Get back to work.

I'm a product of that early MTV era, and fascination with discovering music through video in that way.

My introduction was Eliminator', and that's the sonic version of ZZ Top.

Now, if you are a blues purist, that could be very dangerous for them.

That could have backfired in a major way, because they're toying with something sacred.

People don't like that that much.

You know, "Don't toy with my idols, my altar."

A lot of people's introduction to ZZ Top was the MTV videos and 'Eliminator'.

'Eliminator' has got great songs, but it was a departure.

A couple of people at the record company, and a couple that we knew, were real against it.

They said, "No, you can't release that song.

That song, it's not you.

You're gonna get a lot of crap about it."

We stood up for it.

We really wanted to do some different things, things like a synthesizer or different technology.

We wanted to use it.

If you don't do that, you play shuffle in C forever.

We had to maintain a willingness to continue this business of experimentation.

This notion of what blues should or shouldn't be, was thrown out the window.

Combining the new sound with the videos, with the girls, the car and the keys, and the cartoon character band guys fading in and out and doing things, that was so out of the ordinary to happen.

I love films, and I come from the idea of narrative.

It didn't interest me to do a performance video.

So, somehow, I got the idea that it would be interesting to turn these videos into a story that had to do with the band as magical heroes.

Their mission was to help out young people who were having a really crappy life.

Tim Newman, his sense of vision...

He was the first on the block that really brought Hollywood-movie-like scripting into a three-minute expression.

Gee, I'm sorry.

That's OK, any time.

Oops! Watch your dress!

The band suddenly became larger-than-life.

We came, we appeared lending our hand to the underdog.

Boy meets girl, girl and boy ride off into the sunset.

And we're still playing.

We're still the musicians.

That's all ZZ Top is, we get to play.

It was just so potent, it was so stylised, that it just laser-etched in your brain when you saw it.

No one else looked like them, no one else sounded like them.

You didn't even have to own a ZZ Top record to know ZZ Top.

It made them cultural icons, it made them so recognisable that they will be recognisable forever.

It was one of the handful examples of artists whose careers were completely transformed by music videos.

They could go and tour Europe and Asia.

The end result of the videos was they became international superstars.

Right here we have the fabulous ZZ Top!

I just can't tell you how important it was to us.

Without videos, I don't think

'Eliminator' would have been what it was.

I always wanted to do the Carson show.

We finally got to do it.

Would you welcome, ZZ Top!

Did 'Eliminator' define ZZ Top? I don't know.

But as the old saying goes, "As long as we're in there somewhere."

There's that even stronger statement, "It only takes one."

And we continue to make music.

We continue to get in the studio and thrash it out.

Let's face it, the Eliminator' peak really brought so many new faces to the party.

They're still there and so are we.

Here's the deal, we don't really know what's kept us together this long.

I make a joke about, that we've been together because early on we got separate tour buses.

But, the love of music certainly bonded us together.

We grew up listening to kind of the same stuff.

But that happens 8 lot and it doesn't keep bands together, so, I don't know.

I would say, for me, I've found the people I want to play with.

And I was able to do that at a very early age.

I'm still satisfied with them.

I'm satisfied with Dusty and I'm satisfied with Billy.

With these two guys, I've never wanted to quit and I've never wanted to get fired.

I'll drink to that.

Oh, OK.

Well, there's an easy answer to what's kept the band together for now nearing five decades, which is probably longer than most marriages, but the general consensus, and we talk about it frequently, we still enjoy getting to do what we get to do.

There's such a richness in meandering down this long trail together.

Dusty, Frank, and I, four going on five decades later, we've stayed on course, and we turned it up, cranked it up, and we never looked back.

When I first met Billy, it was to play together in the studio on a Queens's record.

He was playing, and he hits this note, and his beard fell and it muted the strings and it made this harmonic.

I sat there stunned, dumbfounded, and we looked at each other and he's like, "This is the first ever beard harmonic."

Even his beard is a pretty good guitar player, you know.

I think that the fact that ZZ Top has the same three guys, had been together for fifty years, is really an amazing achievement.

And they will be remembered for 150 years.

200 years from now, people will be going, "Everybody's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man, Who are those guys?"

How much are you getting off any of these cameras?

Is it just table-height?

It's pretty much from about here.

How about this camera here?

We're not seeing below the table.

OK, that's what I'm asking. Yeah, yeah.

So I can take my pants off.

Bill Ham, was probably one of the most charismatic men I've ever met in my life.

He's the reason we were able to grow out of "just another band", that was out there, a B-level band trying to make it, that we were able to grow into what we are.

It's difficult to talk about it 'cause it's kind of too soon.

He just gave me direction,

not only as part of the band, but as a person.

He was a very wise man and I loved him.