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Texas still lives on in heart of this ZZ Top fan

July 27, 2014 • Editorial, Opinion

THOWSAREMUGWhen I told my former work mates at The Pampa News that I was moving to Roswell to accept the editor position here, I said that although I would miss them all, I was happy to get away from the relentless Panhandle winds. The one who had lived in Silver City for several years quipped, “East New Mexico might as well be West Texas.”

To be politically correct as a new citizen of The Land of Enchantment (and so I don’t get angry phone calls and emails), perhaps I should now switch it around and say, “West Texas might as well be East New Mexico.”

Two things both states have in common — whether you live north, south, east or west, in the mountains or in the lowlands — is a gubernatorial election coming this Nov. 4.

In New Mexico, Republican incumbent Susana Martinez is challenged by Democrat and sitting Attorney General Gary King. In Texas, another sitting attorney general, Republican Greg Abbott, is facing Democrat and state Senator Wendy Davis.

Before November’s election, the editorial staff a

When I told my former work mates at The Pampa News that I was moving to Roswell to accept the editor position here, I said that although I would miss them all I was happy to get away from the relentless Panhandle winds. The one who had lived in Silver City for several years quipped, “East New Mexico might as well be West Texas.”

To be politically correct as a new citizen of The Land of Enchantment (and so I don’t get angry phone calls and emails), perhaps I should now switch it around and say, “West Texas might as well be East New Mexico.”

Two things both states have in common — whether you live north, south, east or west, in the mountains or in the lowlands — is a gubernatorial election coming this Nov. 4.

In New Mexico, Republican incumbent Susana Martinez is challenged by Democrat and sitting Attorney General Gary King. In Texas, another sitting attorney general, Republican Greg Abbott, is facing Democrat and state Senator Wendy Davis.

Before November’s election, the editorial staff at the Roswell Daily Record will come up with a list of questions to ask both candidates. This list will certainly query the candidates on what they will do to stimulate the economy, improve education and save taxpayers money while still providing services they expect from state government, such as law enforcement.

If I were still working at The Pampa News, I would do the same for the Texas governor’s race. However, there is one very important question I would add: “Mr. Abbott or Ms. Davis, if elected governor of Texas, would you name ZZ Top the Official Band of Texas?”

ZZ Top was formed in Houston in the late sixties and still has the same three band members, Billy Gibbons on guitar and lead vocals, Dusty Hill on bass and vocals and Frank Beard — the only member who doesn’t have a beard — on drums.

The mere facts that they survived this long without a member overdosing on drugs or each one going his own way to flop in an unsuccessful “solo career” are reason enough for the Lone Star State to give “That Lit’le Ol’ Band from Texas” high honors.

I am a huge fan and, to me, the music of ZZ Top captures the true essence of “all that is Texas.”

When I listen to their early albums like Tejas, Tres Hombres and Fandanjo!, I can close my eyes and envision the endless stretches of two-lane state highways that transverse the state, with tumbleweeds blowin’ in the wind and the occasional road-side diner with a big neon sign that reads, “EAT.”

The song “Heard It on the X” gives a glimpse into some of the band’s early musical influences — an out-law radio station rudely invading the South Texas airwaves from across the Mexican border.

There weren’t any mushy love songs in Top’s early repertoire.

“Blue Jean Blues” is a love song in true Texas redneck style:

I done ran into my baby
And fin’ly found my old blue jean
I done ran into my baby
And fin’ly found my old blue jean
I could tell that they was mine
From the oil and the gasoline

And then, of course, there’s the Top-40 radio hit, “LaGrange,” which discloses the not-so-secret location of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” A how-how-how-how.

Last, there’s “Precious and Grace,” a song about a “supernatural delight” with two young lovelies in Gibbons “flat-head Ford.”

Were Precious and Grace real or apparitions brought to life by a case of Corona and peyote buttons? A lot of strange things happen in the Texas desert at night. It’s a secret Billy and Dusty will surely take to their graves. I heard the case is still unsolved and in the X-files of the Texas Rangers.

In the 1980s the band made a radical shift, replacing their raw blues-based sound with pounding drum machines, synthesizer riffs and disco grooves.

Though many of the purists were appalled by the transformation, their mainstream success as the reinvented ZZ was unprecedented when compared to any of their endeavors during the ’70s, which included touring with Mick and the Boys, aka The Rolling Stones.

MTV, which went on the air in 1981, was still in its infancy when ZZ Top’s triumvirate of stylish videos featuring Gibbon’s Eliminator hot rod and equally hot babes — “Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’” — raised the bar for kitschy music videos.

Perhaps the newer, hipper ZZ Top was a nod to rapid urbanization of Texas in both the band’s hometown of Houston or the I-35 corridor, which links the Dallas Metroplex, Austin and San Antonio. That growth — to the aggravation of most West Texans who cherish wide open spaces and the simple life — continues today in a very big way.

Regardless of whether you prefer the original barrelhouse sound of the ’70s or the band’s hip ’80s groove (I like both), what makes ZZ Top cook are the growling blues-based riff of delightfully eccentric guitarist Billy Gibbons, who many fans call “The Reverend.”

Surely, Gibbons’ intense, gutsy style comes from a deeply spiritual place — a place that I call the “natural blues.”

As a guest on the Johnny Carson Show, rock legend Jimi Hendrix was asked by Carson who he thought would be the next great rock guitarist and Hendrix, without hesitation, named Billy Gibbons.

I’m sure words of praise from the late Hendrix, who in the language of the Pima Indians of the Southwest would be called the “Ho-Ho-Kam,” in English the Great One Who Has Gone Before, have meant more to Gibbons than the band’s 2004 induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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