When the ZZ Top show is joined by other bands, how much interaction or exchanges take place while on the road? Is it still party-party or is everyone in bed by midnight?
Those are the only choices? The answer is somewhere between well balanced and wheels off. We do like to check out the set with whichever band we might share the bill with. The afternoon soundcheck offers a good view of the proceedings. The party part is ongoing and doesn’t preclude a timely hay hitting. It all depends — if there’s Mexican food to be had we tend to make the night owl scene.
ZZ Top’s release of an amazing live album: “Tonite at Midnight: Live Greatest Hits from Around the World”. What was the process like? I mean, going through hours and hours of live performances and picking out the best 15 seems like a daunting task.How far back into the archives did it take to discover a “perfect” live cut?
The source tapes go way, way, way back so trying to settle on the definitive version of each of the selected titles took some real effort. We concentrated on the real, stand out performances, of course. The time spent reviewing brought back a wave of great recollection from show to show. Glad you think it’s “amazing” ‘cause we do, too.
ZZ Top delivers a number of great covers during live shows. Some include Elvis, Johnny Cash, Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix—what are your personal favorites to cover?
Buck Owens! We’ve been doing our version of one of his big ones, “Act Naturally”, with our main man Elwood Francis sitting in with his famous steel guitar wizardry. Then there’s Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” which is another favorite which is featured on the “Live Greatest Hits” set when we were joined by Jeff Beck. Let’s not forget Jimi Hendrix, the greatest of all time. We’ve been known to cover “Foxey Lady” and “Hey Joe” on occasion. It’s all the luck of the draw.
Speaking of covers, many artists have covered some of your songs, including Bruce Springsteen, Whitesnake, Van Halen, Deborah Harry and even Hank Williams Jr. What has been the most surprising or odd rendition you’ve heard of one of your songs?
“La Grange” in Russian by an outfield called Crazy Backwards Alphabet that was the idea of Matt Groening, the guy who created The Simpsons. Look it up.. it’s wild!
Billy, some of your earliest professional music beginnings with The Moving Sidewalks include touring with and befriending Jimi Hendrix—would you share a memory of Jimi and explain how he influenced your style of playing and your career?
Jimi threw down with a wild visual on stage yet, ironically, was kind of shy off the deck but very warm and friendly. We had a great time together including the night we tied paint brushes onto the headstocks of our guitars and dipped them in day glow paint and riffed under a black light. A visual experience that will not soon be forgotten!
Through the decades, ZZ Top’s unmistakable sound stays locked in that ZZ-esq, blues-bottomed pocket. With such a distinctive background, is the groove and the chemistry automatic or instinctive?
Beyond instinctive.. it’s downright telepathic. We know, before hand, when one of the other members of the band is going to twist off into uncharted territory yet, miraculously, something binding kicks in and preserves the groove. Muscle memory!
Do you have plans yet for your the ZZ Top 50th Anniversary year, 2019?
People are starting to ask this question and we’re starting to ponder an appropriate answer. Playing louder is what we’ve come up with.