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ZZ Top

London PS 680
Released: January 1977
Chart Peak: #17
Weeks Charted: 24
Certified Gold: 1/18/77

Rube BeardDusty HillBilly GibbonsWith Tejas, ZZ Top moves ahead slightly from their madcap boogies to a more sophisticated sound. "El Diablo" opens with a simple blues riff that could have come from an old Lightnin' Hopkins or Robert Johnson record. After two quick vocal choruses, Billy Gibbons' terse guitar break sounds inspired more by John McLaughlin than Hopkins. Frank Beard's Cobham-inspired double-bass drumming moves beneath Dusty Hill's laconic bass notes. This is new stuff for ZZ, and not predicted by the group's first four albums.

What's going on here? Certainly not an outright break with the traditions they draw from -- ZZ's roots are still John Lee Hooker, B.B. King and Albert Collins, along with rock interpreters like Johnny Winter and early Steve Miller. But they're experimenting more and the playing is growing.

ZZ Top - Tejas
Original album advertising art.
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Expanding the form without disturbing their energy may be tricky, though. When they cut "La Grange" on their third album in 1973, the forceful playing, especially by Gibbons, covered the fact that the tune was a three-chord simpleton dating back 30 years or more. Now that they're exploring unfamiliar ground, some of the songs lose steam.

"Asleep in the Desert" sounds like a Clint Eastwood soundtrack, and the country tune, "She's a Heartbreaker," has woefully thin lyrics. But, renewing older styles as they incorporate innovations, ZZ Top uses their roots not as something to leave behind but as a solid block to build upon. Tunes like "El Diablo" and "Arrested for Driving While Blind" bode well for spreading and elevating the tradition.

- Dan Oppenheimer, Rolling Stone, 3/10/77.

Bonus Reviews!

I couldn't find much contrast in the last couple of ZZ Top recordings, which were mostly bash and crash and other things ending (or likely to) in ash, but this one's different. A little sleepy at times, but different. Not bad, though, taken as a whole, even if it does have titles like "Enjoy" and "Get It On" in it. It doesn't have much in the way of lyrics that you can't afford to miss, but it has considerable instrumental depth and variety for a three-piece blues-based rock band. Rock wouldn't be on the rocks if more of it's post-1970 bands played this well.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 5/77.

Good old basic raunchy rock 'n' roll that has filled arenas and stadiums across the U.S. all year for this consistent and hardworking platinum album group. ZZ Top hasn't lost any of its energy and conviction through the years of grueling work and stays solidly in touch with the roots of its power-trio music that carries just a hint of pleasing laidback Texas countryish raunch in the unpretentious vocals. The threesome stays entertaining and increasingly identifiable in a distinctive style that can only come from long-term confidence and a strong sense of its own identity. ZZ Top's vastly successful 1976 tours and the high-quality goodtime rock throughout this album could well be its ticket to a long overdue respect as peerless U.S. hard-rockers out of the outlaw country influence. Best cuts: "Pan Am Highway Blues," "Ten Dollar Man," "Enjoy And Get It On," "Snappy Kakkie."

- Billboard, 1977.

Touring the way this band does tears you up by the roots, until the digs at Rolling Stone assume an authenticity lacking in the tales of the Pan-Am Highway. But this is the first trio to hark back to country music as well as blues, and they're brawnier than anything that comes out of Austin. You think Kinky Friedman will cover "Arrested for Driving While Blind"? C+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

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