Tres Hombres (Remastered) ZZ Top
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- 1Waitin' For The Bus02:53
- 2Jesus Just Left Chicago03:30
- 3Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers03:26
- 4Master Of Sparks03:31
- 5Hot, Blue And Righteous03:17
- 6Move Me On Down The Line02:31
- 7Precious And Grace03:10
- 8La Grange03:53
- 10Have You Heard ?03:14
Info zu Tres Hombres (Remastered)
By any litmus, 1973 was an unusual year. It was the year that gene-splicing was invented and also saw the debut of the Bic disposable lighter – rock concerts would never be the same.
Speaking of the music world, things were somewhat unsettled in the wake of the psychedelic explosion of the late 1960s. The Top 40 charts were all over the map: bouncy ditties certainly found favor – Tony O & Dawn had the biggest single of the year – while odd anomalies such as Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” and Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” kept things interesting. The Beatles had officially disbanded three years earlier, but Paul McCartney & Wings and George Harrison were still chart contenders. The Rolling Stones had served up some tasty Goat’s Head Soup, and Elvis was still alive and kicking with his Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite TV special and album. Elton John, Alice Cooper, War, Carly Simon, Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad were making new strides as Marvin Gaye implored, “Let’s Get It On.”
Nineteen seventy-three was also the year that “Southern Rock” became a catchphrase among the cognoscenti. The Allman Brothers Band, hailing from Florida by way of Macon, Georgia, topped the album charts with “Brothers And Sisters” just as Spartanburg, South Carolina, yielded the first release from The Marshall Tucker Band. Those ‘Bama boys, Lynyrd Skynyrd, were coming on strong, as was another band pigeonholed as “Southern Rockers.” Just a funky little trio, ZZ TOP were Southerners all right, but more importantly, they were Texans. Sure, Texas is in the South, but it’s more than a state; it’s also a state of mind. Its spawn, ZZ TOP, was a power trio founded in Houston at the very end of ‘69, playing music that was, to borrow one of their titles, “Hot, Blue And Righteous.” They came on the scene liked crazed cowboys funky from a two-month cattle drive, with music that was equal parts blues-based and English-rock inflected with a Western narrative edge. The Southern Rock juggernaut notwithstanding, ZZ was something else, and the release of Tres Hombres that year made the rest of the universe sit up and take notice.
Tres Hombres was the band’s first major success, their first Billboard Top 100 album, their first Top 10 album, their first gold album, the album that included their first not-quite-Top 40 single (“La Grange” peaked at #41), and the album that put them in a league of their own.
The band’s two previous albums were recorded in Tyler, Texas, but Tres Hombres brought them to Memphis, where they worked at the famous Ardent Studios. It was the beginning of many studio sorties in the city of Sun and Stax. The sound was thicker, richer, more in-the-pocket than it had been before. ZZ TOP had come into its own; the die was forever cast with Tres Hombres. The album went on to spend a phenomenal 81 weeks on the charts and opened the door to national and international tours that continue to this day.
The Tres Hombres repertoire is the most resonant of any ZZ TOP album ever released. A significant percentage of the songs they launched with the album back in ‘73 are still components of their 21-century in-concert set lists. Obviously, their boogie-rich signature “La Grange” is a ZZ evergreen, but less well-known tracks including “Precious And Grace” and “Master Of Sparks” are still performed to appreciative audiences regularly.
The album’s juxtaposed openers, “Waitin’ For The Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” are ZZ set standards, with most audiences perceiving the two songs as one composition in two movements. They were, in fact, recorded and written separately (“Jesus” is credited to Billy, Dusty, and Frank; “Bus” is by Billy and Dusty). Their engineer, in those predigital days, had attempted to splice out some blank tape between the two tracks while sequencing the original LP, and he sliced out a bit more than he had planned. It was a happy accident along the lines of Marie Curie’s discovery of radium, rendering the two songs into a kind of funky suite that chronicles a workingman’s anticipation of a tightly packed journey on public transportation in lieu of the Cadillac of his dreams. Thereafter, the guys imagine the Messiah himself cruising the country, “takin’ care of business” in his travels from Chicago to the Delta and California. Dusty notes, “The blues is everywhere, and we used His name to get the point across.” Frank adds that the accidental medley works out in a time sense: “One’s in 4/4 and the other’s a 6/8. It’s a marriage that’s been there for 25 years.” So conjoined are these two songs that when the band makes up its nightly set list, they’re simply listed as “Bus Jesus.” And what a fine ride it is.
Prior to their recent and well-deserved induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, ZZ TOP launched a lengthy worldwide tour. They called it “The Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers Tour,” which was something of a puzzlement in this age of political correctitude. It was, in fact, an homage to the more-than-30-year-old song that gave its title to the tour and to the “party down” mind-set that makes ZZ TOP so much fun. Of special note is the lyric fragment “can of dinner.” Inspired by Robert Parker’s good timey “Barefootin’,” “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” is anthemic in a reprobate way, but it’s all good fun. How else to explain this amazing line: “Soundin’ a lot like a House Congressional / ‘Cause we’re experimental and professional.” Maybe it’s a case of “you had to be there,” but somehow, in context, it makes perfect sense, most certainly after a “can of dinner.”
“Master Of Sparks” is a Billy Gibbons composition that has taken on a mythical aura. Because the action described in the song predates Dusty and Frank’s involvement, they can’t confirm if the song is based on fact or not. Billy contends it is, so we’ll happily take his word for it. The story (or fact, depending on one’s level of open-mindedness) goes something like this: Billy had a friend, a guy whose nickname was “R&B Junior” (are you still with us on this?), who lived on a ranch outside of Houston. The ranch employed the services of a welder who kept the farm implements in good repair. The welder (“Slim” in the song) was entreated to create a steel ball with a door in it and, inside, he installed a discarded airplane seat equipped with a harness. On a Fourth of July long ago (in a galaxy far away?), the ball was hitched to the back of a pickup with Billy inside. The truck tore down the road at a great rate of speed, dragging the ball and Billy behind with a shower of sparks lighting up the night. Mr. Gibbons’ wild ride ended when the spark ball separated from the truck, wiping out a hundred yards of fence. Thanks to the harness, Billy survived the ride and was awarded an M.S. (Master of Sparks) degree for his trouble – and we were granted a crazy song for ours.
Another based-on-a-true-story song that’s integral to Tres Hombres is “Precious And Grace,” the story of a couple of not-so-nice girls that two out of three ZZs encountered early in the band’s history. This one is verified, certified, but certainly not sanctified. Billy and Dusty had driven Billy’s ‘69 Pontiac Grand Prix (not the “flathead Ford” mentioned in the song) to Rocky’s Pawn Shop in Dallas on a mission to acquire the 1952 Fender Precision bass that Dusty’s played for many years. On the way back to Houston from Dallas, they notice two hitchhiking females and decided to do the country thing and give the girls a ride. These, then, were Precious and Grace, whose names were far from descriptive of their true nature. This is to say Precious sported a big knife scar on her face, and Grace was kind of gauche. P&G occupied the backseat, chatting with each other. It became clear to the guys in the front that at least one of them had just been let out of prison in nearby Huntsville. As the sky darkened, the girls directed the guys to a local make-out spot they referred to as “Put Out Road.” The girls propositioned the wary young rockers, who were understandably spooked when they noticed a male figure holding a shotgun. “Precious, is that you?” he inquired. Adrenaline told the guys to act fast, and the girls were immediately put out of the still-moving car as the fellas hightailed it back to Houston, where they immediately collaborated with Frank on the song. Scary stuff, no?
While there are numerous car songs in the ZZ canon, only “Move Me On Down The Line” is railroad-themed. Consider that Houston is the setting for both “The Midnight Special” and “She Caught The Katy” (Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad) and understand that ZZ upheld a fine blues/folk tradition with their diesel-powered Santa Fe loco locomotive.
“La Grange” is the centerpiece of Tres Hombres, and its origin goes back to the place that came to be known in story, song, Broadway musical, and Dolly Parton-Burt Reynolds movie as “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Situated at La Grange, between Houston and San Antonio and 63 miles southeast of Austin, “The Chicken Ranch” was known, tolerated, and appreciated throughout the state and was the scene of many a young man’s rite to passage, so to speak. Having been a thriving operation since the 1830s, it was an open secret when ZZ TOP’s hit about it broke through. Just about everybody in the state knew just what they were “talkin’ about.” It was closed down shortly after the song broke, and some thought that the notoriety given to it by the hit record played some role in its demise. NOT TRUE!
From a musical standpoint, the song is pure boogie, with the lascivious “haw, haw, haw” lyric most bluntly conveying the secret pleasure of The Chicken Ranch in a delightfully non-verbal way. Note from Billy: “I played an older model Stratocaster; it had a particular sound that worked with that kind of shuffle.” He confesses, “The closing line, ‘But I might be mistaken,’ was an inspiration from Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue Got Married.’” Buddy’s similar line is “Of course, the story might be wrong.”
The success of “La Grange” and Tres Hombres changed the ZZ TOP paradigm forever. The band was whisked to New York where stiff-upper-lipped execs from London, their label at the time, awarded them a gold record. Dusty recalls, “I put on my sparkly suit and walked around the Waldorf with these guys who mainly sold classical music; I don’t know how comfortable they were.”
The “en Español” title of the album is a tip of the hat to the border-conscious sensibility of the band, following in the delightfully messy footsteps of the previous Rio Grande Mud. So, too, is the inner spread depicting a mountain of Mexican food that was very mouth-watering and lifelike back in the days of gatefold albums. The feast depicted was served at Leo’s Mexican Restaurant located on South Shepherd in Houston, a hangout of the band and a repository of all manner of ZZ TOP memorabilia. Leo’s dad, they say, rode with Pancho Villa, who has been kind of a role model for ZZ TOP, especially on tour.
Billy Gibbons, vocals, guitar, harmonica
Dusty Hill, vocals, bass guitar
Frank Beard, drums
Produced by Bill Ham
Remastering: Bob Ludwig @ Gateway Mastering & DVD in Portland, ME
Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time # 490/500
This sturdy American blues-rock trio from Texas consists of Billy Gibbons (guitar), Dusty Hill (bass), and Frank Beard (drums). They were formed in 1970 in and around Houston from rival bands the Moving Sidewalks (Gibbons) and American Blues (Hill and Beard). Their first two albums reflected the strong blues roots and Texas humor of the band. Their third album (Tres Hombres) gained them national attention with the hit "La Grange," a signature riff tune to this day, based on John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen." Their success continued unabated throughout the '70s, culminating with the year-and-a-half-long Worldwide Texas Tour.
Exhausted from the overwhelming workload, they took a three-year break, then switched labels and returned to form with Deguello and El Loco, both harbingers of what was to come. By their next album, Eliminator, and its worldwide smash follow-up, Afterburner, they had successfully harnessed the potential of synthesizers to their patented grungy blues groove, giving their material a more contemporary edge while retaining their patented Texas style. Now sporting long beards, golf hats, and boiler suits, they met the emerging video age head-on, reducing their "message" to simple iconography. Becoming even more popular in the long run, they moved with the times while simultaneously bucking every trend that crossed their path. As genuine roots musicians, they have few peers; Gibbons is one of America's finest blues guitarists working in the arena rock idiom — both influenced by the originators of the form and British blues-rock guitarists like Peter Green — while Hill and Beard provide the ultimate rhythm section support.
The only rock & roll group that's out there with its original members still aboard after three decades (an anniversary celebrated on 1999's XXX), ZZ Top play music that is always instantly recognizable, eminently powerful, profoundly soulful, and 100-percent American in derivation. They have continued to support the blues through various means, perhaps most visibly when they were given a piece of wood from Muddy Waters' shack in Clarksdale, MS. The group members had it made into a guitar, dubbed the "Muddywood," then sent it out on tour to raise money for the Delta Blues Museum. ZZ Top's support and link to the blues remains as rock solid as the music they play. A concert CD and DVD, Live from Texas, recorded in Dallas in 2007 and featuring a still vital band, were both released in 2008. The Rick Rubin and Gibbons-produced La Futura, the band's 15th studio album, and the group's first new studio outing since 2003's Mescalero, appeared in 2012.
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