Sculpting its sound

By Miguel Ángel Ariza

Something very special must have impregnated the air in the southern United States in the months prior to the summer of 1973 because, to mention only the most outstanding examples, the Allman Brothers released their album Brothers and Sisters in August, an authentic jewel with which they ‘left behind’ recent tragedies (it was the first album that didn’t include the deceased Duane Allman); in the same month some youngsters from Florida told the world that their band name was pronounced 'Leh-nerd Skin-nerd' with the title of their first album, and today’s protagonists, ZZ Top, launched only a month previously what would always remain the most significant album of their career, Tres Hombres, a record on which the band spat the shape of their sound and their way of understanding the blues and rock for the rest of their career.      

We are talking about an album that managed to enter the Top 10 of the American Billboard in a year which is full of master works and top sellers (Dark side of the moon, Houses of the holy etc...) but in contrast to Zeppelin or Pink Floyd, which were anxious to go a bit further on each LP in the search for new sounds, new rhythms and new sensations, ZZ Top managed it by going in the opposite direction; they based their sound on the most primitive rock and blues. These were three guys banging out their power-trio sound without fireworks, with very few effects on their guitars, not to mention the rhythm base of bass and drums. This was rock and blues from the cave, rhythmically crushing your head; from the strange start of the record with their first two songs overlapping - two of the best on the album, Waiting for the bus and Jesus has left Chicago - up to their last cut Have you Heard? passing through the reminiscences of Green manalishi by 
Peter Green on Master of sparks until arriving at the band’s ‘brand name’ song, La Grange, which doesn’t hide in any moment being the Texas, angry and white version of John Lee Hooker’s music. 


The real pleasure of this album is not in its originality but in its almost cave-man like sound, which is like a steamroller being driven by three guys who – it is very clear - know very well what they are doing. The voices of Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill come together and respond perfectly in the same ways as their instruments, Hill’s Fender Precision and Telecaster and Gibbons’ marvellously christened 'Pearly Gates', which is no other than his 59 Gibson Les Paul. Further Gibbons adds to this gem a 55 Fender Stratocaster which we can enjoy squandering mature Fender tones on themes like La Grange. Both guitars are plugged into a Marshall Super Lead 100 from which comes all the saturated tones that almost brush up against the fuzz sound of the album. 


That wonderful sound contributed a lot to making this band’s third album help the group reach stardom. This was a group that knew nothing more than one thing, but they did that thing really well, and also, perhaps because of the incredible moment that southern rock was passing through, managed to put a good fistful of songs on the table.   Later the beards would grow to the beltline, the advertisments and the soundtracks to Hollywood blockbusters would come, but the true fans know the authentic sound of ZZ Top is found on this album; a record that is as simple and stripped down as the name of the album: Tres Hombres.