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THE ZZ TOP STORY: AN ILLUSTRATED ROCK TALE

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Billy Gibbons’s family weren’t typical Texans. Dad was a New Yorker who’d moved south in the thirties, settling in Houston. A part-time conductor for the Houston Philharmonic, the classical pianist had also done film scores for Hollywood. Mom was no slouch either – she’d end up working on Lyndon B. Johnson’s staff. According to Gibbons, the moment he saw Elvis Presley TV, he declared “That’s the job for me!”

The family maid turned him onto the black roots music from whence rock and roll sprang, while her daughter turned him on to the blues of Robert Johnson and BB King. It was the maid’s daughter who took him to one of his first concerts, Little Richard. For his fourteenth birthday in 1963, his parents gave him a Gibson Melody Maker guitar and a Fender amp, and soon he was playing in a string of Houston groups, even while still attending high school.

17 year-old Gibbons was grooving on Texan psychedelic pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators. Inspired during a particularly boring math class, he wrote song called “99th Floor,” which he recorded with his band Moving Sidewalks for their regional hit album “Flash.” This led to a gig opening in New York for Jimi Hendrix, who befriended Gibbons, mentioned him on a Tonight Show appearance and even gave him a guitar.

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Meanwhile, in Dallas, bassist Dusty Hill teamed with his older brother Rocky to form a blues band, the Deadbeats, opening for headline performers like Freddie King. They later became the Warlocks, and then American Blues, who put out two poor-selling albums. In all the upheaval they found themselves without a drummer. In stepped Frank Beard, whose high school career was in doubt, after getting booted from the football team and getting his girlfriend pregnant – twice. He and his girl had gotten married, then divorced, and he found sonic solace drumming with the Hill brothers.

In 1969, Gibbons approached manager/producer Bill Ham and the tall Texan agreed to manage Gibbons’ new band, which he’d named ZZ Top. A single “Salt Lick” was released on the Scat label, before he met drummer Frank Beard, who’d been unemployed since the split of American Blues. Beard brings in Dusty Hill and the trio quickly find themselves opening for big-name stars like Chuck Berry.

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Manager Bill Ham got them a recording deal (he’d stay with the band until late 2006), and “ZZ Top’s First Album,” released in January 1971, went a long way toward establishing their boogie-woogie blues rep. The buzz about them grew even more after the label sent them on tour, opening for acts like Deep Purple, Mott The Hoople, Ten Years After, Janis Joplin and the Doors. When the second album “Rio Grande Mud” gave them their first hit song in April 1972, “Francine,” they found themselves opening for the Rolling Stones.

While recording their third album, Dusty Hill decided to personally research the subject of their new song “La Grange” by visiting the actual Texas whorehouse for which it was named (“That madame didn’t look nuthin’ like Dolly Parton,” he later told a reporter). Released in July 1973, “Tres Hombres” represented their arrival as one of the biggest rock bands in the nation, as did their followup album “Fandango” (half studio and half live in concert), the latter containing future concert staples “Tush” and “Heard It On The X.” Fandango stayed on the charts for over eighty weeks.

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The 1976 ZZ Top tour went around the world with twenty-five tons of equipment, a Texas-shaped stage, and set dressing including cacti, tumbleweeds, a corral, stuffed cattle and live buzzards leashed to their stage perches, wearing tiny headphones to protect their hearing from the volume. The hits kept coming with 1976’s “Tejas” and the following year’s “Best Of” album, as the exhausted band took what would end up being a three-year break from touring and recording. Hill sailed the Pacific, Beard went to the Caribbean and took up golf, while Gibbons joined a Parisian artist’s collective and went sightseeing in Morocco, Madagascar and Nepal,

With their label having financial problems, the trio signed with Warner Brothers and, in 1979, released “Deguello,” spawning three radio staples: "I Thank You," "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" and their ode to eyeware “Cheap Sunglasses.” The record features a fuller sound, with Hill and Gibbons laying in some horns and multiple-track guitars. The supporting tour was another feather in their pink baseball caps.

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As the eighties dawned, technology caught up with the band while recording their eighth album “El Loco.” Tracks were laid down painstakingly, with layers of overdubs and often recorded by the players individually, alone in separate booths. Released in August 1981, it reached #17 in the U.S. and featured "Party on the Patio," "Pearl Necklace" and "Tube Snake Boogie." They toured to support the album and then took a short break, to consider their next moves.

Gibbons, meanwhile, was indulging in his jones for old cars, particularly a 1933 three-window Ford Coupe. He spent a small fortune at Buffalo Motor Cars in Paramount, California, to build up the vehicle into the supercar he’d name the Eliminator.

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“Eliminator” was also the name of their next album, out in April 1983 and reaching #9 in America, selling over four million copies and remaining on the charts for 135 weeks. Hits spunoff the disc included "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Legs," all of which were also filmed as state-of-the-art videos.

MTV premiered the Tim Newman-directed video for “Gimme All Your Lovin’” in May 1983. Stockings, ZZ keychains, babes ‘n’ beards – almost overnight, ZZ Top became the frontrunners of the video vanguard. A few months later, in August, the “Sharp Dressed Man” video helped make the Eliminator car one of rock’s most recognizable visual icons.

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Over twenty years later, ZZ Top is still together and still drawing huge, worshipful crowds whenever they hit the road. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2003. Gibbons wrote an autobiographical book released in 2005, “Billy F. Gibbons: Rock And Roll Gearhead,” with plenty of pictures of his collection of guitars, cars and hot women. He turned up at the MTV Video Music Awards in August 2006, playing “Cheap Sunglasses” with the Raconteurs. In December, after parting ways with longtime manager/producer Bill Ham, the band signed with Sanctuary Group.

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ZZ TOP’S BACKSTAGE RIDER

RD9ZZd Some excerpts from ZZ Top’s tour contract rider, specifying backstage requirements:

1 six-pack diet IBC root beer 1 six-pack V8 juice 1 large bag plain M&Ms 1 crock pot of homemade cream of tomato soup, bowls and spoons 1 large bag Baby Reeses Peanut Butter Cups 1 jar Jalapeno peppers 1 medium serving bowl cocktail franks in special sauce (consult with production assistant for the recipe and preparation instructions).

“All persons entering into the band dressing room will need to be escorted in and out by authorized ZZ Top personnel.”

“Oxygen and face mask must be available 30 minutes prior to performance in immediate backstage area and remain available at all times until 30 minutes after conclusion of performance.”


LOCAL MUSICAL KIDS TV SHOW

“Kiosko is a magical land of puppets, people, and music, with a mosaic of instruments from around the world,” according to the intro of Kiosko, a new children’s TV show that debuted August 20 on KPBS Channel 15.

The program’s co-creator Miguel-Angel Soria and music director/composer Kevin P. Green are former members of the hip-hop collective Taco Shop Poets. Tim Foley from the band Skelpin is Associate Producer, as well as writing and acting in episodes.

The Sesame Street-like program features puppets and humans in skits and songs instruct children in the fundamentals of multicultural music, including jazz, hip-hop, classical, pop, far-eastern Sitar ragas, Norteño, and even punk rock music.

Muppet style characters include a white-haired rat DJ, a punk girl whose shirt reads “Punk,” and a Dr. Teeth-like band called the Dynamics, featuring a rasta-haired fox drummer and blue-haired singer of indeterminate species and sex. Live action sing-a-longs in the pilot included “Harmony, Hang With Me,” and several animated segments.

Program co-creator Miguel-Angel Soria served as the Taco Shop Poets’ Artistic Director for around thirteen years. He’s been a major proponent of the local Straight-Edge punk movement, as well as being credited as one of the first – and only – hip-hop performance artists.

Soria’s appearances with Taco Shop Poets often included activities reminiscent of children’s TV. He would whisper a “secret” to an audience member, and have patrons pass it along in “whisper waves.”

He also tore pages from books, passing them to attendees to read aloud in short segments comprising a spontaneous “collage poem.” He sometimes presented his own poems written on long rolls of paper, that he proceeded to wrap around show patrons.

http://www.kioskoproductions.com

From Wonder Showzen:


WEARABOUTS - LOCAL FASHION CULTURE

Much as it pains me to say, one can no longer stock their entire wardrobe at K-Mart and the occasional Gap without being mocked every time you go out in public. And, unless you're still high school age or below, Hot Topic is clearly outta the question. So here are some 'round town sartorial suggestions, for us working and wanna-be-hip-as-we-used-to-be adults.

Buffalo Exchange (Hillcrest) lives up to its name by inviting patrons to bring in fur apparel and accessories for exchange, as part of its “Coats For Cubs” program. “The furs are used as bedding to comfort orphaned and injured wildlife,” informs their website. The proffered “exchange” is tax deduction paperwork from the Humane Society, not to mention that smug Samaritan glow that comes with doing something cool for critters. That, and knowing you’re safe from PETA throwing red paint on you. www.buffaloexchange.com

Buzz Clothing is “a men’s lifestyle boutique and online retailer specializing in exclusive and up-and-coming national and international designers,” according to its virtual sales pitch. At this writing, online specials include tropical Boardies beach shorts ($70), wool Fila warmup jackets styled for the gym but priced for the VIP lounge ($225 to $250) and several styles of Frank Dandy men’s undershorts, including a pair with side panels decorated in pink paisley flowers ($29) which, if it’s not available in break-away style, really should be. www.buzzclothing.com

The Enchantress Boutique (Old Town) is all about romance, so its erotic sleepwear is perfectly suited for two upstairs bedrooms of the old Victorian Burton House on Heritage Row. Available sizes from 30AAA to 52DDD make the Boutique a utilitarian – and affordable - source for real world women, as opposed to the limited selection of supermodel-sized, sugar-daddy priced inventory available at some…many…at most lingerie specialty shops. Owner operated, and patrons can visit the tea room on the bottom floor, which is also available for wedding parties, baby showers and photo shoots rated G through R.

Flashbacks (Hillcrest) has a surfboard-shaped sign out front so psychedelic, it looks like a kaleidoscope threw up on it. So it shouldn’t surprise that their retread threads are a total 8-track flashback. Whether you’re building a Brady Bunch or boogieing nights away with Donna Summer all winter until you fall, they’ve probably got everything you need, no matter how funkadelic your parliament; Platforms, go-go boots, jumpsuits, Angel Flight jeans, and hip-huggers with bellbottoms wide enough for Arlo Guthrie to smuggle two or three keys into Los Angel-eeze with.

Frock You Vintage (University Heights) declares on their website “We eat, drink and sleep old clothes,” but one assumes they wash ‘em before selling to you. Their cottage-like retail locale offers everything from red carpet staples like Yves Saint Laurent vests and jackets to more bohemian blouses, vintage shoes, oh-so-chic tees and billowy pajama-style lounge pants. If you like fighting for your frocks, selected wares are frequently auctioned on eBay. www.myspace.com/frockyouvintage, www.frockyouvintage.com

Jep Boutique (La Jolla) offers recent store arrivals for the ladies, like super-snug Serfontaine Rocksteady jeans and a L.A.M.B. winged blazer - in leopard print - with a formidably large golden buckle that interlocks across the navel like fortress gates protecting your valuable belly piercings. Other items said to be hot include Trovata crew shirts (a fave at Barneys NYC) and a variety of hoodies, including several with large round “rudder” zippers resembling door knockers which – on ladies anyways – possibly serve the same function (“knock knock, pardon me, may I enter your hoodie for a nip?”).

Off 5th (Mission Valley) is a discount outlet for the blue-chip Saks chain. Discounts average 25%, though more than a few fashion bloggers have waxed digital about finding stuff up to 75% off during periodic clearance sales that reportedly pack ’em in like the homely little sister who puts out for burritos instead of lobsters (which is what Off 5th is to big-sistah Saks, after all). All the bling slingers are here - Prada, Armani, gold-and-sequin pumps by BCBG – in a folksy shop that belies its mallrat locale, and also offers a tasteful selection of picture frames and fine china.

Steady Boutique (Little Italy) invites passersby with attention-grabbing orange bucket seats out front that just scream “hang out with me.” This is the place to go if you like your designer labels to read “organic cotton,” said to make for more environmentally friendly manufacture and disposal. Organic cotton jeans by Loomstate can cost upwards of $175, but there’s a variety of denims available from Japanese designers that’ll leave a few shekels in the pockets of your transcontinental trousers. www.steadyboutique.com

Wear it Again Sam (Hillcrest) is the kind of timeless second-hander where you’d expect the ladies from the B52s and the cast of Anne Rice’s novels to shop, with frock-of-ages gear representative of the nineteenth century through the fifties. Attention to condition is almost archival, making them hard to sell to (only mint items will do) and pricey, but an excellent source of authentic and intact fashions of yesteryear. In addition to pre-worn dresses, pre-donned hats and pre-handled gloves, there’s usually a good selection of pre-disposed sunglasses that have gone in and out of style at least two or three dozen times since the date of their likely manufacture.

ALSO WORTH A LOOK:

Arline Fisch designs jewelry influenced and inspired by historical events. “Exalt the wearer" is her mantra, which she explains at length in her 1975 book Textile Techniques in Metal for Jewelers, wherein her singular metal-knitting style is the subject of a definitive tutorial. An SDSU professor since 1961, works of hers are on display at Rome’s Vatican Museum, Boston’s Museum Of Fine Arts, the Smithstonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and locally at the San Diego Historical Society.

Wearhaus is the co-operative effort of five locals; Krystina Grammatica (Grammatique), Sally Smith (Sally Bee designs), Carman Stalker (Stalker Designs), Vanessa Salazar (Alterwear, Vichi designs), and Julie Anstedt (Rambunctious Designs). According to their website, “The goal of Wearhaus is to develop a network of local San Diego designers who can learn, create and prosper together as a community.” Why not? Beats being a Crip or a Blood. www.wearhouse.org


BROWSING THE BOARDS

One way to read the pulse of the local music scene is to skim the message forums and bulletin boards at websites like sonicspot.com, sandiegopunk.com, craigslist.org, swingorama.com, socal-raves.org and sdmusician.com.

Bobsax loves a parade: "Tuba or sousaphone player wanted for startup brass band (think Rebirth or Dirty Dozen Brass Bands). Lineup is horns and drums only...must be able to play consistent, driving, sometimes repetitive lines and have endurance to keep going. Occasional marching, this will be rare."

Bagingkle loves a funeral: "Bassist sought for dark/heavy/melodic metal band...our style is a mix of hardcore/thrash/death/and doom metal, very aggressive at times and very mellow and atmospheric at times as well. We play at c#, our vocalist has a very harsh, aggressive sound, and our music is very original and dark, especially for San Diego."

Swingstitious is into Jesus: "We are Christians, and our bassist just quit on us...not to provoke some theist/atheist debates on here, [but bassist] must be a Christian (we're a Christian band)...wanting to play emo/indie/screamo rock, ministering as a Christian band, spreading a positive message, portraying ourselves through music."

Dudeski is into meetings: "I am a singer/frontman/songwriter looking to front a slammin' band. Something like Lenny Kravitz meets Led Zeppelin meets Incubus meets the Chilis meets Soundgarden meets Al Green. I definitely have my own style...Chris Cornell meets Bono meets Michael Hutchence meets Al Green."

Epiphany is axe hunting: "Still looking for a guitarist. Applicant should be creative, innovative, textural, professional and not be afraid to play out of 'the box.' " James SatChild replies "Epiphany, maybe you need to start looking in other realms of existence...like have a seance and raise Chet Atkins from the grave. I think he'd fit your bill quite nicely!"

Anniewarbucks is man hunting: "I'm looking for a guy in San Diego. This is really vague, but any help that anyone can give me is great. He is a hip hop DJ, in his early 20s, first name is Chris. I don't know his DJ name. He was recently on a MTV show called Dismissed."

MusiMitch knows what he wants: "Drummer...desiring versatile and eclectic collaborative but understands niche markets (ala, rock, funk, hip-hop, etc., etc.). No chips, chumps, chimps, or wimps (if you're sensitive and/or female, fantastic!)."

SanDiego21 knows you suck: "We know you're a terrible bassist and/or singer...that's fine. We can barely tune our instruments and our drummer is on Lithium. He drools a lot, but keeps good time surprisingly. We play primarily punk...need a bassist and singer to finish up. Gotta have gear."

Unitypunkrocka knows punk: "I think a lot of the stuff Nirvana did wasn't very interesting. Just because he uses 1 4 5 1 chord progressions in songs and other 'punk' progressions doesn't mean that the songs are punk rock. If you wanna be that theory oriented about punk...most of the drum beats were just plain rock and roll beats, nothing particularly punk about them."

StraightEdgePetey knows nothing: "@#%$ Kurt Cobain, druggie piece of @#%$. Because of him, kids take heroin...I suggest either banning all Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, and Elvis records. That's something that needs to occur if we wish to conquer the war on drugs."

Clumsystupid is lonely: "I think my last roommate moved out because I kept saying 'The world ain't round it's square' and getting liquored up and playing Tammy Wynette and the Troggs and beating the sh*t out of him."

Olly The Limey is angry: "I just read this big article in this week's LA Weekly about raving and how it's dead and how it's all commercialized...I was like ready to punch the friggin writer by the end, for ruining my day."

Pond/pie girl is nervous: "I don't know what it is about you fellow dancers but every time I am out it hasn't failed yet that I have fallen, tripped, or managed to injure another...please tell me that I am not the only one that this happens to. I seriously make a fool out of myself at every event."

Katherine A. is dangerous: "I've given and received some blows...there was the huge knee bruise I got a few weeks ago; the time I poked poor Tom in the eye; hit Paul in the face with a fingernail; clobbered Kermit in the face; stepped on feet; tripped over my own feet...there are just so many!"

Mikey S wants to aim high: "I'm a punk singer/songwritter looking to start a band...I write lyrics but I need music writers. Good punkereds willing to grow as musicians, I have high goals. Punks only please."

Kjude wants to get high: "Looking to start an Irish Pub-style band. I'm 28 and a self taught guitarist (3-4 yrs) who doesn't know much about Irish music. With the right people though, figuring it out could be half the fun. I have a job and don't want to be a rockstar, but free beer would be cool."

AdNauseam wants to rock: "I'm moving to San Diego in about two months and I will be starting a band. Hard to describe the sound I'm looking for...Lo-fi, no-fi, no-wave punk...I am very dedicated and need people in generally the same vein of music. I am more concerned with this rather than what instrument you may play."

Joe Scandal just wants to fck: "Fck the corporation, fck the money, fck the internet, fck this computer, fck McDonalds, fck this fcked up world."



Like this blog? Here are some related links:

OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/

FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/

SAN DIEGO READER MUSIC MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/sandiegoreadermusic

JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford

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