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Tres Hombres
ZZ Top

London 631
Released: July 1973
Chart Peak: #8
Weeks Charted: 47
Certified Gold: 5/23/74

Rube BeardDusty HillBilly GibbonsBesides spawning two incredible albino rock & blues brothers and one late first lady of the boogie, Texas is becoming one hell of a place to say you're from. The whole Southern rock & roll sound seems to be catching on as fast as a swig of potato liquor reaching the brain.

ZZ Top makes no bones about being cowboys who used to be in the psychedelic music scene and who have recently discovered the joys of guzzling beer and driving their cars and bikes at 110 miles an hour. Tres Hombres is a definite step back to their white blues roots. Their second album, Rio Grande Mud, had an English feel in the production end with Rolling Stones-type tunes such as "Chevrolet" and the Brown Sugarish "Francene." ZZ Top have shown in all three of their recordings the dynamic rhythms that only the finest of the three-piece bands can cook up. Billy Gibbons plays a tasty Duane Allman lead with Dusty Hill and Frank Beard pounding out the funky bottom.

ZZ Top - Tres Hombres
Original album advertising art.
Click image for larger view.
Tres Hombres was recorded with their live performances in mind. Minimal echo and lots of live-sounding jamming. "Waiting for the Bus" is a mean muddled track reminiscent of early Canned Heat complete with the usual repetitive three-chord lick. Vocally, ZZ have an advantage over most white rockers in that these Southerners sound black anyway with lines like..."You don't have to worry, 'cause takin' care of business is his name" -- sung by Gibbons in a drawl so thick he would do Leadbelly justice.

ZZ Top seem to be at least one of the most inventive of the three-piece rockers but they are only one of several competent Southern rocking bands. I do wonder when the audiences will get tired of hearing the same..."Poot yawl hans together" patter.

- Steve Apple, Rolling Stone, 9/13/73.

Bonus Reviews!

Z.Z. Top is a good Texas blues band, but there have been an awful lot of whit blues bands over the last ten years and the musical form is, I think, nearly exhausted. Blues are a lot of fun to sing and play, and great stuff for dancing to. But without individual brilliance in musicianship (such as Eric Clapton possesses) or the ability to alter the blues form (as Clapton did), white blues can very rapidly go stale.

There is nothing worse than a bad white (or black) blues band and nothing more difficult to praise without dismissing than a good one -- it really does hold true that if you've heard one you've pretty much heard them all. I am glad to have heard Z.Z. Top, though, and I am quite taken with "Jesus Just Left Chicago" because I still like to hear a good blues. If you're in the market for some, then you ought to try this band.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 4/74.

This band plays slow-drawl blues. The act is gaining attention around the country this summer while on the concert trail. The vocals are raw and edgy; the guitar breaks blaze with energy and there is often an Indian insistence in the repetitive breaks of the drums. This Texas band plays with a confidence and assuredness which is ingratiating. It's nice to hear a vocal clearly with the supporting instruments playing laid back in proper perspective. This trio represents one facet of contemporary rock where the vocals and the guitar solos are billed equally. The blues solos have a soaring flavor, but then for contrast they wait gently when the tempos get down easy. There is some nice gentle three-part harmonies from Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Rube Beard which add another dimension to their music. Best cuts: "Waitin' For The Bus," "Masters Of Sparks," "Hot, Blue And Righteous."

- Billboard, 1973.

Constant touring and favorable radio exposure made Tres Hombres ZZ's first hit album, thanks in no small part to "La Grange" (number 41), an ode to a whorehouse. By this album, Billy Gibbons had practically perfected his distinctively dirty electric-guitar sound. His riffs and chordal voicings were also more memorable. Highlights included "Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers," "Precious & Grace," and the two-some "Waitin' for the Bus," and "Jesus Just Left Chicago." * * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Tres Hombres catches ZZ Top as it was coming into the spotlight, when its idea of a jam was "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers." The album stayed on the charts until 1976 when, due to legal problems, the group stopped playing and even jamming together. * * * *

- Lawrence Gabriel, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

A decade before the Texas blues trio became MTV stars, ZZ Top got their first taste of national fame with this disc, which features one of their biggest hits, the John Lee Hooker-style boogie "La Grange," as well as the boozy rocker "Jesus Just Left Chicago" and the concert anthem "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers."

Tres Hombres was chosen as the 498th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

Tres Hombres marked ZZ Top's elevation into the megaleague as one of the biggest touring acts in the United States. The jury will probably always be out on which was the better of ZZ's two great eras -- straight-down-the-line blues rock (1970s) or pumpin' blues disco (1980s and '90s). What is indisputable is that their Texas roots were absolutely inseparable from their down 'n' dirty sound.

Tres Hombres is a showcase of everything that is magnificent about the group -- and the inclusion of the huge hit "La Grange" is only part of that story. In fact, "La Grange," based around a riff so simple yet so inspired that you will never forget it, is atypical for its mumbling novelty vocal. "Precious and Grace" -- a song about picking up a couple of hitch-hiking women who turn out to be ex-cons -- mixes a great Led Zep-styled riff in the verse with a ripsnorting near-psychedelic chorus. The two devices come together seamlessly. "Move Me On Down the Line" is a snappy boogie that sounds indebted to post-Cream Jack Bruce. "Jesus Just Left Chicago" is another gem of a track, fluid and apparently effortless. The incredible "Master of Sparks" concerns a fine Texas tradition, the habit of kickin' your buddies off the back of a speeding pickup just for the heck of it.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Album Review:
Rio Grande Mud

Album Review: Tejas

Album Review: Eliminator

Album Review: Afterburner

Album Review: Billy
Gibbons - Perfectamundo

ZZ Top Lyrics

ZZ Top Videos

Billy Gibbons Mugshots

The cover of the album -- the original vinyl is a gatefold that opens on a garish photograph of the Mexican dish after which the record is named -- says it all, really, though the oblique cover shots of the threesome hide the fact that these guys were only in their mid-twenties.

- David Nichols, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

Along with 1975's half-live Fandango!, Tres Hombres is a near-classic that celebrates the early hell-on-wheels brilliance of a little blues band from Texas, well before its members grew their beards to Rip Van Winkle-length, bought some synths and became unlikely superstars. With Tres Hombres (1973), ZZ Top's third album and first Top Ten hit, the trio made raw-boned, matter-of-factly infectious songs out of a supercharged bar-band sound that a thousand other groups from the era did with less badass verve. "Move Me On Down the Line" is an ace Stones rip, and the elegantly wasted ballad "Hot, Blue and Righteous" could be the Allman Brothers, but the truly hot shit lies in meaty blues rockers like "Sheik" and "Precious and Grace," on which Billy Gibbons' whiskey-and-cigs growl and serrated riffs, and the rhythm section's sturdy propulsion, plow blazing paths into hell and sports arenas. This remastered reissue cleans up the sound and extends live versions of three studio cuts, including the slow-blues classic "Jesus Just Left Chicago" and "La Grange," which became a staple of roadhouse cover bands everywhere. * * * *

- Christian Hoard, Rolling Stone, 3/23/06.

The first thing you notice about the opening of "La Grange," the ZZ Top breakthrough, is the controlled force with which Billy Gibbons's fingers hit the strings. He's playing a rhythm guitar line that's rattled around jukejoints of blues lore, one John Lee Hooker popularized (and likely pioneered) with "Boogie Chillun." Gibbons plays it like he's tapping out a secret code. There are only a few notes, and he places them exactingly, so the phrase just skips along. When the bass and drums check in after a few verses, they kick things into a loud whomp, but at the center of it all is that same original line, trucking hard, cutting through any and all radio static.

That one phrase propels everything -- the song, this surprisingly strong album, really the entire career of ZZ Top, the shit-kicking Texas trio that amped up shuffling "blooze" into music that flattened stoner kids in suburban areas.

Tres Hombres, ZZ Top's third effort, hit the charts in August 1973, at a moment when blues-rock was peaking: That same month saw the release of the debut from Lynyrd Skynyrd, a flashy band featuring three lead guitarists, and the Allman Brothers Band's highest-charting album, Brothers and Sisters. ZZ was a different animal -- in part because of its nothing-fancy instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums), and also its sharp balance of thunder and finesse: Thoughout Tres Hombres, the band's loud-proud heaviness is offset by the ornery Gibbons, who carves his solos with a scalpel.

Alas, the Top took a sordid turn in the early '80s, with a series of leering and overly synthesized hit records (Afterburner) that were saddled with cartoonishly absurd videos. Those artifacts from a grim time are rusting on blocks in the pop-culture junkyard, while Tres Hombres is still on the road -- a sleek, streamlined machine for the ages.

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

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