At the end of March 2007, I’d completed my first year at Musicians Institute and began my six month leave of absence to give my state grants time to kick in before I began my final six months. I’d also recently moved to Burbank after discovering its Anytown, USA charm and substantially lower rent costs. Even though I joked about spending that time sitting on my ass watching movies and playing guitar, the reality was I needed to work.
Hammering away at music can paradoxically put you off listening to music for fun, especially when you learn to analyze the song keys, chord progressions, and solos of everything that catches your ear. Podcasting became part of my regular listening habits but many shows were only weekly at the time so there was still plenty of space to fill.
One day, I was browsing through Best Buy in Burbank (when they still had a substantial music department) and I saw a display of two-disc anthology sets from a bunch of artists. Rancho Texicano: The Very Best of ZZ Top caught my eye, 38 tracks for $11.99? That was too good to resist. Like everyone, I knew the band’s mainstream singles like “Legs” and “Sharp Dressed Man” and even owned their early-90’s Greatest Hits compilation, but this set dug much deeper and introduced me to the white-hot blues of the band’s early days. The opening track, “Brown Sugar” (not the better known Rolling Stones song), had some tasty pentatonic licks in the intro which I immediately ripped off. After going over the entire album several times on my iPod shuffle while either riding the bus or working out at the gym, as is my pattern, I became fairly obsessed with the band and had to pick up all their stuff.
Since they started as straight up blues rock, ZZ Top’s transition to dance-able music took many by surprise, but their distinguishable look and uptempo songs proved to be a natural fit for MTV. 1983’s Eliminator eventually sold over 10 million copies and the band kept the format for their next three albums before returning to their stripped down, blues-infused trio style. One of my favorite things about ZZ Top has always been the double entendres in their titles, undoubtedly rooted in their blues influence. “Woke Up With Wood,” “Pearl Necklace,” “Dust My Broom,” you get the idea.
That brings us to “Fuzzbox Voodoo” from my favorite of their “pop” albums, 1994’s Antenna. Here’s a bit of the lyrics:
I got down with a fuzzbox
Checking out what it could do
It was step-2, blue voodoo
Fuzzed another hour or two
Just do it man go with your hand
Once you understand
Got to do what she want to do
Sure it reads as if Billy Gibbons is talking about a distortion pedal, but we know he’s exploring a woman’s body. As I said before, one of the major appeals of ZZ Top has to be how you can dance to their songs, and this one should be issued to strippers at orientation along with “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Cherry Pie.” The tempo is sleazy enough, cruising comfortably along courtesy of a thumping bass line, and the words are simple enough to be dirty. If you’re a woman, crank this up and move your hips. If you’re a man, leave the dancing to the ladies.