Take A Trip Through ZZ Top's "Tejas"
As diehard music fans we are often able to approach these "classic" albums with open ears and agile minds. We seek fresh perspectives, interesting bits of trivia and new insight to these records, giving listeners and collectors a chance to explore these records in fresh and exciting ways, as well. (Side note, ZZ Top is probably not the most logical transition from a Tony Bennett album review, but at least this illustrates the diversity of our collection and what we dig!)
"Tejas" is ZZ Top's fifth studio album, released in 1976 on London Records. Prior to their immortalization as "MTV-rockers-surrounded-by-sexy-ladies-and-driving-slick-cars" stars in the 1980s, guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard are no frills on this rockin' Texas blues LP. Probably the only familiar radio hit you might hear on classic rock radio stations these days is the album's opening track, "It's Only Love," but that might be a stretch.
Critics during the album's original release gave luke warm reviews for the album, as no tracks really stood out, compared to the band's previous album hits. However, ZZ Top doesn't shy away from a good groove or blues-rock jam on this record, with Gibbons and Hill trading hot licks on tracks like "El Diablo" and "Ten Dollar Man." Regardless of what earlier critics were in search of on this album, the record still sounds mean, loud and hard-driving more than 40 years after its original release.
"Tejas" was released in the early years of the "Outlaw Country" movement, popularized by the likes of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The album has a little bit of that outlaw flavor, which you can hear in the fiddle parts and flat guitar picking of "She's A Heartbreaker." The album's closing track, "Asleep In The Desert," with a hint of country and Spanish guitar, serves as a nice sunset through this trip, exhibiting the softer side of Gibbons' guitar playing.
While "Tejas" might not the pinnacle of ZZ Top's album discography, the album fits snuggly somewhere in the middle, enjoyed best with an ice-cold beer and hot bowl of chili. After all, this is "Tejas."
The wrap-around cover was painted by Bill Narum, a long-time friend and in-house graphic artist for the band. Narum's cover features a serene West Texas sunset, with majestic mountain bluffs, cacti, longhorn cattle and impressions of buffalo in the distance. The painting is typical Texas art, but reflects well the album's title, "Tejas," the Caddo word meaning "friendship." (Aside from managing art duties for ZZ Top over the years, Narum is also known for co-founding the free-form rock radio station, KLOL, in Houston, TX, in the late 1960s.) In addition to Narum's cover painting, photo credits from the inside gatefold and inner record sleeve are attributed to Lee and Lesser, but no other details given. If anything, the band's headshots would serve as swell pinups in some rock n' roll junkie's bedroom.
Billy Gibbons - Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica, Fiddle
Dusty Hill - Vocals, Bass
Frank Beard - Drums
Album Concept and Producer - Bill Ham
Cover Art - Bill Narum
Engineers - Terry Manning and Larry Nix