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© Samantha Shrader ./Retna Ltd./Corbis
“A good buddy of mine in Los Angeles, Austin Hanks, is a Southern boy, and I met him when he was working as a bartender in a famous tequila joint called El Carmen Tequila Cantina.
“Austin and I wrote a song that had that beautiful chorus section in there, but here again, it wasn’t ship-shape; it was kind of just in demo form. Well, lo and behold, Dusty is good buddies with Mike Fossum, one of the NASA astronauts. Dusty called me up and said Mike was getting ready to go up, and he wanted a ZZ Top song because NASA had given him permission to take an iPod with him. I said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. Which one did he pick?’ And Dusty said, ‘He wants one of the new ones.’
“He asked me about the song that I had done with Austin, and I told him it wasn’t quite finished. Then I said, ‘Give me a minute.’ I called up Austin, and I said, ‘Let me have a chance to change some of the words. I’m going to call the song Flyin’ High. One of the astronauts is going up and he wants to take a ZZ song with him.’
“Austin thought it was a great idea, so I drove over, had some drinks of tequila with my good buddy, and there you have it. NASA did let Mike take the song up.
“I used Pearly Gates on the solo. There’s a fade-out on this version, but the one that was sent up into outer space was different. Remember the arrangement when NASA was working with the Russians? Well, on the version we sent into space, it collides abruptly with these two Russian cosmonauts talking. Somebody asked me, ‘What are they saying? I don’t speak Russian.’ I got a translator, and as it turned out, one of the cosmonauts was asking the other, ‘How in the hell do I get this helmet off?’”