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© Samantha Shrader ./Retna Ltd./Corbis
“A complex tale of musical alchemy. Call it the ghetto of the ‘50s meets the ghetto of the ‘90s, this incongruous coupling of ZZ Top and genesis of 25 Lighters.
“25 Lighters was a hip-hop chart topper 15 years ago, and it just so happened to be one of the tracks that our engineer, Mr. Gary Moon, was around for when he served as chief engineer at John Moranz Digital Services. That house specialized in rap and hip-hop clients.
“While our studio was being worked on, we took refuge in that house, and it was there that ZZ Top got friendly with a bunch of the hip-hop and rap guys. We were comparing notes and exchanging ideas; they were showing us beats and I was showing them guitar stuff. A great time was had.
“The name 25 Lighters comes from Houston ghetto slang for taking Bic Lighters apart, removing the innards and stuffing them with crack. You’d pass a dealer on the street and say, ‘Hey man, you got a lighter?’ The police would look the other way, ‘cause all you had was a lighter.
“We had some mainstays in the studio. There was a hobnailed Marshall hybrid, an old Marshall meets a later version cabinet. We had that, with own distinctive sound, and then we had a Magnatone. A friend of ours has picked up the banner and is re-introducing the brand, so we had a prototype. This thing is sizzling! It’s just wicked. The third secret weapon was from England, and that was a Blackstar. It’s a really good-sounding piece.
“For guitars, Pearly Gates is never too far from my hands. But there was a ’61 Les Paul in the SG shape. They call it a ‘transition model.’ George Gruhn had sold it to me when I was in Nashville. It’s an old guitar but in nearly mint condition, and let me tell you, it plays like butter.
“What we discovered is that when an artist covers a song, it’s called a ‘cover version.’ When an artist begins to modify and change it, after a certain percentage, it’s a ‘derivative work,’ and that requires the new version to be reviewed by the originators. If the originators like it, they can wave holy water over it and you’re good; if they don’t, you’re stuck.
“The two original performers, Lil’ Keke and Fat Pat, had passed away, and it was the last day to decide if we could do it that we tracked down the executor of the estates. We played him the track over the phone. ‘I don’t know if I can understand this,’ he said. ‘I’m going to put the phone to my little girl. She’s 14.’ When she heard it, she said, ‘Daddy, they’re playing your song!’ So the executor got back on and said, ‘Looks like you’ve got a winner.’”