That Little Ole Band from Texas

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Photo: Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons live with twin Chrome M80's
( Click To Enlarge Photo )

That Little Ole Band from Texas. How do you define an American classic? Well ZZ Top certainly qualifies by any criteria: Formed in 1969 by Billy Gibbons (lead vocals and guitar), Dusty Hill (vocals, bass, and keyboards), and Frank Beard (drums and percussion), ZZ Top have played together in their original lineup longer than any other blues rock band; in fact, their 41 years together is eclipsed in pop music only by the Four Tops, whose longevity lasted from 1953 to the death of Lawrence Payton in 1997. Throughout that time, they have maintained their signature appearance, style and unfailing musical power. Gibbons and Hill have always sported their chest-long beards, while somewhat ironically drummer Beard sports only a trimmed moustache. Legend has it that Gibbons and Hill turned down an offer of $1 million each by Gillette to shave their beards for a commercial, saying "Can't do it, simply cause underneath 'em is too ugly."

Regarding their musical prowess, Cub Koda wrote, "As genuine roots musicians, they have few peers; Gibbons is one of America's finest blues guitarists working in the hard rock idiom ... while Hill and Beard provide the ultimate rhythm section support." In 2004 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by none other than Keith Richards; they had opened for the Rolling Stones in Hawaii in 1973. Over the years the "Kings of Chrome" have released 14 studio albums, along with 6 compilation albums and 42 singles, including 1983's Eliminator, which was driven by a synthesizer-infused sound darkly enhancing the band's signature guitar-bass-drums formula, a innovation in the blues-rock genre. The album featured ZZ Top's biggest hits, "Legs" and "Sharp-Dressed man."

Gibbons incorporated several unusual techniques into his guitar work for the album, including the "amp cabin" (surrounding a microphone with a series of guitar amps), using the Rockman headphone amplifier invented by Tom Scholz of the band Boston, and playing his guitar with a peso coin rather than a pick. Eliminator was followed by Afterburner, an album further exploring this new territory, and then by Recycler, which stripped out most of the synthesizer effects in a partial return to their roots guitar-driven blues sound.

There are various accounts as to the origin of the band's name. Many have noted that the name appears to be a combination of two popular brands of rolling papers, Zig-Zag and Top, and others say that their name is a tribute to blues singer Z. Z. Hill. In his autobiography Rock + Roll Gearhead, however, Billy Gibbons reveals that the name is both a tribute to and an play on the name of one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time, B. B. King. Gibbons states that they at first wanted to call themselves ZZ King, but thought that too derivative, so since King was at the "top" of the blues pantheon, they opted for ZZ Top, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Photo: Billy Gibbons live with a Chrome M80
( Click To Enlarge Photo )

In 2008, Gibbons provided stunning guitar to accompany Dave Grohl's drumming and Lemmy Kilmister's bass on a new recording of Chuck Berry's "Run Rudolph Run" for the holiday season's surprise album: We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year, a session which utilized the TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik Ela M251 mic.

The Chronicle of the Chrome M80s: Our artist liaison, Jason Scheuner, hangs with artists and engineers like FOH engineer Toby Francis, who recently left ZZ Top to work with Smashing Pumpkins, and Jamie Rephann, Toby's replacement with ZZ Top. Jason talked up the M80 dynamic mic with Toby, who loved the mics, and sent him three M80s to try out. After just one night with the mics, Toby effused that the M80 is "the best mic" he ever used and he ordered three custom chrome-plated M80s as a permanent part of ZZ Top's act: what else but chrome for the "Kings of Chrome"?!

Toby moved on to work for Smashing Pumpkins, and soon thereafter they also ordered M80s! Meanwhile, Jamie also loves the M80s, saying that they were the first mic that he was ever able to place as overheads on the drums to put in the monitors. Toby and Jamie both exclaim that the M80s have "the best gain before feedback of any mic" they've ever used! Telefunken is proud of our association with ZZ Top.

Chrome M80

The M80 presents a wider range of emotion from a live vocal with an intimacy that has been traditionally reserved for studio quality condenser microphones.

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