August 7, 2014

ZZ Top brings their music – and beards – to Ironstone

ZZ Top return to Ironstone Amphitheatre at Ironstone Vineyards Aug. 15 for a special tour with English guitarist Jeff Beck.

They got beards. They know how to use them.

The Texas trio of guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard – ironically, the only member in the band without a beard – is instantly recognizable by their facial hair and equally familiar sound. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees know their beards, which flow to mid-chest, have been good to them. So lead vocalist Gibbons says they are good to the beards in return.

“We just try to treat it with the kindness it deserves after all these years of dedicated service. Wash, condition, pat dry and pamper is how it goes,” he told OnMilwaukee.com last month.

The rockers – and their beards – return to Ironstone Amphitheatre at Ironstone Vineyards on Aug. 15 for a tour with English guitarist Jeff Beck. The group last played the outdoor amphitheater in Murphys four years ago.

This summer tour was delayed two weeks while co-lead vocalist Hill was sidelined by kidney stone surgery. But the group was back on the road earlier this week and raring to go, with Beck along for the ride.

Hill even joked about his health issues, cribbing from blues guitar great Robert Johnson’s “Stones in My Passway,” in an official statement about the tour delay.

“We’re booked and we’re bound to go,” Hill said. “I had stones in my passway but you know, those old boulders couldn’t last; I had stones in my passway, but those stones will soon be in my past.”

The band, which has retained its original membership since its early days in 1969, gained fame for its big Texas blues-rock sound featuring hard-driving guitars and boogie-woogie beats. The band became a staple on the then-fledgling MTV in the early ’80s with its eye-catching music videos and signature look. Over the years it has sold some 50 million albums and landed six No. 1 singles on the Mainstream Rock charts.

Its hits range from “Legs” to “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’ ” to “Cheap Sunglasses.” Still, the hallmark to ZZ Top music through the decades has been simple.

“There are a whole lot of tricks to this trade, but turning it up and playing loud is the fundamental of the ZZ approach,” Gibbons told Bozeman (Mont.) Magazine.

Joining the band in its turn-it-up philosophy for the summer tour will be fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Beck. The legendary guitarist often gets mentioned in the same breath as Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page – two men who also played in his position as lead guitarist for the famed English group The Yardbirds.

Rolling Stone magazine named Beck No. 5 on its list of “ 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” behind only Keith Richards, Page, Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, respectively.

ZZ Top and Beck have never toured together, though they did share the stage at the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th anniversary bash. When the tour was announced, the men glowed about each other and the opportunity to play side by side.

“Ever since experiencing ‘Jeff’s Boogie,’ the prospect of performance with Jeff Beck on the deck brings us into focus with the curator of crunch,” Gibbons said. Beck was equally complimentary in the tour announcement, and said “ever since Eliminator (the band’s 1983 release), I thought it would be great to play with ZZ Top.”

While Gibbons still likes to refer to ZZ Top as the “little band from Texas,” the group’s place in pop culture history remains secure. The band has appeared in everything from 1990s “Back to the Future Part III” to the 1997 Super Bowl halftime show and the 2010 final “Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.” Gibbons even has a recurring role on the Fox crime drama “Bones.”

Through it all, the core trio have stuck together and continue to tour heavily. Gibbons told OnMilwaukee.com that they’ve been having too good a time to do anything else.

“We like to have a good time, and we have fun touring, performing and recording, so I have never seen a compelling reason to do otherwise over the course of the past four-plus decades,” he said.

“Of course, most bands break up, but they do tend to get back together. If you like, you can think of the last 20 or so years as our ‘reunion tour.’ ”

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