The 10 Best ZZ Top Songs, by Billy Gibbons' protege Lance Lopez
Texan bluesman Lance Lopez met Billy Gibbons when he was 16, when they bonded over a love of Jimi Hendrix. Here, Lance tells the whole story, and picks his 10 favourite ZZ Top songs
In the 1990s there was a great blues club and restaurant in Dallas called the Greenville Bar & Grill. On Monday nights they had a fantastic blues jam there. The first night I decided to go down to the jam at GBG was the day after Christmas in 1994. I got up onstage at the Blues jam and began to play a complete set of Jimi Hendrix songs, ya know, Purple Haze, Red House, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) the whole bit... because that's what I used to do when I was a punk kid.
Next door to the Greenville Bar & Grill is an amazing Italian restaurant called Terilli's. Billy Gibbons was with some friends having dinner there and heard through the wall that somebody next door was playing Hendrix. They finished their dinner and decided to go next door and have a look. By the time I was done with my 20 minute version of Voodoo Chile the manager of the club grabbed me and told me to go with him to the back, as someone wanted to meet me.
As I approached the back of the bar I saw the outline of Billy, his hat, his beard the whole thing... just like the MTV videos. I couldn't believe it was really him! The manager of the bar introduced us and the first thing Billy ever said to me as he leaned in near me and pulled his sunglasses down over his nose away from his eyes was, "I knew Jimi Hendrix, he was my friend" It was amazing!
After that I saw Billy quite frequently in Dallas, and we hung out quite a bit at places like Cafe Brazil late at night, talking about everything from amps to Lightnin' Hopkins to Jimmy Page. We lost touch for a few years, and then in 2004 we reconnected at Eric Clapton's first Crossroads Festival in Dallas. Then, a couple of years after that I was opening shows for ZZ Top in Europe. A couple of years after that I went to Los Angeles to begin recording Tell The Truth with Fabrizio Grossi and after Fab and I recorded three songs, Billy called Fabrizio and asked him what he'd been up to, and Fab told Billy he'd just started "working with one of your fellow Texans," and Billy asked "oh yeah, who?"
After Fabrzio told Billy that we started working together on my album, and he then suggested we put a band together – and that if we did he wanted to play with us – and then came Supersonic Blues Machine!
Billy has always been a great mentor to me. He has taught me so much about the Blues and especially how to be a true Texas gentleman. I am so very grateful for all of the knowledge that he has imparted on me. From the beginning of our friendship he really made me understand the importance of tone and how to get it in your hands first. His creativity and genius is unparalleled. It makes me really understand why Jimi Hendrix loved Billy so much.
Billy has truly inspired me, whether he was imparting knowledge to me or was giving me a look over his shoulder while we were jamming and just saying, "hey now, LL." Every time I always knew I was receiving a blessing from the Reverend Willy G himself... and what a mighty blessing that is Amigo…Mercy!
Lance Lopez's new album Tell The Truth is out today. Lopez will be special guest on this year's Rockin' The Blues tour, which also features Eric Gales, Gary Hoey and Quinn Sullivan, and climaxes in London on March 17. Full dates below.
Below, Lance chooses his Top 10 ZZ Top songs.
Neighbor, Neighbor (ZZ Top's First Album, 1971)
ZZ Top's First Album defines what Texas Blues Rock is all about! It truly is the gospel! With Billy's heavy riff and Frank and Dusty's smooth groove, Neighbor, Neighbor is all about gossip in a small Texas town and how one good old boy intends to deal with it. Billy's lead breaks in the song allow you to feel the pure essence that is the beloved 1959 Sunburst Les Paul, "Pearly Gates". A song that warns that if you talk behind somebody's back down in Texas you better look out!
Whiskey'n Mama (Rio Grande Mud, 1972)
Rio Grande Mud and the first few ZZ albums were recorded at Robin Hood Brian's Studio in Tyler, East Texas, which is our home soil. Rio Grande Mud possesses such a heavy, yet tight sound. Robin really captured some great sounds during those sessions. Billy's slide guitar on Rio Grande Mud was a very stout 1958 Les Paul (the same one used for Just Got Paid) and with it Billy drives those slide riffs straight to the point with pure authority! When I hear the opening riffs of Whiskey'n Mama it makes me think of those wild rides from East Texas down to Houston on Highway 59 back in my younger days. It's a good old Texas tale that warns you that if the girl you're with can drink more whiskey than you... you had better watch out!
Precious And Grace (Tres Hombres, 1973)
Anytime Billy gets to talkin' about vintage flat-head Fords and picking up chicks it's gonna make for a great story! The riff of Precious And Grace is one of the most tone-filled, heavy examples of Texas Blues Rock ever recorded! Frank Beard's interplay between Billy and Dusty's heavy, unison riff is what made Frank so great on these early recordings. Billy's slide guitar solo is so unique and unlike anything that was really happening in the early 1970s, playing high up behind the bridge, and all of the slide colours are so imaginative and way ahead of it's time.
Nasty Dogs And Funky Kings (Fandango 1975)
The opening riffs of Nasty Dogs are a warning that a whole lotta badass Texas Tone is about to be headed your way! Frank and Dusty are grooving so hard on this track that it sets up the perfect foundation for Billy to use his unparalleled swagger to use sparse chords during the verse. It sounds like delta blues from outer space! The solo section riff is one of the heaviest, funkiest, bluesiest riffs I've ever heard in my life. Billy's guitar overdubs on the outro are swirling around like a big swarm of bees down in South Austin in the Summer! Another Texas-tale of, "you better look out, it could happen to you too, you could be a fool too."
Arrested For Driving While Blind (Tejas, 1976)
There is one thing for sure... they don't mess around with drinking and driving in Texas! This track is a constant reminder of that. I love the way Billy, Dusty, and Frank announce themselves at the very top of this track! BFG's tone on this track is some of the most unbelievable guitar tone ever recorded! The shuffle that Frank plays on Arrested is 100% Texas, and so reminiscent of his dear friend and running buddy from Irving, Texas Doyle Bramhall Sr., who, legend has it, is the one that imparted a lot of shuffle knowledge to Frank back in the day in Dallas.
BFG's guitar solos on this track are such a great example of getting right to the point! The outro solo jam section is such a fun, rollicking, galloping jam, and sounds like somebody driving back to their house and trying to dodge the law after a long night of beer drinking and hell-raising!
Cheap Sunglasses (Deguello, 1979)
Every time I hear the opening riffs of Cheap Sunglasses I have to immediately find my Ray Bans and put them on! It's one of the most funky ZZ tracks ever! The groove is unstoppable, and it makes you want to ride around slow all night downtown and listen to it over and over. It's one of the most imaginative and creative arrangements in the ZZ catalog, the break downs with the "woo woos." Frank's tom rolls coming out of them alone prove that! The way the guitar solo sections modulate from C to B flat is something I've used a lot in my own writing, and again BFG's guitar tone on the solos is as meaty and juicy as a Central Texas Beef Rib! The funkiness of the interplay in the outro section is what makes ZZ one of the greatest power trios in rock'n'roll. I just love the way it slows down and ends as if just to say, "OK, that's enough grooving for now."
Party On The Patio (El Loco, 1982)
The ultimate house party song! Dusty is basically telling us that they declared "squatters rights" on a house to then have a huge blow out party! It's so hilarious! I can always totally picture myself at that party on the patio! Again, I love how the guitar solo modulates between minor keys. BFG's use of thematic phrasing is something to aspire to, I love how he sets up the solo with the big bends and then tears it up on the second half. Party On The Patio is a great summertime party song, and I always love hearing Dusty Hill singing with such great authority.
If I Could Flag Her Down (Eliminator, 1983)
I feel like If I Could Flag Her Down doesn't get much attention because Sharp Dressed Man, Legs and Gimme All Your Lovin' kinda ruled the roost on MTV back in the early 1980's! Eliminator was one of the first cassettes I ever bought as a child in the early 80s, and I bought it the day it came out. It was such an amazing time to see ZZ Top on MTV and the beginning of music television. Billy, Dusty and Frank were like comic book super heroes to me back then when Eliminator came out because of MTV.
Everyone we knew in East Texas and North Louisiana had a copy. We heard it everywhere we went, people had huge dance parties at their houses and would dance to the entire album. It's such a huge part of my childhood. ZZ had moved into a new sound and a new direction, however, Flag Her Down masterfully blends the "modern era" ZZ with the vintage East Texas shuffle sound. I think that's what I love most about it. BFG's guitar solos are a pure lesson in Texas groove on this track, and if you can't get through this track without dancing, something's wrong!
Sleeping Bag (Afterburner, 1985)
The first time I ever heard Sleeping Bag was a couple of days after it came out at the Louisiana State Fair in 1985. There was a ride called the Gravitron that was like a giant flying saucer. You got inside and then the Gravitron would start spinning very fast and you laid on a padded panel and the centrifugal force would be three times the force of gravity so it was like being in a spaceship! Inside were lots of coloured, flashing lights and very loud music.
When we got on the Gravitron they played Sleeping Bag it was unlike anything I ever experienced as a young boy, it was like being on a flying saucer and Sleeping Bag was the soundtrack! It's one of my favourite childhood memories. The thing I love the most is how truly innovative it was, and, more importantly, how the outro really set up the entire genre of techno music. It's so great to hear BFG play the Blues over techno synths and the crushing four on the floor beats.
My Head's In Mississippi (Recycler, 1990)
The first time I ever saw ZZ Top perform live in concert was in October of 1990. Everyone in Texas was still mourning the loss of Stevie Ray Vaughan. ZZ Top, Steve Miller and Santana performed at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas. It was such a powerful concert and so inspiring to me, I had just turned 13 and it was the first concert I saw as a young teenager. This concert really helped to bring everyone out of mourning the loss of SRV. It was so powerful, and My Head's In Mississippi was being played regularly on Dallas' Q102 rock radio station by legendary DJ Redbeard.
Mississippi was not only so innovative and ahead of it's time – and BFG's tone yet again so huge – but it really helped everyone after just experiencing the loss of SRV in our community. They were always talking about SRV and how sad it was on Q102 radio, but then they would play My Head's In Mississippi and everyone bounced back and felt better, at least I know I did! I love the story! I have been on a constant quest for a naked cowgirl on the ceiling mumbling to some Howlin' Wolf about some voodoo heathen ever since!
Rockin' The Blues Tour 2018
09 Mar: Fabrik, Hamburg, DE
10 Mar: Columbia Theater, Berlin, DE
11 Mar: FZW, Dortmund, DE
13 Mar: Muffathalle, Munich, DE
15 Mar: Batschkapp, Frankfurt, DE
16 Mar: Boerderij, Zoetermeer, NL
17 Mar: The Garage, London, UK