By Alan Sculley
For the Call
ZZ Top fans last fall received the chance to enjoy something the group has rarely done in a career that now stretches more than 40 years — a live album.
Titled “Live — Greatest Hits From Around the Globe,” the album features concert performances of 15 of the best-known songs from across the career of that “Lil’ Ol’ Band From Texas.”
It’s not the band’s first live album.
The catalog includes a 2008 release, “Live From Texas” — recorded in 2007 — and 2001 saw the release of a show from the archives, “Live in Germany 1980.”
Eagle Rock Records has also released a pair of concert DVDs, “Live at Montreaux 2013” — released in 2014 — and “Double Down Live” in 2009 that combined the 1980 show from Germany and performances from 2007 and 2008.
Clearly big chunks of ZZ Top’s career have never been documented in the live setting, which has been a bit of a frustration for bassist Dusty Hill.
“If you remember way back, there’s an album ‘Fandango!’ that’s half live and the other half is studio,” Hill said of the 1975 album during a recent telephone interview. “We were going to do a live album then, but that’s the way it worked out.
“It’s always stuck in my craw a little bit through all these years that we never really finished a live album.”
The problem is not a lack of live recordings from across ZZ Top’s career. Hill said the band has recorded sound checks and concerts for years. On occasion, especially with sound checks, a moment of magic was captured.
“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “It was a long time ago, when we wrote ‘Tush.’ We did that at a sound check in Alabama. We record our sound checks in case something little shows up. That song, almost in its entirety, just happened.”
“Tush” was later recorded in a studio — almost the way it was played as it was written at sound check — and the song became the key hit from the “Fandango!” album.
“Having that, just taping it worked out to a great advantage,” Hill said. “We kind of like to record almost everything like that. But with this record, the recording is not just a cassette. It’s better than that.”
The band members — Hill, singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard — were involved in listening to hours of live recordings from which the performances on “Live — Greatest Hits From Around the Globe” were chosen. It was quite the undertaking, Hill said.
“We have an enormous amount of (live) material,” he said. “Since we had that good habit of recording things and we play so many shows, and we have for so many years, you know, yeah you come away with a lot of material.”
“Live — Greatest Hits From Around the Globe” helps fill in some gaps in the group’s live discography by bringing together some of the best performances from the past 11 years of touring of ZZ Top’s most popular songs on one album.
The songs on the new live album extend back to the band’s third album, 1973’s “Tres Hombres,” for the group’s first major hit, the John Lee Hooker-ish boogie, “La Grange.” “Tush,” from “Fandango!” is included, while the 1979 album, “Deguello,” is represented by “Cheap Sunglasses,” and “Tube Snake Boogie” is plucked from 1981’s “El Loco.”
“Live – Greatest Hits From Around the Globe” also touches on ZZ Top’s peak period of popularity, with rough and ready versions of “Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Got Me Under Pressure” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’” — four hits during the 1980s, when ZZ Top added synthesizers and a bit of a poppier element to its bluesy rock sound and became MTV favorites with the sly and sexy videos of those songs.
ZZ Top’s post 1991-albums, though, are hardly represented, with “Pincushion” — from 1994’s “Antenna” — the only song included from the band’s five most recent studio albums, the most recent of which is 2012’s lean and gritty “La Futura.”
But there are also two recent special performances on “Live – Greatest Hits From Around the Globe” that should intrigue ZZ Top fans: The versions of “Rough Boy” — from 1985’s “Afterburner” — and an unreleased take on the Tennessee Ernie Ford song “Sixteen Tons” featuring guitar virtuoso Jeff Beck as a guest. Needless to say, the latter tune sounds nothing like the Ford original.
“We’re pretty tight friends, all of us, with Jeff,” Hill said of Beck, who toured with ZZ Top in 2014. “He’s an amazing guitar player.”
Hill said there are certainly other concerts in the band’s vault that are of releasable quality and putting out some archival live albums is an idea he’d like.
“All this material, whatever the future holds, I don’t know, but it’s certainly something to think about,” he said.
For now, Hill is mainly concerned with playing live, as ZZ Top has come off of a spring headlining tour in the United States, a run of European dates and an August tour with the Doobie Brothers.
The extensive schedule of shows is good news for ZZ Top fans.
In 2014, the group had to cancel shows when Hill first dealt with illness, and then later that year when he fell on the band’s tour bus and injured his hip. Then this past April, Hill suffered a fractured shoulder when he tripped on steps at a venue in Lubbock, Texas, forcing the group to nix a run of spring concerts.
The latter injury was especially concerning because it affected Hill’s ability to play bass.
“When I had the accident, the first thing I did was wiggle my fingers,” Hill said. “I got so freaked out that I hurt my hands. I didn’t think about my shoulder until I started to get up. ‘Oh-oh, it doesn’t work.’
“At the time I was thinking it was dislocated, that’s what I was hoping. And I was trying to get somebody to pop it back so I could play. And I’m glad they didn’t do it because I had an X-ray done and it was broken. Had they pulled on it, it would have been a lot worse.”
Hill had to rehab the shoulder at home and was well enough to do a European tour that preceded the current U.S. tour.
“I rehabbed up to the point to where we hopped over and did a month in Europe,” Hill said. “I kind of finished rehabbing my shoulder on stage over there. So it’s back and I’m doing well.”
ZZ Top will perform at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights as part of KSHE 95’s 50th birthday celebration that also features Sammy Hagar, Collective Soul and Andrew Hagar.