Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Billy got the blues too!

The relentlessness of China's pointless and interminable National Holiday through the whole first week of October so crushes my soul that I think I'm going to need a daily musical pick-me-up to see me through. I was so buoyed up by yesterday's little blast of Cream that I've decided to have a 'Blues Week' here on The Barstool. (Moreover, since I'm not going out at all this week, I don't have the substance for any regular posts on here!)

I was lucky enough to discover ZZ Top through a friend at school in the early '80s, when they were still fairly obscure in the UK - a couple of years before they re-tooled their sound to be so eminently radio-friendly for the Eliminator album and became universally popular as a result. I don't think I really realised it at the time, but their 1970s material was almost all pure blues; I didn't know what it was, but I knew I loved this music. Nor did I learn until years later that Jimi Hendrix had acclaimed a teenaged Billy Gibbons as one of the finest guitarists he'd ever heard - largely, I suspect, because of his exemplary blues feel.

I particularly adore Billy's SLOW playing on Blue Jean Blues (just about everything else of theirs is so much more up-tempo). And there are lots of good concert videos of this (notably this one, from just a few years ago), but he always tends to goof around a little on this song live, and, alas, it lacks the spine-shivery impact of the album recording.

So, I thought instead I'd give you this video of one of their classic Texas boogies, La Grange, from a concert in the early '80s, just pre-Eliminator (there are quite a few excerpts from this posted on Youtube now, and it looks like it was a stupendous show).

And here they are doing the blues standard Dust My Broom (written by the great Robert Johnson, but better known from the cover version later recorded by slide guitar maestro Elmore James), from that same awesome gig, with bass player Dusty Hill taking over on vocals.

Aha, inspiration! I just found a great version of another of their slower tunes, Fool For Your Stockings, this one from a 1980 gig filmed for the German TV show Rockpalast (quite a bit of this on Youtube too: hours of joy!). This was, in fact, the very first of ZZ's songs to really get under my skin - although once again I prefer the straight-up album version.

If you enjoyed this little retrospective on the blues playing of Billy Gibbons, go back and listen (again... and again) to this original recording of Blue Jean Blues from ZZ Top's 1975 album Fandango! Listen, and swoon.

No comments: