I knew I was going to listen to ZZ Top during this morning’s commute. I needed their groove as I entered the world’s first full day without them. Yes, ZZ Top will carry on with Dusty Hill’s long time tech, Elwood Francis, filling in but we all know it won’t be the same.
I have full confidence in Billy Gibbons and Franks Beard’s abilities to continue to perform top shelf hard rockin’ southern boogie, but it won’t be the same with Hill’s powerful voice, spinning guitar, and waggling long beard missing.
Now, which album will I listen too? It was early this AM in a pre-coffee fog that I looked at my full set of ZZ on CD and grabbed Eliminator and Afterburner. For most kids my age the synth heavy/commercial peak era was my introduction to the band. Their videos were featured regularly on Video Hits and it is were I fell in love with their sound.
I almost had one of their albums back then too. Almost.
If I wanted to get an album in the ’80s I had a major hurdle to jump. Being a kid with no money of my own, and there only being one turn table in the living room, I had to convince my Mom to buy it. Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and Huey Lewis were easy sells compared to the “sleezy” ZZ Top. (Mom had a similar hang up with David Lee Roth.) I almost convinced her with TV Dinners but song wasn’t as big of a hit like the other singles from Eliminator. I think Video Hits only played it twice before it was gone.
I didn’t gain full control of my music until ’89/’90 when I started having money of my own and a cassette player in my bedroom. Eliminator and Afterburner became early entries in my collection. I wish I had kept those cassettes but they would serve no purpose other than to make for a cool photo on this blog. Well, you will have to settle for the CDs I upgraded them to.
But are those the right albums to choose for today?
Hill sang lead vocals on many ZZ Top tunes, but it was usually only one per album. After the success of Tush on Fandango!, they reserved a big rocker for him to belt out on their following albums. Ten Dollar Man, Hi Fi Mama, Party On The Patio. It became a thing.
I remembered Hill sang I Got The Six on Eliminator but I couldn’t remember if he sang one on Afterburner. Again, early AM pre-coffee fog. Plus, with the heavy synth on those albums, I’m not afraid to admit how at times I have no idea what is Hill/Beard and what is a Korg and drum machines. With little time to think, they became my choice.
For some reason, I wanted Afterburner first and as I played it down I realized that any ZZ Top album was right to salute Dusty with. Although Gibbons sings lead for the first four tunes, Hill harmonizes along with him whenever the moment is right. He does for Gibbons what Michael Anthony did for David Lee Roth. Elevating the vocals.
Gibbons is a good, but not great singer. You don’t have to be for rock ‘n roll. Hill was a great singer who knew how to thicken Gibbons voice when a song needed it. His support was prevalent on the ’70s albums but I was surprised to find how subtle and effective the technique is on Afterburner. It is surprising what you can find in a song when you are looking for it. Even if you have heard it countless times before.
After Gibbons wrapped up Rough Boy with a guitar solo that never fails to make my skin vibrate, the next tune, Can’t Stop Rockin’ kicks in. Shit, this is the song Hill sang on. What a brilliant bout of remembrance to hit me in the face at 6:45 AM. Because Hill didn’t stop rockin’ no mater what anyone did or said until he couldn’t do it anymore. Darn right I cranked this! You crank too, please. Rest easy, Dusty.