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In the early fall of 1970, three Houston-based, boogie-and-blues-loving musicians, guitarist-singer Billy Gibbons, bassist-singer Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard, walked into Robin Hood Studios in the neighboring city of Tyler to see if their "little ol' band from Texas" had what it took to make an honest-to-goodness record album.
"We were three guys, we had three chords, and the future was wide open," says Gibbons. "We called the record 'ZZ Top's First Album' because we wanted everyone to know that there would be more. We weren't certain if we'd get another chance in the studio, but we had high hopes."
On 10 June, 43 years after the release of ZZ Top's First Album, Warner Bros. will issue the 10-disc box set ZZ Top: The Complete Studio Albums (1970-1990), which traces the band's development from a raw and feisty blues club act to a groundbreaking, mainstream-rock, hit-making powerhouse.
“It’s as close as I’ve gotten to instant time travel," Gibbons says of the box set. "Taking two decades of expression and compressing them into one ready, at-your-fingertips experience is pretty remarkable."
For Gibbons, one of the high cards of the package is that each album's artwork has been faithfully reproduced, including the gatefold sleeve designs used for 1973's Tres Hombres and 1976's Tejas, along with the original mixes. "Getting the unchanged experience of each release with the original mixes is such a cool deal," says Gibbons. "This is the way the albums were intended to be heard."
All 10 albums in the set were produced by Bill Ham, who, until 2006, also functioned as ZZ Top's manager and main image-maker. Gibbons says that the importance of Ham cannot be overstated. "I have to hand it to a guy who was willing to take on three rowdy and reckless teenagers and try to navigate the musical waters with them," he notes. "The task of maintaining forward motion was certainly a challenge. Bill had a masterful sense of vision, and he brought us to the point of delivering everything that was available.”
On the following pages, Gibbons reflects on the recording of all 10 records contained in ZZ Top: The Complete Studio Albums (1970-1990).