(Random ZZ TOP AND/OR ELIMINATOR related recollections by Linden)
A few more things about guitars and stuff with reference to Billy Gibbons. I never saw him use a Mexican Peso for a pick (a self-started, Bull-Shit Billy, legend I suspect). I've had people ask me about that and I've laughed about it a few times, everyone just grow up.
On the subject of guitar picks, I always kept a few in my pocket (I had a pick fetish). I'd find them on the floor in the rehearsal studio (Frank's recording studio). The black hole (magic place) where picks ended up was in my right pocket. Billy knew that. So, when he would ask me "hey, do you have a pick?" I was always proud to produce five or six from my pocket (his choice of red medium, yellow thin, or whatever). Without ever making a choice of which one he wanted, he'd just pick one out of my hand "thanks man".
The Mexican peso story, again, is (in my opinion, as a very close observer) just standard every day Billy Gibbons BS, although I've noticed in recent times (decades after the fact) he markets them online (or something like that). I think he's trying to cover his tracks on the self-started legend.
Also: Amp cabin? I'm sure you've heard that BS story. Never saw that either. Ridiculous. Also, micing a guitar amp in a junkyard through a bunch of junk cars? Wow, ok, whatever. The joke is on you (of course). Just bullshit Texas stories.
A certain Rolling Stone reporter, Deborah Frost, who was writing a book about ZZ Top, interviewed me in the mid 80's (many times) and she was really pissed off when she found out that lots of those Billy stories weren't true. She was pissed off because she had reported them as fact in some previous magazine articles. Deborah was a serious writer for Rolling Stone and for People Magazine, and very professional. She didn't take her writing assignments lightly. So, again, she was mad as hell when she discovered the level of bullshit that she had been subjected to.
By the way, David Sinclair (writer for the Times Of London, also a serious and professional writer) was interviewing me for his book as well, and he thought that people generally knew that rock and roll stories were partly (or mostly) bullshit. Sinclair had a different attitude and a high level of suspicion about what rock stars tell during interviews.
On the plus side, when it comes to guitar, Billy Gibbons is the real thing. When Billy was sitting in that front room of Frank's house (the pre-production studio that I built) he always had a guitar in his hands, and even when we were talking, discussing, planning, taking a break, or whatever, his fingers were always playing licks. I'm sure he plays guitar (mentally) even in his sleep. I guess he's a guitar Ninja. So, at least there's that. I'm not defending the way he interacts with people, I'm just trying to fully paint the picture with all the different observations. There was positive along with the negative. Anyway, if you're into guitar playing, then Billy is your man.
Information Tidbit: I (Linden) just want to set the record straight about something. I notice on blogs and comment sections that people just go on and on about how great Dusty's bass solo is in the song THUG. By the way, it's the song I fully wrote (100%). Well, the truth is, the THUG bass solo is played by Billy Gibbons. In fact, Dusty isn't playing on the song at all. The "underneath" bass is synthesizer and the "on top" bass is a bass guitar (played by Billy). Nothing against Dusty, but this is just the way it went down. Make a note.
Another interesting note: During those early proto-type sessions for ELIMINATOR (in Houston) I had asked Billy why he wasn't doing much squank any more (squank is the squealing sound from the guitar when the pick hits the string at an angle with slight feedback, there was lots of it on the song LAGRANGE). "People love that shit" I told him. Billy said "aw, I don't know, some people think it's just a cheap trick." I strongly urged him to give a good dose of that to some of these ELIMINATOR songs that we were working on. To my delight, he really threw a pile of squank on GIVE ME ALL YOUR LOVIN and TV DINNERS (TV DINNERS was originally called I'VE GOT PROBLEMS). The entire ELIMINATOR album was blessed with a bit more squank. Squank is fun like a cheap carnival ride. Rock and roll and fun go together.
TIME TO LEAVE: A little story from my memory banks: when I (Linden) had started my lawsuit against ZZ Top (1983) I was still living at Frank Beard's house (ZZ Top's drummer). It's a bit bizarre, but Frank knew I was suing ZZ Top and management. In a way it wasn't bizarre because Frank and I were, quite simply, friends. Anyway, one evening he sat down at the dinner table with a strange grin and said "well Linden, I guess it would be a good idea for you to move out of the house before my manager finds out you're still living here." Frank and his wife (Deb) and I laughed, and I said "yea, I know, I get it". It was actually a pretty shitty situation, but we all understood it, and we tried to make the best of it. I moved out of Frank's house a few days later into a small apartment. I missed Frank and Deb a lot.
A hurricane (Hurricane Alicia, Aug 18, 1983, 115 mph winds) blew into Houston a few weeks after I moved out, and Frank Beard was on the road touring with ZZ, and his wife Deb called me at the peak of the hurricane winds and said "Linden, I think the roof is coming off and I'm worried." The phone line went dead during the conversation, which is no surprise in a storm. So, I got in my car and drove seven miles through the hurricane, around broken trees and telephone poles, to their house to check up on her (because she and Frank were still my friends). All was well. So, I drove back to my apartment. Hurricanes often aren't as bad as they sound from inside the house. Anyway, I missed Frank and Deb. I missed their dog Gabby and I even missed their stupid parrot that used to bite the absolute crap out of me.
A QUICK TRIP: I (Linden) want to go back in time a bit and tell a story on Billy G. I was sitting around Frank's house having coffee (in Houston) one morning, ZZ Top was out on the road at the beginning of a tour, and I got a phone call from Billy Gibbons. "We've got a problem with a piece of electronic gear and we're in a little town in Kentucky and my guys can't find anyone who can fix it, can you hop a plane and come try to fix this quick before the show tonight?" I said "I'll give it a try" and I hustled off to the Houston airport (note: I repeat, I wasn't an employee of ZZ Top or management, I just did freelance odd jobs for them occasionally).
A roadie picked me up at the airport in Kentucky and I got to the auditorium a couple of hours before the show, and Gibbons was there to show me the electronic problem with a piece of gear. I re-seated the IC chips in the device as a start, and bingo, the thing was fixed in ten minutes. "Jeez" I said "I flew here to do that?" Gibbons smiled and said "cool, hey stick around, the pyro guy is about to test a pyro effect I want for the start of the show". So we stepped up on the stage and Billy looked back at the pyro guy and said "ok, go ahead". Suddenly there was a huge explosion up in the lighting grid, and it blew my mind and my ears were ringing and I had spots in my eyes from the bright flash. It even blew a couple of paper cups off the stage, really, it was like a stick of dynamite going off. The pyro guy came rapidly walking up to the stage saying "Jesus, sorry, that was a little stout". Billy grinned and said "no, that's perfect." I started laughing, it's all I could do. (A roadie took me back to the airport, and I was back in Houston having a beer before midnight).
DUSTY WAS THIRSTY: Or there was the time we were at Frank's rehearsal studio (front of his house) and all three of the ZZ boys were there working on a song composition. I was at the mix board (starting and stopping tape, adjusting headphones, making comments, cracking jokes). After a couple of hours Dusty said "shit, I could use a drink". I knew Dusty liked bourbon (although I didn't know just how much) so I said "well, I've got a brand new, un-opened bottle of Jim Beam in my bedroom." Dusty's face lit up "well shit, go get it" he said with a big smile. I went down the hall to my room and grabbed a paper cup and the new bottle of Beam (thinking maybe he'd just want a sip or two).
When I came back into the rehearsal studio with the bottle in my hand, Frank (ZZ's drummer) was making a really weird face in my direction, like he was trying to tell me something. But, Dusty was reaching for the bottle as I walked in "you're the man" he said. And, make a note, this bottle of bourbon was not a small pocket bottle. Anyway, long story short, Dusty drank the entire fucking bottle of bourbon in a short amount of time. I couldn't believe it (unreal). Then he said "I gotta go". He got up, put his bass down (his amplifier still on, and volume knob still up), he went outside and we heard him burn rubber in every gear all the way down the street in his Delorean (as his bass strings started feeding back into the speakers). It was the weirdest thing, like a scene from some really crazy movie. Frank looked at me and said "don't ever give whiskey to Dusty". I looked at Billy, as he sat on his stool and diddled on the strings of his guitar, and he just shrugged and said "uh huh".
FUNNY AS HELL: One afternoon Frank Beard (ZZ's drummer) said to me "hey Linden, I wanna put a ceiling fan in me and Deb's bedroom, can we do it ourselves, do you know how?" "Sure" I said "but you've gotta help me". "Ok" said Frank. So, after dinner we got a couple of chairs and stood on them and opened the box and started putting in the ceiling fan. Deb (Frank Beard's wife) sat on the floor with a glass of wine and watched. When we got through we stepped off the chairs and Frank said "let's try her out" and he flipped the switch and the fan started spinning. "Cool" said Frank smiling. He then got a light bulb to put in the bulb fittings and stood up on the chair and stuck his head right in the spinning fan "blang" and it knocked him to the floor. Deb and myself laughed so hard we had tears in our eyes. When he got up off the floor he started laughing too (and rubbing his head). "Sheee-it" he said. I grinned at him and said "that's gonna leave a lump, I guess you'll need to wear a hat onstage tomorrow night". "Right" he said. I laugh every time I think of that.
A JOKE ON ME: Frank Beard and I (Linden) laughed at each other equally when the occasions arose. A story on me: one evening me, Frank and Deb (his wife) were standing and talking (hanging out) in Frank's kitchen. I was leaning on the kitchen cabinet and looked over and noticed a new, see through package of beef jerky, so I opened it and started eating some. It was really good. Frank got quiet and was watching me. Finally I said "wow, this is good, what is it" and I turned the package over and there was a picture of a dog on the front. Frank started laughing out loud. "Oh" I said "ok, uh, ok dog jerky is good... I guess". That explains why the dog was watching me too.
LASER BURN: An industrial laser specialist by the name of Steve Jander had been operating a big laser show for Led Zeppelin's road show, and then suddenly John Bonham (Led Zeppelin's drummer) died. So, ZZ Top lured Steve Jander away to work the laser show behind the ZZ Top road show. Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top guitarist) decided he wanted me (Linden) to be trained by Steve Jander so I could be a back up laser operator in case Jander was ever unable to do the show. So, I (Linden) actually had a training session with Steve Jander during a ZZ Top show one night. The heart of the show was a monster three foot long argon laser (the main laser). That laser actually spooked me and I kept my face away from it as it zapped and glowed like a sci-fi death ray. I knew it was dangerous. As it turned out, I was never called upon to operate the laser show and only one training session had occurred. But, Frank Beard (ZZ Top drummer) told me a funny story about Steve Jander. Frank Beard had been asking Jander to put a mirror on Billy Gibbon's (ZZ guitarist) hat so the big green argon laser could be reflected off the hat. Steve Jander scolded Beard saying it's "really super dangerous". The funny part of the story is that one evening Frank Beard stepped up on the concert stage to play drums for the show and there on his snare was a drumstick with his name burned into the drumstick (burned in by the green laser). It was a message for Frank from Steve. Frank got the point and never asked dumb laser questions again. Moral of the story? Big-Ass lasers are fucking dangerous as hell. Listen to the laser guy when he says "no".
STUCK WITH THE CHECK: Sometimes Billy Gibbons and myself (Linden Hudson) would be working long hours in Frank's studio on song ideas (just me an Billy most of the time) and Billy would say "hey man, let's go get something to eat". We'd drive to a cafe or whatever and I would often get stuck with the check. Billy would usually say "oh, hey man, I forgot my wallet, can you cover me?" I'd mention it to Frank later and he would say "so what's new?". Frank and I would say (in unison) "wut wrong wit dat boy?" Billy would never pay me back either (and, I was broke and he wasn't). Of course, these incidents were a warning of things to come.
A JOKE ON DUSTY: A random, humorous recollection: Frank Beard (ZZ Top drummer) often fondly referred to Dusty as "Yosemite Sam". It always drew a laugh from me. Frank never said it in front of Dusty as he and Dusty had a peaceful relationship and respected each other. After all, they had already been working together for many years by the early 80s. Actually, they had been working together for years before they even met Billy Gibbons. But anyway, hey Dusty, don't get mad bud about this little story, it's all in fun.
THE BEARDS: Another thing about Frank Beard (ZZ Top drummer), at least at the time that I (Linden Hudson) lived at his house in the early eighties, he hated Billy and Dusty's beards. He commented on a pretty regular basis about the beards (even though his name was Beard). Frank wanted the band to look sexy and he thought the beards made the guys look like homeless hillbillys. However, the beards turned out to be something that set the band apart and made them hard to forget.
CAN'T DANCE: The way I (Linden) became aware that people could not dance to ZZ Top music (in 1982) was: Frank Beard (ZZ Top drummer) and myself had been volunteering to DJ and Emcee dances for Palmer Drug Abuse Program (Frank was working the program to stay off drugs, I was doing volunteer work for the program at Frank's request). So, Frank and myself would emcee these dances as a team. Frank was a star and we could get big crowds when we did these dances (sometimes a hundred folks in the audience, but usually several hundred). Frank and I would act silly on the PA system up on a stage and people would dance to records that we played (folks loved it).
One night Frank and I were doing a dance and I said "hey Frank, let's put a ZZ Top song on next". He said "aw, ok, I don't care, go ahead." So I played a ZZ Top song next. Everyone sat down and stopped dancing. I whispered to Frank "did you see that?" He looked a little puzzled. About an hour later I slipped another ZZ Top song on the turntable. Everyone sat down again. I had a gut feeling that this stuff wasn't dance-able already, but this proved it.
I told Billy Gibbons about this experience a few days later and I was surprised when Billy said "what? you're shitting me". It's amazing that the realization was never made in the previous ten years of ZZ's existence. Why did no one notice? Who knows, life is strange. Anyway, the thought process to make the next album dance-able started from there.
We began working on the ELIMINATOR album roughly at that point in time (although I didn't know what the name of the album was going to be until later). So, everyone, please notice one thing, you CAN dance to the ELIMINATOR album (almost every cut, I think). Well shucks, what do you know. Adding a new dimension, such as dance-ability, expands the audience (by a large margin).
As a footnote, please make note of one thing: adding a new dimension to a bands signature sound just to boost sales will piss off the original core fan base. The original core fan base of a niche band is positive that it owns the soul of that band, and will angrily acuse the band of "selling out". Those folks are deeply possessive and reactive, and they hate change. It's kind of like what happened when Dylan went electric. His original core fan base (folk music snobs) was hugely pissed off, but Dylan was his own master (of course) and his change greatly expanded his audience forever.
A SENSITIVE SUBJECT: It's true that Frank Beard did NOT play drums on the ELIMINATOR album. It ended up being sequenced digital drums (a machine) on the album. I'm not guessing at this, I know all this for a fact. Frank didn't know about that until the entire album was totally finished and finalized. Frank had actually flown to Memphis early in the final phase of ELIMINATOR to lay drums to a click track, which would later have more overdubs applied. But, a digital drum machine won in the end.
In the end, I (Linden Hudson) was actually sitting in the living room with Frank (at his house in Houston, where I lived as well) when Billy Gibbons arrived back in Houston from Memphis with a proof cassette of the finished ELIMINATOR album. Billy didn't offer to play it, he just said "it's done, the records are being pressed, done deal." Then Billy quickly turned to walk back to the front door to leave. Frank said "wait, put the tape on, I wanna hear it". Billy stuttered, stammered and tried to get past it (Frank knew something was smelly). Frank took the tape from Billy's hand and popped it in the machine of his really, super nice, custom made home stereo system (that I designed, 500 watts per channel, and huge Urei studio speakers that I hung from the ceiling using block and tackle). The first song started and it was obviously not Frank playing drums. I already knew all about this, but I didn't really want to be here for this confrontation. Frank jumped up from his chair with his fists clenched and got right in Billy's face "who's that fucking drummer?" he yelled. Billy stuttered, tried to explain. I left the house and took a drive. I didn't want to be there. The only part of Frank's drums that made it to the final record were his tom tom overdubs.
Later that evening I was sitting in the living room with Frank and his wife. Frank was bitching at me saying that "it's mostly your fault Linden" (even though this album, and the strategy, ultimately made Frank a rich man. You're welcome Frank, you never said thanks). (still pouting?) But hey, Frank was playing golf most of the time when Billy and I were trying to come up with an album. Plus, he had stopped practicing between tours and his licks were sloppy. What are you gonna do? Frank was still my best friend, we were family, I lived at his house. He just liked playing golf more than working on record albums. Deep down, he knew that. The best thing Frank did for ELIMINATOR was to build that recording studio in the front room of his house. That's where ELIMINATOR was born.
The bottom line for this new ELIMINATOR album, as realized by Billy (and me, Linden) was to make it dance-able and tight in order to get a bigger audience. That sloppy, slushy, blues shuffle drum stuff that had been on the past recent albums wasn't the target this time. Oh well. Frank, at least you still had a job and the band acknowledged your existence. In fact, hey Frank, everyone thought the drums on ELIMINATOR were played by you, even Rolling Stone Magazine was fooled (or didn't really care, or they weren't smart enough to know). So Frank, no need to piss and moan, you GOT credit for not even being on the album (and I did NOT get credit for spending a year working on the album).
BUILDING A STAGE PROP: Billy Gibbons once asked me to build a prop for a tour (around 1980 I think) and I gave him an estimate of the cost and my labor. He kept talking me down on the price, and finally I wasn't going to make much on it but I said I'd make it. He wanted a tall, electronic looking unit with blinking LED's and a computer screen with stuff moving around on it. Just a prop, but it had hundreds of LED's on it and pixie tubes with changing numbers. Billy wanted it to look real. I built the deal, and even cut a hole in the front and installed a computer screen and used a radio shack computer to drive the screen display. I wrote some computer programs (in "basic") to generate random numbers and words. It took weeks but the deal looked cool and they started using it on stage for the tour in progress.
So, one weekend Billy invited me to see some of the shows when they were in the vicinity (I don't remember where). After one of the shows I was in the dressing room with the band, and a journalist was there (I think he was from Circus Magazine, a rock and roll mag). The journalist asked Billy what the big electronic device was and Billy said "it's a custom designed and custom built auto-synthesizer and there's the guy who engineered and built it (he pointed at me)." The reporter started asking me questions about the design of the so-called synthesizer and Billy dissappeared. I stuttered. I didn't want to say that it was just a prop and that Billy made up the story, so I said "oh hey, I gotta go to the bathroom", so I disappeared. What can you do? (what would you do?)
A further comment: Journalists, even rock and roll journalists, are often serious when they're interviewing rock stars. They've been hired, and expenses paid, to seek and go there, to get serious interviews with these rock stars (their job is on the line, they are under pressure to get real interviews). The journalist is likely to, and probably will, take most things said to be truth. This point of view was once expressed to me by the famous Rolling Stone Magazine writer Deborah Frost. So, I'm not just saying this without knowledge.
THE BEARDS AND RODNEY: One week I went out with ZZ to hang with them while they did several shows in Las Vegas (Gibbons had invited me along). On the night off I went with Frank, Dusty and Billy to see Rodney Dangerfield at the Riviera and sat on the front row with them. Dangerfield constantly flipped sweat on us because we were so close. Occasionally, during the show, he would glance down at the ZZ boys. He didn't know who they were but they caught his eye. Finally he gestured toward the bearded boys and said "what is this a cult?"
A quick story: We had just hooked up the new multi-track recorder in Frank's house (not a great recorder, but fine for writing and developing songs), and we were working a little bit on a song Billy called "Hippie Pad". During a break Frank was casually singing "I'm gonna buy me... a groovy little hippie pad". Billy sternly corrected Frank "it's not I'm gonna BUY me... it's I'm gonna FIND me a groovy little hippie pad, hippies don't BUY hippie pads... they just FIND 'em !!!" Frank looked comically surprised "jeez... ok" he said, as he glanced at me with a mischievous grin. This, of course, caused me to break out laughing. And, for some reason, the recording we made of Hippie Pad in that room ended up on El Loco. And, of course, I received no engineering credit or percussion overdub credit whatsoever. I disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle again.
Some of the other fun I (Linden) had while living at Frank's house (Frank Beard, ZZ Top drummer): There was the time the famous rock star Fabian (from the late 50's) came to stay with us (at Frank's house) for a week (from California). He was a nice fellow, but he seemed a little uneasy at first (Texas scares some folks from LA, I guess they're afraid there might be Republicans around, or that we carry guns and spit tobacco or something). We made bar-bq in the back yard several evenings by the pool, a great visit and interesting.
One day Fabian jammed on vocals with ZZ Top for about an hour in Frank's rehearsal studio with me at the sound console. I recorded it all on cassette tape. I still have those recordings. ZZ Top meets Fabian. It was all in fun.
Another famous visitor we had at Frank's house was Carol Burnett's daughter. Carrie came from LA to live with us at Frank's house for several months (when she was 15). She was a sweet kid and always nice to me. I was very saddened to hear that Carrie passed away in her mid thirties of lung cancer.