116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It's been nearly a year and a half since ZZ Top's last gig, on Valentine's night 2020, but the little ol' band from Texas is getting ready to kick off a tour July 16 at the 2021 Delaware County Fair.
"We're comin' on strong and quite excited to get out there and play for real friends, fans and followers, live and in person," vocalist-guitarist Billy Gibbons said.
It's not surprising that Gibbons and his bandmates, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard, are set to go, since the group moves forward regardless of musical climate, aging issues or pandemic.
No rock band has a longer run with the same lineup as ZZ Top, which formed in 1969 in Houston. How has the band, which has sold more than 50 million albums, been able to sustain for 52 years?
"Three factors encapsulate the fact that we've never broken up, ergo never had to get back together for the inevitable reunion tour," Gibbons said while calling from his Los Angeles home.
"First, we're an odd number so there can't be any ties when we vote on what to do, so there can't be factions. It's either us or it's not us.
What: ZZ Top in concert
Where: Delaware County Fair, 200 E. Acers St., Manchester
When: 8:30 p.m. July 16
Tickets: $65 and $50 and $65, delawarecofair.com/copy-of-grandstand-events
Other Grandstand events: Harlem Wizards professional basketball, 7 p.m. July 13, $30, $15 or free with fair admission; Amateur Tough Truck, 7 p.m. July 14, free with fair admission; Jon Pardi country concert, 8:30 p.m. July 15, $60 to $45; Fantasy Truck & Tractor Pull, 7 p.m. July 17, free with fair admission
Fair dates: July 12 to 18
Admission: $12 ages 12 and over, $3 ages 1 to 11; free on Monday
Fair details: delawarecofair.com
“Second, three guys, three touring coaches (as in buses). We're constantly in the studio and onstage together, yet we have space in between for diversions to the nth degree, mainly comparing notes surrounding recipes from South of the Border.
“And the most important element is we have a good time with our terrible trio."
The good times have always been evident during their greasy, grungy fusion of blues-rock, such as the playful and powerful "Tush," the amusing but potent "Cheap Sunglasses" and their nod to John Lee Hooker, "Le Grange."
And then there is their 1983 commercial breakthrough, "Eliminator," which featured their biggest hits, "Legs," "Under Pressure" and "Sharp Dressed Man."
The word was that ZZ Top was influenced by British synth legends Depeche Mode when writing the "Eliminator" album.
"Yes, they did (impact ZZ Top)," Gibbons said. "The use of synth sounds and sequencers secretly sneaked in studios around the world, inspiring a legion of global playing outfits, with Depeche Mode capturing a special inspiring mystique. The success of ‘Eliminator’ remains a solid statement to the time. It still comes out as based in the blues but with some refreshing touches.
“Again, at the root, it's still the blues."
That's fascinating since the bands appear to be polar opposites: the gritty guitar-driven ZZ Top and the elegant, electronic Depeche Mode.
Gibbons, 71, has released three solo albums, including "Hardware," which dropped in June, since the last ZZ Top album was crafted a decade ago. It has looked like ZZ Top would never make another album, but Gibbons says that's not so.
"Getting a new ZZ Top album off the ground is always a logistical undertaking of significance," he said, “yet now evidenced with our aim to go back into studioland for something delightful."
Gibbons did enjoy making “Hardware” with a number of special guests, including Stone Temple Pilots guitarist Robert DeLeo, former Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum and roots-rockers Larkin Pie.
"It was liberating along with broadening,“ Gibbons said. "That, of course, widens the experience with cornerstones."
Gibbons has plenty of plans to create works alone and with his band, even as a septuagenarian. Each member of ZZ Top was born in 1949. The only downside for the trio in creating a new album is their set list. The group's canon is already 15 albums deep.
"Coming up with a set list is a difficult task to be sure," Gibbons said. "There are some gottas, like ‘Tush,’ ‘Jesus Left Chicago’ and ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ — and the ones you probably know and some things that may not yet be known. Perhaps it may require a six-hour concert to squeeze in and get to everything."
It's difficult for Gibbons and his bandmates not to look back, particularly with their clever and amusing videos crafted during the ‘80s. ZZ Top stood out by appearing in the background of their own clips.
"We stand by the work, especially the pretty girls and the little red car," Gibbons said. "We endeavored to make sure that we were, in essence, guests in our own videos — on the periphery in terms of visual presence, but front and center in terms of musical presence. Like that set list, the concern was balance."
It all worked out for ZZ Top, which has made music on its own terms, and the trio was enshrined in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
"That's the highlight of my career," Gibbons said, "being inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards. As a dyed-in-the-wool Stones fan, I can't think of anything more exhilarating than that experience.
“We got to share a bill with the Stones in Hawaii back in 1973. We bonded and have kept a tight friendship going all this while. If you're going to have a great friend, Keith is the man. Now you know everything."
There must be something that fans don't know.
"There is," Gibbons said. "If I were to shave off this beard, you wouldn't be able to tell me apart from George Clooney."