Fidel Benitez
January 25, 2021 in Southern Rock Essentials
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Rock
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Fidel Benitez
When ZZ Top hit the scene in the early 1970s, they immediately grabbed the ears of listeners and became a popular touring act. Their star only continued to brighten as they moved toward supernova in the 1980s. A record promoter out of Houston named Bill Ham was the man behind the band who had signed them, continuously promoted them, and produced their early work. By even the early 1970s, ZZ Top, as a business entity, was self-sustaining, allowing Ham to pick up other artists under his Lone Wolf Productions company and, it was hoped, replicate that same success. During that time period, he signed Jay Boy Adams and Point Blank (with Blackhorsc to follow later in the decade). Just as he had when he signed Billy Gibbons with the aim of assembling a band around him. Ham signed guitarist Rusty Bums to a management deal, and the rest of the band came together afterward. The band began playing regionally in Texas and soon branched out, opening shows for Grand Funk Railroad, ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Marshall Tucker Band. Such high-profile gigs brought them to the attention of Arista Records, and the band signed with the label, producing their self-titled debut. Centering on the guitar work of Bums and second guitarist Kim Davis, the band crafted hard-rocking songs heavy with blues influence. One of the best examples is a tribute to a fan who attended their pre-record deal gigs at the Old Cellar Club in Dallas. Leading off with a solid groove from drummer Peter “Buzzy” Gruen, Davis, Burns, and bassist Phillip Petty join in with a crunchy, bottom-heavy riff as heavy as any in hard rock. Around the thirty-second mark, singer John O'Daniel begins the story of “Uncle Ned,'’ telling us that every evening Ned stands in the “very front row,” describing him as a “lead man with a pea coat on his back.” Ned “hitchhikes every morning from the railroad track,” and no one can understand a word he says, requesting “someone say good-bye for Uncle Ned.” While seemingly unimportant details, they soon come into context in the second verse, where Uncle Ned stands on the street telling others of the Cellar Club, where he’ll meet the band. “Uncle Ned’s a good boy,” O’Daniel proclaims before telling us he was a war hero in his time, a “natural-born lover, a killer in his prime,” then repeating that no one can understand a word he says. With this context, the song ceases to be about a down-and-out hobo who enjoys seeing the show and reveals itself to be about the luck and shabby treatment a veteran receives on returning to civilian life. Not knowing Uncle Ned’s age and the song coming in 1977, it is easy to imagine that Ned was one of the thousands of Vietnam veterans who served their country' under no choice of their own, only to return home damaged (physically and emotionally), cast aside, and even looked down on by others, much like the lead character in the Charlie Daniels Band’s “Still in Saigon.” As the second verse ends, 0’Daniel lets out a series of escalating “yeahs” that sound less like exhortations to party and more like a mounting frustration from within, perhaps channeling the inner turmoil of Ned, until at around the 1:40 mark, he sustains the last yell as the band sustains behind him. As he begins to fade, Grucn taps the high hat in a straightforward beat as Burns shifts into an angry -sounding riff that continues to channel Ned’s frustrations as the band slams behind him, accenting the downbeat. After the band joins back in full force, Davis roars out a midrange moan on the fretboard before launching into an aggressive solo that gives way to Burns. Burns, a left-handed player who plays with a flipped-over right-handed guitar (meaning that the high-end strings are on the top as opposed to the bottom part of the neck), scorches through a solo of his own. When he finishes, O’Danicl returns with his anguished cries, leading the band into a proto-heavy metal beat, culminating in a harmony ending. The song did not receive any particular success at the time of the album’s release, and on subsequent albums the band moved to a more arena-rock sound before scoring a minor rock hit in 1981 with “Nicole.” Soon after that, the band disbanded but reunited in 2005, and, as of this writing, the band continues to tour and record new music.
Be the first person to like this.
Fidel Benitez
When ZZ Top hit the scene in the early 1970s, they immediately grabbed the ears of listeners and became a popular touring act. Their star only continued to brighten as they moved toward supernova in the 1980s. A record promoter out of Houston named Bill Ham was the man behind the band who had signed... View More
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