Since the ZZ Top ELIMINATOR album was the biggest album on earth for awhile, there are lots of bullshit stories about its making (most are untrue, most were invented by the band). I (Linden Hudson) was deeply involved in the making of this album. The true story of ELIMINATOR wasn't about a big amazing explosion of creative bullshit, but a pretty simple beginning and process. Here is an accurate description of the absolute beginning and the developmental phase of the ZZ Top ELIMINATOR album:
Often, the making of a high-end record album can be a process which might involve phases. The making of the ELIMINATOR album was a process, or at least it became a process, once a direction had been established. I (Linden) was involved in the developmental part of that process. It was the birth of the very famous ELIMINATOR album. At that time I wasn't employed by ZZ Top or anyone, I was an unemployed recording engineer, so therefore, I didn't really have a job title (anywhere). This ELIMINATOR album project had an informal and spontaneous beginning, but for those folks who require to hear somone's job title, let's just say I was the pre-production engineer, and a co-writer (and more) for ELIMINATOR. I worked with Billy Gibbons for about a year on the album's planning and development. I take no reservation in saying that I participated in the genesis (conception and beginning) of the ELIMINATOR album. By the time ELIMINATOR was ready for release I knew more about the content and design of the album than Frank or Dusty knew (that's two thirds of ZZ Top). Never has anyone ever revealed such an unusual thing about a famous rock and roll band. But it's true. Read further and you'll understand what that means.
I lived at Frank Beard's (ZZ Top's drummer) house in those days. Frank had gotten me to build a semi-pro recording studio in the front room. Me (Linden) and Billy (Gibbons) began experimenting with sounds and musical ideas in that front room. We were just two guys who were wired (in the brain) to do just that. It was just a compulsion with us, just automatic behavior. To be quite honest, I didn't even know we were working on an album when the experiments began (maybe Billy didn't either). Billy and I began recording musical ideas together on Frank's new 16 track Tascam tape recorder. This Tascam recorder was only a ten thousand dollar machine, which is about one tenth the price of a true professional studio recorder. This "low budget" machine was not good enough for final record production (Billy and I totally knew that). Therefore, we knew that what we were doing for the experimental music project (not named at that point in time) was "mock-up" or "developmental" (or R&D). This was still a step up for ZZ Top because the Tascam 16 track recorder was a better recording tool than the band had had before for developmental use. It was a perfectly logical way to build up ideas. It was pretty handy.
This simple (low budget) front room studio was the equivalent of our "secret laboratory" in which we could experiment and invent. Even though we were not working with a high end recorder, some of the vocals and other recorded elements that were engineered by me on that Tascam machine (in Frank Beard's house) actually ended up on the final ELIMINATOR album (I myself learned this part of the story 30 years later).
For this ELIMINATOR album project, Billy Gibbons and I (Linden) tested guitars, tested riffs, tested lyrics and constructed tunes right there in that suburb of Houston (except "Give Me All Your Lovin" which was written later). For example, even the synthesizers in the song LEGS were written and recorded to a demo tape by me (Linden) and Billy before Billy went to Memphis for the final recording process of ELIMINATOR.
We were deeply engrossed in these musical experiments. One evening Billy and myself (just the two of us) invented and recorded a full demo of the song UNDER PRESSURE, and late that night while we were finishing it up, Frank Beard (ZZ Top's drummer) stuck his head in the door and said "hey, can you guys turn that down, Deb and I are trying to sleep". Yes, that really happened. Frank (and Dusty) didn't even know the song existed for weeks (but I did).
I (Linden) still have the mixes of most of the early versions of the ELIMINATOR songs on old cassette tapes (songs such as TV DINNERS, LEGS, DIRTY DOG, ETC). In fact, over the years, certain people have asked me to post those early ELIMINATOR recordings on the internet for all to hear. I've resisted, for fear of being legally harassed, but I've finally posted some short sound clips from the original ELIMINATOR tapes to SoundCloud Dot Com to illustrate and PROVE certain realities. Again, as I've said, synthesizers and gimmicks for ELIMINATOR were mostly worked out in Houston by me and Billy ahead of time. These tapes prove the level of development of the songs in the Houston sessions. Billy Gibbons drove by his manager's office every week and played him the latest song demos. Billy's manager apparently thought it was recordings of the actual band, but alas, it wasn't.
THEN: A copy of the pre-production audio tapes was sent to the brilliant Terry Manning in Memphis. I believe that Terry Manning is one of the greatest recording engineers on the planet and I was honored to be in the flow of a famous project with him. The flattering quotes about me (Linden) in books, about my skills, are over-blown when I consider the genius and skills of Terry Manning (and his resume'). Terry has engineered recordings for some of the worlds most famous artists (Joe Cocker, Joe Walsh, James Taylor, Leon Russell, Led Zep, Jimmy Buffet, Al Green, Sam And Dave, and so many more). Full respect from me Terry. Anyway, Terry's the guy who took the blueprint tracks from the Houston ELIMINATOR sessions and rebuilt them and made them shine. To set the record straight, I was not involved in that last phase in Memphis, however, as I said, the album was mostly written and designed before reaching Memphis.
Terry Manning very carefully (and rarely) gives out bits of information about the ELIMINATOR track construction (respecting confidential client procedures) because ZZ Top and management were his "clients". He would especially adhere to this protocol when discussing sensitive topics. Think about it. Terry is being professional. Therefore, Terry keeps a somewhat secretive approach with regard to giving away inside information about the ELIMINATOR project.
The relationship between rock groups and their engineer is kind of like a doctor patient relationship in some ways. Some things are to be kept quiet, so to speak. For example, it has been widely rumored that a Linn digital drum machine (like I used in pre-production) was used, instead of the real drummer Frank Beard, for the final rebuild of the ELIMINATOR album. The band and management DO NOT want people to know that. So, in a carefully worded statement that Terry left on a blog on the internet, he says: "On Eliminator I changed the drum approach pretty radically, for reasons that I shall not say at this point. There was no Linn product involved". (end quote from Terry Manning) (LINDEN SPEAKING AGAIN): So, there, you must read between the lines a bit. Nice try Terry (with all respect to you). I (Linden) usually feel a need to keep the business of my clients private too, but I was not treated well with regard to this ELIMINATOR project, so I don't mind talking about this (besides they were not clients, I never got paid).
BOTTOM LINE: It doesn't matter what kind of drum machine was used to track the final cuts of the album (Terry says it was not a Linn, that's cool, it doesn't matter what brand). A drum machine is a drum machine. However, I repeat, many engineers would get fired for publicly saying that one of it's band clients had used a drum machine. Back in the 80's using a drum machine would have been considered cheating, however, now 98 percent of pop music releases rely on drum synthesis, but it's still not openly admitted to. To the average person, without a trained ear, drums on a recording are just drums on a recording, be they real, synthetic, sampled, or whatever.
More about drum machines: in the early and mid eighties there was a large list of hit songs that had been released that used drum machines (by famous artists): Billy Idol, The Cars, Devo, Hall & Oates, Prince, Steve Winwood, Paul McCartney, and so on. Drum machines replacing real drummers on albums for famous bands was nothing new (ZZ Top was just one example, it was pretty common, you might as well get over it). And, in 1982 there were a few drum machine brands available, such as Linn, but there were a good many Frankenstein units out there too (home made, back room digital drum computer rigs, similar to mini-mainframes made by geeks, example: in 1978 engineer Roger Nichols initiated the making of a drum sample sequencer named "Wendel" which was used on the Steely Dan album GAUCHO).
There is absolutely no question about this ZZ Top ELIMINATOR drum machine matter with me. Why would I have any doubt, I was up to my neck in this project. And, just remember, I was in Frank's living room, looking directly at him and Billy when Frank discovered that he had been replaced on the Eliminator album by a drum machine (a near fight resulted, Frank was beyond angry, his fists clenched, "who's that fucking drummer" he yelled. It was a nasty scene, even Frank thought it was a real human drummer). However, for reasonable proof, just put the ELIMINATOR tracks into some graphical/audio software, then look at the waveform and measure the distance from one snare lick to the next. You will notice the God-like precision (quartz precision) on each and every ELIMINATOR song track. Humans absolutely (abso-fucking-lutely) can't play like that. Enough of my rambling.
Anyway, Terry, you're doing a great job of skirting the issue and it's good client etiquette (I respect you for that). I'm sure you're not mad at me for saying these things, in fact, you're probably smiling. I hope you are well Mr Manning, and I hope life has been good to you.
By the way, after I (Linden Hudson) wrote the previous few paragraphs I found a more recent quote on the internet posted by engineer Terry Manning (quote by Terry, he said): "I will make it clear that my preference is always to use the actual players, to not edit between takes extensively, to maintain the best live feel the band can perform, in general to not resort to trickery. But sometimes you do what you have to to get the best record. Also, I reiterate that this is not referring to Frank, ZZ's drummer. I stated before that I will not talk about certain aspects of the ZZ recordings, out of respect for the band and management. Frank did a marvelous job on many records, and this reflects on him as a great drummer." (end quote from Terry Manning) (Linden speaking again): Thanks Terry, nicely put again. It backs up what I (Linden) have already said, a hired recording engineer is a lot like a movie director who's been hired by a big movie producer, if the producer tells his lowly director to "make Tom Cruise look tall" then that freakin' director is probably going to make Tom Cruise look tall AND that lowly director most probably will not give interviews to magazines about how he made Tom Cruise look tall. BUT, TERRY, It sounds like you're just dying to give it away. It totally does.
ONCE AGAIN: I (Linden Hudson) have found YET ANOTHER set of comments from Terry Manning that he wrote in 2005 in a person to person blog and I hope Terry doesn't get upset if I put excerpts of those quotes here. This helps tell my story and helps tell the very interesting story of the multi-layered process of the making of the ELIMINATOR album. (QUOTES FROM TERRY MANNING) TERRY SAID: "the full story of the making of ELIMINATOR (the politics, the chicanery, the technical aberations, the high social drama, the exodus, the payback) is one that I cannot tell. Even if I could, there certainly wouldn't be room for it here! It probably won't even make it into the book (or the movie). Just don't forget that truth is often stranger than fiction! (skip to...) However, I will address certain specifics (skip to...) Well I guess it can be told, as long as you promise not to pass it on, but yes, I played drums on LEGS, and in fact, almost the whole album. (skip to...) (specific about the song LEGS). The drums were a combination of things. There was programming, on my Oberheim drum machine, and then a multitude of samples triggered in over the snare as well..." (END QUOTE FROM TERRY MANNING 2005). (Comment from Linden: HOORAH !! That's it Terry, what more can I add? I knew you wanted to tell us, and there it is. HOWEVER, TERRY, I TOLD THE AUTHORS OF 3 BOOKS THIS FACT ALMOST 3 DECADES AGO. So, you are a 2nd and highly regarded witness.)
(LINDEN HUDSON SPEAKING AGAIN): A few questions that many people ask me (and Terry) were "what guitar and amplifier did Billy use on the ELIMINATOR album?". When Billy and myself (Linden) mocked up and tested the ELIMINATOR songs in pre-production sessions, Billy used a Legend amplifier and Dean guitar (and an AKG condenser mic on the guitar amp). Terry Manning verifies that those were the devices that Billy used for the final tracking in Memphis (of the ELIMINATOR album).
Billy hated that Dean guitar. One day when Billy and myself (Linden) were working on a song in Frank Beard's home studio, Billy broke a string on the Dean and set it down and picked up a custom made yellow guitar (Billy loved that yellow guitar but it sounded thin). I guess he figured he was through with the Dean since it now had a broken string. But that night I put a new string on it, and tuned it, and sat it in Billy's practice chair. When he came in the next day, there was the Dean in his chair with six strings. That Dean was like an ugly girlfriend that kept coming back around. "Oh man" he whined comically as he put it on for another writing session.
Almost every time Billy arrived at Frank's house to work on the ELIMINATOR album with me (Linden) he would pick up a different guitar hoping I wouldn't notice. Later in the work session he'd ask me "what do you think about THIS guitar?" My answer was always "it doesn't sound as cool as the Dean". Then he'd look pissed and say "aw man, I hate that Dean", then he would pick up the Dean and finish the writing session with it. But, in my opinion, the Dean was nasty sounding, on the edge of feedback constantly, funky, gritty, and sounded a bit crazy, untamed, crude, and wild. However, Billy was tired of that guitar for several reasons. It was a flying V so it didn't sit on his knee worth a damn, it needed constant tuning, and he wanted to move on to other guitars. But, all our pre-production demos (made in Houston) had the Dean sound. ZZ's manager insisted that the final tracking in Memphis sound like our Houston proto-types. So, Billy was stuck with the Dean guitar, at least for recording purposes. In fact, when this pre-production phase was finished and it was time for Billy to go to Memphis to track out the final version of ELIMINATOR, he got a piece of paper and drew a diagram of exactly how the microphone was placed in front of his guitar amp and he wrote down all the settings on the knobs and which mic we used on the guitar amp (as his guitar tech packed the Dean guitar, and legend amp, for the Memphis trip).
By the time the ELIMINATOR album hit the market, there were a lot of man hours invested, and just a very few people had been involved.
++ I apologize, but (because it's such a disputed topic) let me make one more stab at the drum machine issue: When Billy and myself (Linden Hudson) mocked up the ELIMINATOR album in pre-production we used an electronic drum maching instead of real drums (this occurred in the final rebuild of the album as well, I assure you). We used the drum maching for two reasons: (1) it was always available to play drums for Billy and I and would sit ther for hours on end without complaining (Frank Beard was mostly playing golf), (2) the drum machine played cleaner drums (perfect, more dance-able). For the bass we used a machine as well (Dusty was also scarce). For anyone who does not believe that the ELIMINATOR album used a drum machine, just get a copy of the vinyl album and hold it up to at an angle in sunlight. BEHOLD the perfect spirals that jump out to the eye. These spirals on the perfect mathematics of the kick drum of a drum machine. Real dummers do not make perfect spirals on vinyl with their kick drum (no matter how hard they try, only God or a digital drum machine could to that). There's no way around this reality, just give it up. If a forensic specialist was called in to a court trial to prove that digital drums were used on the ELIMINATOR album, he could use this "drop dead" simple and crude vinyl/spiral demonstration to get the proof moving along quite nicely. It's probably one hundred percent compelling to most logical folks. This forensic expert would probably be allowed to walk away from the witness stand after that demonstration.
This has been an accurate overview of the "process" that "fell into place" which gave birth to the amazing ZZ Top ELIMINATOR album. In the interest of accuracy, I (Linden) invite engineer Terry Manning to correct me on anything that I've told incorrectly, as I fully respect the man (he's the best of engineers). Terry Manning (and a couple of million bucks worth of sound gear at Ardent studios) added that stroke of awesome sound quality during the "re-build" of the perfect and incredibly successful ZZ Top ELIMINATOR album. AND, please understand that there was yet another engineer in the chain after Terry Manning, and that was the famous and brilliant mastering engineer Bob Ludwig. A mastering engineer is the guy who makes that final touch of perfection to the EQ and the overall tone and consistency of the album. Bob Ludwig has mastered records and CD's for every major musical star there is for many decades (records by Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, John Mellencamp, The Cars, David Bowie, The Police, The Stones, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, and many hundreds more). I (Linden Hudson) was blessed to be in the engineer chain with Terry Manning and Bob Ludwig, in this respect I was truly completely blessed. So, in the end, there were three engineers in a row for ELIMINATOR, each to do his job and perform his magic. The ELIMINATOR album was perfect. Many journalists and reviewers over the three past decades have agreed, it was a perfect record. That's the part I (Linden Hudson) am so deeply proud of. This many years later, all I have is this true story.
I was there from the very beginning for this project. In fact, I was working on this project with Billy before I even knew we were working on a project. I was deeply involved, then I was shunned, bad-mouthed, shat upon, disavowed and treated like a dog. It really happened like this. What more can I say or do. You're welcome Billy Gibbons (WTF).