This September, ZZ Top fans got the chance to enjoy something the group has rarely done in a career that now stretches more than 40 years – a live album.
Called 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 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 a 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 in a recent phone 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 for years has recorded sound checks and concerts. On occasion, especially with sound checks, a moment of magic was captured.
“I’ll give you an example,” Hill 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 the sound check – and became the key hit on 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.”
Band members – Hill, singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard – were involved in listening to hours of live recordings from which the songs on Live – Greatest Hits From Around The Globe were chosen.
“We have an enormous amount of (live) material,” Hill 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 of ZZ Top’s most popular songs from the past 11 years of touring.
The songs on the new live album extend back to the band’s third album, 1973’s Tres Hombres, for their first major hit, La Grange. Tush is included, while the 1979 album, Deguello, is represented by Cheap Sunglasses.
The new live album also touches on ZZ Top’s peak period of popularity, with 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 poppier element to its bluesy rock sound and became MTV favorites with sly and sexy videos.
There are also two recent performances on Live that should intrigue ZZ Top fans – Rough Boy (from 1985’s Afterburner) and a take on the Tennessee Ernie Ford song Sixteen Tons feature guitarist Jeff Beck. “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 other concerts in the band’s vault that are of releasable quality – and putting out archival live albums is an idea he’d like to explore. “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 begun a run of shows that has the trio on the road until mid-November.
Their Hell Raisers Tour stops at Bell Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26. Tickets are $49.50-$79.50 from georgialinatix.com, (877) 428-4849 or the James Brown Arena box office; tickets purchased for the original May 4 concert date will be honored.
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 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.
“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.”