August 20, 2014

ZZ Top and Jeff Beck join for a guitar god spectacular at Starlight Theatre

ZZ Top and Jeff Beck’s summer-fall co-headlining tour — which stops Saturday, Aug. 23 at Starlight Theatre — represents the first time the two legendary acts and fellow members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have ever toured together, but they've known one another since the 1960s.

ZZ Top and Jeff Beck’s summer-fall co-headlining tour — which stops Saturday at Starlight Theatre — represents the first time the two legendary acts and fellow members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have ever toured together.

But they are hardly strangers.

In fact, Billy F. Gibbons, singer/guitarist and chief songwriter for ZZ Top, said he and Beck have shared a friendship for a long time.

At a photo shoot ahead of the tour, Beck reminded Gibbons of their first encounter.

“He turned to me and said, ‘Do you realize we first met in 1968?’” Gibbons said. “I said, ‘You know, come to think of it, you’re right on target.’

“And it was through Jeff Beck that arrangements were made to acquire the first 100-watt Marshall stacks (amplifiers) imported into the USA. He really jump-started ZZ’s career with that one interesting connection. To this day we still hold Jeff and all of his cohorts in such high esteem from that humble beginning. It’s never faded.”

The initial connection occurred at a pivotal time in the careers of both Gibbons and Beck.

After a stint in psychedelic rock band Moving Sidewalks, Gibbons formed ZZ Top, bringing bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard into a lineup that has endured ever since.

Beck, meanwhile, was fresh off his time in the Yardbirds and had formed the first lineup of his Jeff Beck Group (with Rod Stewart on vocals and Ron Wood on bass).

“Jeff knew I had acquired a Gibson Les Paul (guitar), the Sunburst model,” Gibbons said. “And he said: ‘You know, Dusty would probably do well with a Fender Telecaster bass. It’s quite complementary, the two sounds.’ So between the pair of Marshall stacks and getting Ron Wood to give us the Telecaster tie-up, we just had a great, great time.”

Despite the bond formed those many years ago, ZZ Top and Beck performed together only at occasional concerts over the next 46 years.

But that changed this summer. Beck and ZZ Top perform separate sets and then come together for an encore. Gibbons was cagey about what might be on the playlist for the finale but mentioned one out-of-left-field possibility.

“The one (song) that has been resounding with the many fans and followers that we both enjoy was this oddball posting on YouTube, ZZ Top doing Tennessee Ernie Ford’s ‘Sixteen Tons,’” Gibbons said.

ZZ Top’s set features plenty of hits, since the group is touring behind a newly released greatest-hits collection, “The Baddest of ZZ Top.” There is also a 2012 studio album, “La Futura,” to represent in the show. The nine-year gap between ZZ Top’s previous album, “Mescalaro,” and “La Futura” certainly tested the patience of the band’s fans.

Gibbons, though, thinks the meticulous approach that producer Rick Rubin took in recording and fine-tuning the material paid off in the final product.

“Rick is one of the rare individuals that is willing to let the material develop and reach a logical zenith.”

The music that emerged on “La Futura” is rough and ready and decidedly guitar-centric. In that sense it recalls early ZZ Top albums such as 1973’s “Tres Hombres,” 1975’s “Fandango” and 1976’s “Tejas” far more than the 1980s efforts “Eliminator,” “Afterburner” and “Recycler.”

Those latter albums found the group blending synthesizers and other poppier modern sounds with its patented blues-rock style and produced hit singles like “Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Sleeping Bag” that, along with the sly and sexy videos that accompanied those songs, turned ZZ Top into one of the world’s biggest bands for a time.

With Gibbons’ guitar putting a sting into the sound and Beard’s rock-solid drumming powering the songs, “La Futura” features several first-rate Texas-flavored rocking boogie gems, including “I Gotsta Get Paid,” “I Don’t Wanna Lose, Lose, You” and “Chartreuse.”

Gibbons hinted that ZZ Top may return in far less than nine years with another studio album, because the band left behind a good number of songs during the “La Futura” sessions that, with some fine-tuning, could form the basis of a new CD.

“We’re still looking at a lot of the material that remains unreleased that was created during those sessions with Rick,” he said. “Who knows, there’s a lot of good stuff laying around.”

ZZ Top and Jeff Beck

The two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acts will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at Starlight Theatre. Tickets range from $20 to $127.50 through KCStarlight.com.

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