ZZ Top & Jeff Beck
ZZ TOP a/k/a “That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” lay undisputed claim to being the longest running major rock band with original personnel intact and in 2004 the Texas trio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course, there are only three of them – Billy F Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard — but it’s still a remarkable achievement that they’re still very much together after more than 40 years of rock, blues, and boogie on the road and in the studio. “Yeah,” says Billy, guitarist extraordinaire, “we’re the same three guys, bashing out the same three chords.” With the release of each of their albums the band has explored new ground in terms of both their sonic approach and the material they’ve recorded. ZZ TOP is the same but always changing.
It was in Houston in the waning days of 1969 that ZZ TOP coalesced from the core of two rival bands, Billy’s Moving Sidewalks and Frank and Dusty’s American Blues. The new group went on to record the appropriately titled ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud that reflected their strong blues roots. Their third, 1973’s Tres Hombres, catapulted them to national attention with the hit “La Grange,” still one of the band’s signature pieces today. The song is unabashed elemental boogie, celebrating the institution that came to be known as “the best little whorehouse in Texas.” Their next hit was “Tush,” a song about, well, let’s just say the pursuit of “the good life” that was featured on their Fandango! album released in 1975. The band’s momentum and success built during its first decade, culminating in the legendary “World Wide Texas Tour,” with a production that included a longhorn steer, a buffalo, buzzards, rattlesnakes and a Texas-shaped stage. As a touring unit, they’ve been without peer over the years, having performed before millions of fans through North America on numerous epochal tours as well as overseas where they’ve enthralled audiences from Slovenia to Italy, from Australia to Sweden, from Russia to Japan and most points in between. Their iconography – beards, cars, girls, and that magic keychain – seems to transcend all bounds of geography and language.
Following a lengthy hiatus during which the individual members of the band traveled the world, they switched labels (from British Decca’s London label to Warner Bros.) and returned with two amazingly provocative albums, Deguello and El Loco. Their next release, Eliminator, was something of a paradigm shift for ZZ TOP. Their roots blues skew was intact but added to the mix were tech-age trappings that soon found a visual outlet with the nascent MTV. Suddenly, Billy, Dusty and Frank were video icons, playing a kind of Greek chorus in videos that highlighted the album’s three smash singles: “Gimme All Your Lovin’, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.” The melding of grungy guitar-based blues with synth-pop was seamless and continued with the follow-up album Afterburner as they continued their chart juggernaut. ZZ TOP had accomplished the impossible; they had moved with the times while simultaneously bucking ephemeral trends that crossed their path. They had become more popular and more iconic without ever having to be “flavor of the week.” They had become a certified rock institution, contemporary in every way, yet still completely connected to the founding fathers of the genre.
They stayed with Warner for one more album, Recycler, released in 1990 and switched to RCA where they debuted with Antenna and followed with Rhythmeen and XXX. Mescalero, their latest, is one of the deepest sets ever presented by the band with 16 tracks brimming with virtuoso musicianship, humorously enigmatic lyrics and even a track sung entirely in Spanish. Beyond that, both a lavish four CD box set compilation, Chrome, Smoke & B.B.Q. and a two-CD distillation of that package, Rancho Texicano, were released in recent years by Warner Bros.
The elements that keep ZZ TOP fresh, enduring and above the transitory fray can be summed up in the three words of the band’s internal mantra: “Tone, Taste and Tenacity.” Of course, the three members of the band have done their utmost to do their part in assuring that ZZ TOP prevails. As genuine roots musicians, the members of the band have few peers. Billy is widely regarded as one of American finest blues guitarists working in the rock idiom. His influences are both the originators of the form – Muddy Waters, B.B. King, et al – as well as the British blues rockers who emerged the generation before ZZ’s ascendance. In his early days of playing, no less an idol that Jimi Hendrix singled him out for praise. Part mad scientist, part prankster, he’s a musical innovator of the highest order.
Dusty has long had an affinity for rock’s origins; his earliest performances as a child included Elvis songs convincingly performed. Not only is he a bass virtuoso in his own right, his vocal prowess is awe-inspiring. He’s the lead voice you hear on “Tush” and his ferocious vocals are heard, to great effect, on “Piece” on the new album. Good natured and diligent, Dusty is the rock solid bottom of ZZ TOP.
Frank has also been keeping the beat in that great tradition. As both a roots and progressive drummer, he has been acknowledged as key to the band’s powerful on-stage and in-studio presence. He and Dusty, in their early years together, served as Lightnin’ Hopkins’ rhythm section which, as Frank tells it, was a life changing experience. Frank, despite his last name, is the guy in the band without a beard. But when you’re with him, you’re with a Beard. He’s a rockin’ paradox who provides the pulse of ZZ TOP.
ZZ TOP’s music is always instantly recognizable, eminently powerful, profoundly soulful and 100% Texas American in derivation. The band’s support for the blues is unwavering both as interpreters of the music and preservers of its legacy. It was ZZ TOP that celebrated “founding father” Muddy Waters by turning a piece of scrap timber than had fallen from his sharecropper’s shack into a beautiful guitar, dubbed the “Muddywood.” This totem was sent on tour as a fundraising focus for The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, site of Robert Johnson’s famed “Crossroads” encounter with the devil. ZZ TOP’s support and link to the blues remains as rock solid as the music they continue to play. They have sold millions of records over the course of their career, have been officially designated as Heroes of The State of Texas, have been referenced in countless cartoons and sitcoms and are true rock icons but, against all odds, they’re really just doing what they’ve always done. They’re real and they’re surreal and they’re ZZ TOP.
Legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck has had one of the least flashy yet most influential careers in rock history.
Universally acknowledged as one of the most talented and influential guitarists in the world, Beck has played alongside some of the greatest artists of rock, blues and jazz, during his 40-plus years in the music industry. Now 69, he arose from the hallowed ground of garage rock idols The Yardbirds — the very same fertile soil that birthed fellow gods Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. A groundbreaking artist whose inimitable combination of primal shredding and cool perfectionism has won him eight Grammy awards and left an indelible mark on everything from hard rock and jazz fusion to rockabilly and techno, Beck has earned wide critical praised and twice been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But it’s his artistry in his live performances that have made his concerts the stuff of legend. Beck, who is about to release a new album, will take his new band on the road for the Jeff Beck World Tour 2014 in April. The tour will take in Japan, Australia, and various European dates including 6 in the UK. It follows last autumn’s hugely successful U.S.-wide 18-city marathon with Brian Wilson, architect of the Beach Boys, during which the L.A. Times praised Beck’s “mastery of the electric guitar” and “gorgeous tone” and Wilson said of him that he “plays the most goddamn greatest guitar you’ve ever heard.”
For the 2014 tour, the musician whose genius for picking young talent first brought Rod Stewart to fame, will be accompanied by four brilliant musicians he brought together for the first time last year: bassist Rhonda Smith, guitarist Nic Meier, drummer Jonathan James and Lizzie Ball on violin.
Beck grew up in Wallington, England and between his mother’s piano playing and the family radio tuned to everything from dance to classical; he was surrounded by music from a young age.
Beck famously replaced Eric Clapton as the Yardbirds’ lead guitarist in 1965 and later went on to form The Jeff Beck Group, which featured Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass. Their two albums – “Truth” (1968) and “Beck-Ola” (1969) – would become musical touchstones for hard rockers in the years to come. The constantly evolving Beck’s next move — a power trio with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, which released “Beck, Bogert and Appice” (1973) — once again shattered people’s preconceptions of what a rock guitarist was supposed to sound like.
Music has always shared space with Jeff’s love of hot rods. After the success of his groundbreaking 1975 jazz-fusion classic. “Blow By Blow” and “Wired,” Beck began devoting more time to his fleet of cars, but 1985’s “Flash” kept him in the spotlight as he earned the Best Rock Instrumental Grammy for the song “Escape.” A second Grammy came with “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop with Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas”, and a third for “Dirty Mind” from the “You Had It Coming” album in 2001.
A new direction came serendipitously after Brian Wilson heard Beck play at his MusiCares Person of the Year tribute in 2005. When Beck stepped up with Surf’s Up, a dazzling new musical relationship was formed.
A triumphant 2009 brought many highlights including a sold-out world tour; Beck’s second induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; the release of the platinum-selling Performing This Week… Live at Ronnie Scott’s, which earned a Grammy nomination for “A Day In The Life”; and magnificent performances with his band at the 25th Anniversary Concert of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at Madison Square Garden.
In June 2010, Beck paid fitting tribute to his mentor, the great Les Paul, celebrating what would have been the pioneering guitarist’s 95th birthday, by playing his friend’s music, along with classic tunes from the era, in the same Times Square nightclub that Paul played every Monday for 14 years before his death in August 2009. During the celebration, Beck was joined on-stage at the Iridium Jazz Club by The Imelda May Band, along with other guest performers Brian Setzer, Gary “U.S.” Bonds, and Trombone Shorty; he was to perform again with Imelda May on The Tonight Show in 2011. The celebration was filmed and recorded for later release.
Beck’s astonishing 2010 solo album, Emotion & Commotion, complements the innovative tones he coaxes from his Stratocaster with a 64-piece orchestra. The remarkable combination shines on a range on songs, from Puccini’s aria “Nessun Dorma” and “Elegy For Dunkirk” from the film Atonement to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz and an interpretation of “Corpus Christi Carol.” “What appealed to me was the idea of bringing together these seemingly incongruous styles on different kinds of nonclassical music.”
The innovation paid off. In 2011 Beck was nominated in 5 categories for the Grammy Awards before bringing home three: Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Hammerhead” and Best Pop Instrumental performance for “Nessun Dorma”, both from Emotion & Commotion, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for “Imagine,” his collaboration with Herbie Hancock. His Rock ‘N’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul album was nominated for a 2012 Grammy Award for Best Rock Album, and in 2013, after a New York performance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival at Madison Square Garden, came the September-October North America tour with Wilson and Beck’s latest musical protégés.
Throughout his career, Beck has been credited with finding and launching the careers of some of the most exciting new artists on the musical landscape. Adding to his early find of Rod Stewart as singer of the Jeff Beck Group in the 70’s, his recent multiple performances with Imelda May at The Grammy’s and the Tribute to Les Paul at the Iridium, with subsequent U.S. tour, have brought the singer to the U.S. public’s attention, front and center. He has collaborated with Grammy-Award winning singer Imogen Heap and UK sensation Joss Stone on various albums. Over the last few years he has performed alongside singers Kelly Clarkson and Joss Stone on the most-watched U.S. television series to date, American Idol. In an exciting recent development, Beck’s eye for new talent has brought him together in collaboration with New Orleans jazz-sensation Trombone Shorty, combining their talents for a roof-raising performance at the city’s 2010 Jazz Festival and on a track featured on Shorty’s 2011 album For True.
Beck’s latest line-up sparkles with fresh talent. Bassist Rhonda Smith, who toured with Beck in 2011, plays smooth jazz/funk to electrified funk/rock and has worked with artists from Prince to Chaka Khan and Beyonce. Guitarist Nicolas Meier has carved a reputation out as one of the UK’s most original musicians, drawing on a love of Turkish and Eastern music, flamenco, tango and jazz. Jonathan Joseph has played with many of the world’s greats, drumming for acclaimed artists including Al Jarreau, Ricky Martin, the contemporary jazz band Yellow Jackets, bassist Richard Bona and singer Joss Stone, and first played with Beck at Crossroads.