Under Pressure. ZZ Top Brought The Blues Through Cincinnati Like A Texas Tornado
Before we get into this article, I want to take a moment to express my sincere condolences to the family, friends and ZZ Top team over the loss of bassist Dusty Hill. His loss and influence is immeasurable.
**A special thanks to Mike Howard for use of his photo for this article. The photo was also taken at Riverbend for my old website Unsung Melody.
On Sunday evening, I began the process of writing an article that has taken me a lifetime to craft. I was given the opportunity to review and photograph ZZ Top in Cincinnati at the PNC Pavillion, which is a part of the Riverbend Entertainment Complex.
This article will be a bit different, as most of my articles have a tendency to do. See, my earliest musical memories are of ZZ Top. They have been a huge chunk of the soundtrack of my life, and I know I’m not alone in that regard. So let’s get this party started.
I can remember being around 6 years old, riding with my Dad in his 1975 Copper-colored Oldsmobile 442. He asked me to hand him this 8-track that had this really cool-looking skull on it. It was ZZ Top’s Degüello. I had no clue what I was looking at, but I was absolutely enamored by that artwork.
As the songs played, I remember bouncing all over that 442. Seatbelts weren’t quite as important to us back in those days. Lol Then it happened. The guitar intro to “Fool For Your Stockings” came through the speakers and I was mesmerized. It was like the Sirens of the sea were calling me. I remember jumping from the back seat, plopping down in the front seat eagerly waiting to see where this journey was taking us. I had never heard anything like it before, and at that moment, I knew music would somehow be a large part of my life.
While “Fool For Your Stockings” probably isn’t the first choice for a parent to see their child taking an interest in, but my Dad was different. He encouraged me and pushed me to use my imagination. And as a Dad myself now, I see that entire car ride, and many, many more, in a different light and I look back thankful for having such an awesome Dad.
If you aren’t familiar with the song, I highly encourage you to check it out below.
The next song on Degüello happens to be “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide.” That song holds a special place in my heart as well. When I got my first car, a blue 1983 Buick Regal, that song was the first song I played through my CD player, ran through my cassette adapter. The lyrics “Well I Was Rollin’ Down The Road In Some Cold Blue Steel” were suddenly a lifestyle choice! Ha!
As the years passed, I was finally able to take my Dad and my son to see ZZ Top together in Pikeville, Kentucky. Needless to say, that night is one of my personal favorite moments in my entire life. Unfortunately, that was the last concert that we shared with my Dad before we lost him to an ugly battle with cancer.
By now, you’re probably asking what all of that had to do with the show in Cincinnati, and that’s a fair question. I tell you that because I’m finally in a good enough mental state that allows me to go see my heroes again and enjoy them with good memories of my Dad in tow, rather than dwell on the loss and cause myself more grief. I know that I’m not the only person that has ever felt that way, and that’s also why the loss of Dusty has been a tough one for me. We’re all humans and it’s the shared experiences that remind us of our humanity.
Having said all of that, let’s discuss the newest member of that little ole band from Texas. Dusty Hill personally chose Mr. Elwood Francis to be his predecessor. He insisted that Elwood be the one to hold down the low end. I think Dusty also knew the caliber of person and musician that Elwood is, and that made a difficult decision an easy one for him.
Outside of playing bass, Elwood is not new to ZZ Top, he’s been their guitar tech for many years. In fact, Elwood’s resume as a guitar tech is loaded with artists like Aerosmith, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and The Black Crowes, but ZZ Top is where Elwood found his home.
While there is absolutely no replacing Dusty Hill, that little ole band from Texas now has a Kentucky flavor to it. Elwood calls Lexington, Kentucky home, and for Dusty, there simply was no one better suited to step into his shoes.
The one lone bright spot from the whole pandemic is that, by chance, Elwood has grown a mighty beard and fits in wonderfully on stage, and with that, the ironic tradition that the man with the last name of Beard is the only member of the band without a beard continues.
Now on to the show!
Up first was the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. The self-described country blues heroes from Southern Indiana brought their unique style of the Blues to the PNC Pavillion stage.
Their quirky “front porch” Blues brought the energy for those that arrived early. I was only able to catch a couple songs before we had to return our cameras, but I did get to be a witness for the goodness of “Ways and Means'” which the Reverend Billy Gibbons asked for specifically on this tour. Check it out below:
The Reverend Peyton mentioned that he’s know The Reverend Billy Gibbons for a long time. Adding that when he was asked to do this tour, he was definitely a bit nervous. Which would be a massive understatement if I were in his shoes. Thankfully though, the butterflies in his stomach flew away quickly and they were able to give the crowd a rock solid performance.
Also, while I wasn’t able to see “Pot Roast and Kisses,” I definitely enjoyed hearing it as we were escorted to the photographer holding area. Such a fun song!
Let me add that our friends at the MAC (Mountain Arts Center) in Prestonsburg, Kentucky are hosting The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band on September 16th, so if you like what you hear, hit em up and enjoy the show!
It was now time to take the musical journey that stretches back 50+ years. Music is the closest thing we have to time travel, so hop in and join us!
Members of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, ZZ Top has delivered one of the, if not the greatest, careers in the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’d argue that ZZ Top is the most iconic American band that’s ever taken the stage.
The music, the look, the beards, the fuzzy guitars, the cars, the ladies, the attitude and the cool factor say and mean way more than anything I could ever write.
A ZZ Top display at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, from 2015.
Wasting no time, ZZ Top hit the stage running with “Got Me Under Pressure.” Delivering the first of four punches from their classic album, ‘Eliminator.’ The crowd hit their feet, and many never sat down again until the night was over. The King of Cool, Reverend Billy F. Gibbons was delivering his Rock ‘n’ Roll sermon to the congregation and they became the backing vocalists for all 16 songs performed.
There’s just nothing better than being in a crowd, singing along to iconic songs in unison. Every song that ZZ Top performed brought in even more backup singers. It was a beautiful sight for these tired eyes.
After the classic (Sam & Dave cover) “I Thank You,” we were treated to two of my favorite songs in “Waitin’ for the Bus” and then “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” from their classic album “Tres Hombres.” ‘Eliminator’ is one of the best selling albums of all-time, and rightfully so, but I’ll take a slow, simmering pot of the Blues all day, everyday!
I had to miss seeing “Gimme All Your Lovin’” and part of “Pearl Necklace,” but that’s okay because I was treated to the aforementioned “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” almost immediately upon reaching my seat. Ahhhhhh, what good timing and memories!
“I Gotsta Get Paid” was up next. It holds the distinction of being the newest song played on Sunday night and I loved every single note. There’s a stretch of time where ZZ Top released some albums that didn’t really get the recognition they deserved. ‘XXX’ is one of those, that’s where you’ll find “I Gotsta Get Paid,” but one of my favorite albums is ‘Rhythmeen.” If I could have willed a song into the set, I would push hard for “Vincent Price Blues,” or “Bang Bang.” That’s simply me being selfish though, because I wouldn’t want to omit any of the 16 songs we were treated to.
After “My Head’s in Mississippi,” We were treated to the Merle Travis written, “Sixteen Tons.” If you don’t know who Merle Travis is, as a Kentuckian, you owe it to yourself to look him up. As for the performance, the band hit us with the rocked up version that the band released on their live album, “Tonight At Midnight.” The album version featured the one and only Jeff Beck sitting in. We didn’t get a Jeff Beck appearance, but we did get a quick mention of him before the band showed us all how this rock and roll thing works. Mercy!
About the only thing you can count on is that you will always get an off the cuff performance from Billy at some point in the set. That’s exactly what we got when Gibbons broke out his Les Paul guitar. Billy treated us to some impromptu slide work before bringing down the house with “Just Got Paid.”
My personal favorite moment was during the solo, as Elwood slowly approached Billy, laying down a sick groove so the Reverend could melt all of our faces.
“Just Got Paid” was the rowdiest that the crowd had gotten on Sunday, until….
The band hit the first notes of “Sharp Dressed Man.” The beers had been consumed and the mood was ripe, folks were on their feet for the rest of the night and this party had one helluva soundtrack. Then….out came the fuzzy guitars.
I thought for a minute that Cincinnati had completely lost their minds. The crowd noise jumped up several decibels, and ya know what? It was flipping beautiful!!
If you’re unfamiliar, with “Legs” or the fuzzy guitars, the song was the one that launched the band into another stratosphere in popularity. The video featured those fuzzy guitars, those fuzzy ROTATING guitars, the fuzzy drums (which you can see above in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame photo), the bad ass cars, the synchronized dancing, long legs, and lots of cheap sunglasses…DANGIT!! That’s another song I selfishly wanted included.
“Legs” ended the main set, the band walked off stage, but the crowd weren’t buying that the band was finished. Nope. Not for a second. I didn’t see one single person leave in my section.
After returning to the stage, ZZ Top took us all the way back to their first album laying down a silky smooth performance of “Brown Sugar.” Then proceeded to whip all our behinds with “La Grange” and “Tush.” I don’t need to tell you how wonderful those two songs were. They were fantastic and you know that.
What you may not know though, is there’s a very special treat during “Tush.” I will not tell you what it is, because it’s truly a wonderful moment. What I will do, is link a recent performance here. It’s your choice if you click play.
I’d encourage you to not watch it, then buy the ticket and take the ride yourself. Maybe that’s just me being dramatic. I am a bit sentimental when it comes music, but some things are best enjoyed blindly, and this is one of them.
I hope you enjoyed your time here at Capture Kentucky. We do things a bit differently than most, but rest assured it’s all done with love and respect and just like you, we’re just here for the music.