“Same Three Guys… Same Three Chords”
By Shannon MacDonald


The title of my story says it all. Those are words we ZZ Top fans loved hearing for many years. Billy Gibbons would strut his Texas-Shuffle up to the microphone and announce his compadres to packed houses all over the world. “Same three guys… Same three chords.” And he wasnʼt lying! The explosive song book created by the band smacks of intricately weaved tapestries of three-chord masterpieces rolled out for decades… all played by a smart little band of just guitar, bass, and drums.


Farewell Dusty Hill

As the last chapter of the ZZ Top legacy winds down, we contemplate while gazing through the last few pages of a book we have helped write over the past years. Dusty Hillʼs farewell hits hard, hits home, and hits us right where it hurts. The “Same Three Guys” situation will never be again. Moving forward, if said at all, it would have to be a tribute to the solid bottom bassist with the raspy high voice that thundered songs like “Tush”, “Delirious”, and of course…”Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”.


In The Beginning

Although the first 2 albums were not widely received, “Tres Hombres” (Spanish for three men), was the band’s first commercial breakthrough. It was recorded at Brian Studios & Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. In the USA, the album entered the Top-10 as the single “La Grange” busted through the Billboard-Hot-100 reaching number-41. Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard went into the studio with one sound and came out with another. With the help of new producer, Terry Mann, the “sound” from Billyʼs guitar was tuned off-set, musically… and it worked.

[ “Waitin’ for the Bus”, “Jesus Just Left Chicago”, “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers”, and “La Grange” were  the money-makers on the album. “Waiting’ for the Bus” and “Jesus Left Chicago” have a specific splice between them that just feels wrong, and right, at the same time. When you’ve gotten used to it… you can’t hear one without the other. ]

Once they found “their sound”, they were an unstoppable force. The musical road belonged to ZZ Top shortly thereafter. Like most bands, they toured to promote their new album with the usual suspects of gear and lighting. But Hey! Just wait a doggone Texas minute!!! These guys brought rattlesnakes, cactus, tumbleweeds, and some of the greatest props anyone had ever seen. Truly what they did was… They couldnʼt bring the masses to Texas… so they brought Texas to the masses. Genius! This genuinely worked for many years.


I Want My MTV?

What in the world does a sh*t-kicking, Texas band do, when the sound changes drastically and television is now the soundboard for debuting new bands? Quite simple really… When the 80s New Waveʼs “push” came to “shove” ZZ Top out of their own rockʼn music territory – the band pushed right back… and HARD! Their new sound wasnʼt compromised – it was enhanced! And the videos?! Their videos were like nothing we had seen before. Long beards – Fuzzy guitars – Fast cars – Hot Girls – Magic keys thrown to the underdog… ZZ Top rode the (new) wave and rose to the top immediately – commanding the charts and video-world. They became bigger and better than ever. All from the “Same Three Guys”… with the “Same Three Chords”. Billy, Dusty and Frank dominated the Billboard Charts, MTV, VH1, and everything else musical – annihilating hot bands such as The Cars, The Go-Gos, Split-Enz, Devo, and other New Wave Kings and Queens. They were unstoppable!


The After Burner Keeps Burning

Looking out over their bright horizon owned by the small-town Texas band, it’s understood these three guys stood alone in a world that scrambled for “commercial branding” and “ownership of sound”. ZZ Top had that from the get- go! Their 100-proof sound is like no one elseʼs. They entered the scene blazing a trail other bands imitated but could never fully own and operate. And when those other bands finally caught up to them – ZZ Top would just downshift and hit the nitrous-button. People were mesmerized by the big sound that just kept rolling off the stages of that small band.


The Lucky Ones

As the sun starts to finally settle on this big sounding three-piece ensemble – we cannot quite comprehend the introduction to “loss”. For those that are from the 60s, 70s, and 80s eras, we find this is starting to become “the norm”… and we donʼt like it very much. We are losing our musical heroes left, right, and center stage. Having to say goodbye is like losing “family”. As heartbreaking as that is to swallow… we need to remember the “big picture”: We WERE the chosen few that got to live it and have a plethora of great bands, like ZZ Top, take us by the arm and escort us through their magical musical journey. I believe it will be proven, in future days, that our era of music was the greatest contribution to ALL music.

Isnʼt that a wonderful gift?! Arenʼt we truly… the lucky ones?