Friday, July 26, 2013

Tres Hombres Was More Than 'The Blooze'

Forty years ago today, ZZ Top released their "Tres Hombres" album, and people suddenly began to pay attention to that little ol' band from Texas.

It's safe to say the album made stars of the members of ZZ Top (which is appropriate, I suppose, since they hail from the Lone Star State). And its influence continues. Rolling Stone named it #490 on its list of the top 500 albums of all time.

(Mind you, this was way before the members of ZZ Top grew their beards long enough to qualify them for spots on Duck Dynasty. In 1973, their beards probably were of average length.)

It was even before the phase of their career that was ushered in a decade later by the release of the "Eliminator" album and the hits that record spawned, like "Give Me All Your Lovin'" and "Legs."

Those who have been following ZZ Top a long time know "Eliminator" was a real departure from the traditional ZZ Top sound. It was the beginning of their synthesizer period, a time when their albums had several songs that made the Top 10.

Not that I have anything against making a buck. But 40 years ago, ZZ Top was still in an earthy, rough–around–the–edges, guitar–driven period that marked nearly every song the band recorded. Eventually, they returned to that sound in a manner of speaking, but it's never been quite the same as it was when ZZ Top released albums like "Tres Hombres."

ZZ Top released two albums prior to "Tres Hombres," but neither had a blockbuster song that could grab people's attention. Don't get me wrong. The music on those albums was good, and people took a second look at them after "Tres Hombres" was released.

They were a hot little ol' band from Texas.

"Tres Hombres" hit Billboard's Top 10, and it produced the group's first hit single, "La Grange." It's a great song, and it should be. It was inspired by John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen." That one, along with "Tush" from ZZ Top's next album, are, as they have been for quite awhile, ZZ Top's signature songs.

But the song from "Tres Hombres" that I've always preferred was never released as a single.

ZZ Top didn't release many singles in those days. "Tres Hombres" only released "La Grange," but folks who bought the album discovered there was more there. Lots more.

Anyway, back to my favorite ...

"Hot, Blue and Righteous."

When most music lovers want to talk about "Tres Hombres," they focus on "La Grange" — or "Waitin' for the Bus," "Jesus Just Left Chicago" or "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers."

Those are the Texas party songs. The drinking and getting rowdy songs. "The blooze," I've heard them called. Nothing wrong with that.

But "Hot, Blue and Righteous" wasn't hard–driving rock. It was real Texas blues.

It was a nice departure from the more up–tempo, boogie type music they usually recorded. It was smooth, like good sippin' whiskey, with a strong finishing kick.

You could hear that same kind of blues sound on the first two ZZ Top albums, sandwiched in between all the "blooze." You could hear it in "Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell" on the "Rio Grande Mud" album. You could hear it in "Old Man" on "ZZ Top's First Album."

But it never ever sounded like it did in "Hot, Blue and Righteous." Not before. Not since.