Friday, February 1, 2008

Tres Hombres Revisited!

On my new quest for vinyl, I have now received a few records, including U2’s 20th Anniversary pressing of “The Joshua Tree”. Nice. But the one I'm rockin' out to the most is ZZ Top's 1973 masterwork, “Tres Hombres”, re-cut from the original analog masters and pressed on to 180 gram audiophile vinyl.

I grew up in Texas and Billy Gibbons was my guitar God. I don't know how many copies of "Tres Hombres" I wore out trying to get his licks as a kid. To this day his earlier work (pre "Eliminator", pre MTV, pre 24-inch beard) may be my favorite rock guitar of all. I mean the guy plays like a mean motor-scooter, mama! That blues-driven, amp’d-up style is overdosed with Texas hot sauce. Mmmmm doggie!

Billy’s guitar sounds and the way they recorded and layered them were ahead of their time, and still my favorite tones other than Hendrix. Gibbons could pluck chimey, bell-like chords from a Strat or milk his vintage “Pearly Gates” Les Paul for every sonic color she had. He was one of the inventors of the "thick" tone; the "fat" sound. False harmonics, right-hand hammer-ons and pick-dives were new tricks in the early ‘70’s. He took the syrupy “Woman Tone”, established by guys like Clapton, Peter Green and Duane Allman, and added a searing harmonic liveness, like a high-voltage wire with too much juice coursing through it. You knew sparks could fly at any moment.

The Reverend Preacheth: A Nudie-Suited Billy with Pearly, 1975

So I play this record, and my jaw drops. Frank’s kick-drum socks you right in the solar-plexus, Dusty’s bass lays down the bad-ass eighth notes, and Billy’s guitar scorches. Chunky! And again, I’m listening to an all-analog signal path. Hearing the original master like this makes me really respect the recording engineers at Brian Studio in Texas and Memphis’s legendary Ardent.

The songs? Well, this is simply the most bodacious, bluesy batch of Texican tunes ever tracked, inviting us to get low-down and boogie, y’all! The LP opens with the righteous “Waitin’ For The Bus”, then busts in to the smoky, “Jesus Just Left Chicago”, a track that showcases Billy’s prowess on the Fender Strat. Then comes a helpin’ o’ “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers”, whose hair-raising solo is Billy G. at his blistering best. It’s arguably the best recorded solo of the Reverend’s illustrious career, and it still rips my head off every time.

Side two opens with “Move Me on Down the Line”, one of those long-gone lost and forgotten album cuts. It’s a surprisingly tasty little nugget of straight-up rock. And of course, buried in the middle of side two is…yes, “LaGrange”, the monstrous, monumental hit about the best little whore house in Texas. It’s a Muddy Waters riff on trucker speed and mezcal. Still love it! The opening chord riff is plucked while Gibbons mumbles (it has been reported that this was the scratch vocal, recorded by the talk-back mic while he was doing the basic guitar), followed by the big, bad chuggin’ train thang. The trio is incredibly tight here. I still admire how the first solo is a Strat and the second is the Pearly Gates Les Paul. It’s like havin’ a first course of brisket and a second of ribs.

“Tres Hombres” spins its Tall Texas Tales like a twister in a trailer-park. It’s a true Rock Hall of Famer, at least in my book.

I’ll never apologize (to Pearly or anyone else) for lovin’ that Li’l Old Band from Texas! Have Mercy!

Gibbons Gets A-Low Down 'n' Dirty!

No comments:

It's All About The Tone, Baby!