June 24 marked the release of ZZ Top’s first-ever live DVD, a hot-clockin’ collection of 17 classics called “Live In Texas.” Guitarist and vocalist Billy Gibbons spoke to Goldmine about the package, which includes a hilarious band interview around the poker table, a photo shoot and, of course, the blazing show itself.
“What you see on ‘Live In Texas’ is pretty much a bare-bones production,” explains Gibbons. “Through the years, we’ve gone through zero production when we played barrooms (laughs), to elaborate arena-like productions, and now, we’re actually kind of concentrating on musical value. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still supported by a great design team of theatrical designers working on lights and sound, and it all helps, but I think what you get on this package is a pretty straight-ahead musical production.”
Many of the songs on the DVD are ZZ Top classics, but by throwing in a few oddball tracks like “Pin Cushion” and “Blue Jean Blues,” Gibbons and company wanted to pull a few surprises on the audience.
“There are a few that have become, you know, standardized — ‘[a] you gotta play them’ kind of thing. But there
were a couple of left turns where we got lucky, and actually learned them (laughs), meaning the songs we’re supposed to be playing. But yes, those are normally kind of off-to-the-side presentation/performance pieces. But they worked well within this particular lineup.”
Hands down, the highlight of the show is a slamming version of proto-metal classic “Heard It On The X.”
“Oh yeah! No question,” agrees Billy. “It’s a little slower, actually, and in so doing, we had to kind of lean into it a little bit harder. But it helps the song. It actually feels like a new presentation. Well, it is a new presentation.
“It’s different,” continues Billy, hesitantly, at the assertion that “La Grange” barely hangs onto its shuffle feel for dear life. “If you listen to the records, and, of course, I think the interesting aspect is, with a DVD, if it’s not redone in a studio, then it’s not a studio production, like a lot of the stuff you hear on record. That’s a luxury that is created behind a lot of careful planning, and the luxury of being able to go back and redo things. But straight-ahead performances are quite a bit different. You’ve got a lot of events taking place at the time of delivery.”
Also in the works is a reissue of the mega-selling Eliminator record from 1983. Offering a few memories about the time leading up to the release of this controversial album, Billy says that, “There was some uncertainty, but the success and maintaining good timing and the song composition, they were well thought out at the time. Which has proven to be the case, because we still play those songs today, and they are quite enjoyable (laughs). It’s 25 years ago, if you can believe that. Yeah, good tonality, and of course, that was Terry Manning who got most of the credit. We were working with Terry, Joe Hardy, John Hampton. That was still part of the Memphis scene, working out of Memphis, Tennessee at Ardent Recordings.”
Did your approach to soloing change at all, given that high-tech sound?
“As I mentioned, the tonality was pretty much up in your face, a little greasier, a little more raw edged — the distortion quality was bumped way up. There was not a lot of clean, crystalline guitar tones in that particular release. It was heavy, dark. We had been off the road awhile since the previous release, and we had the opportunity to really dial in and to hear what was going on on radio. That was the main conduit that brought us