ZZ Top on the 'Tasty Idea' That Inspired New Album & Why the Stage Is Their Preferred Habitat

Billboard

Hoarders take note: A little bit of closet -- or in this case, vault -- cleaning is what led to ZZ Top's new Live: Greatest Hits From Around The World, a collection that, as the title indicates, features concert cuts from 13 cities on three continents. Their hometown, Houston, is naturally represented, as is London, where Jeff Beck joined the trio for renditions of "Rough Boy" and Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons."

"We record so much stuff," bassist Dusty Hill tells Billboard. "We record a lot of our shows, we record our soundchecks. We wrote 'Tush' in Alabama in a soundcheck almost in its entirety. We record everything for different reasons. So in other words we had lot of material. We started talking about putting out a live record; I can't remember who came up with the different cities on different tours [idea] for different songs, but we thought that was kind of a tasty idea, so here it is."

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And while ZZ Top has released its share of concert souvenirs in the past -- starting with the half-live Fandango! album in 1975 -- the new set is another reminder that the stage is the group's preferred habitat. "Yeah, playing live for me is the essence of what we do," Hill says. "I love recording and I love everything -- videos, everything like that -- but playing live is what does it for me. If we're off the road too long I start bugging all my friends; I've gotta find somebody to play for. So this was a fun project for me."

The Beck tracks, meanwhile, are as much highlights for Hill, guitarist Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard as they are for fans. "Beck was just a pure pleasure," says Hill, whose tour injury during the spring of 2016 aborted ZZ Top's joint tour with the British guitar hero. "We've known Jeff for a long time, and I just love when we play together. We were touring and we asked him to come on stage, and he really loves the song 'Rough Boy,' which you might not pick Jeff Beck liking that type of song. But he really loves it. He'll come out and do that with us and a couple other things. And then '16 Tons,' that was just a fun idea and chance to play together. As I stand back towards Frank and I see Jeff Beck and Billy up there together, it's a fun little pocket for me to be in."

The album also coincides with the 45th anniversary of ZZ Top's first album, which the group is commemorating by... well, just going out and playing live. It currently has dates booked into early December, but without any sort of birthday blowout planned at this juncture. "It felt so brand new for years when we first got together, and then it fell into a really cool thing of being able to read each other so well on stage, which is comforting and very important," Hill explains. "There's a lot of different factors, but the main thing is we just enjoy playing together. Different nights have different things in store for you, and it makes it interesting. That's as close as I can come to explaining it."

ZZ Top is currently working on a documentary about the band, with no release date yet determined. Hill says, the group is also planning to release a new studio album to follow up 2012's Rick Rubin co-produced La Futura. But he can't say when about that one, either. "We're always talking about new material, but I don't really know that we have a schedule for anything," the bassist says. "But we're always working on stuff. There's a lot of old stuff, there's a lot of new stuff that we've dabbled in. There's a lot stuff in the studios that we never released, but I don't know that we want to use that. We could sit down and just write a new record or do other people's material. We haven't figured out which one to jump on yet."