Friday, June 26, 2009

498. Tres Hombres- White boy blues played by garden gnomes.

Album: Tres Hombres
Artist: ZZ top
Year: 1973
Genre: Southern rock/bearded boogie/whiteboy blues

1. Waitin' for the Bus
2. Jesus Just Left Chicago
3. Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers
4. Master of Sparks
5. Hot, Blue and Righteous
6. Move Me on down the Line
7. Precious and Grace
8. La Grange
9. Shiek
10. Have You Heard?

Here’s a thesis question for all the student’s out there looking for an entry point into academia: just how important is facial hair? Apparently the CIA poured thousands of dollars into plots to cause Fidel Castro’s beard to fall out under the belief that one glimpse of his hairless jowls would cause the population of Cuba to denounce communism: (“I used to be happy living in a Marxist state but now I’ve seen that chin dimple I’m having second thoughts.”) Whole paragraphs in your thesis could be dedicated to the career of ZZ Top whose image is just as famous as their musical output. Would they have cracked the mainstream if there was no image to back them up? If they lost the sunglasses and the scrotum-covering facial hair would anyone care?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that the enormous, orange growths hide a lack of talent. The rhythm section is tight and Billy Gibbons plays a mean guitar. But then so did lots of other bands playing the bar scenes around Texas. Listening to Tres Hombres I can’t shake the feeling that the band just doesn’t have enough new ideas to justify a record contract. Most of the songs are standard boogie tracks with nothing to make them stick in your head after they’ve finished. The lyrical weirdness (“I met a shiek from Mozambique/Who led me to the congo/He dreamed to go to mexico/And sample a burrito”) will stay with you much longer than the tunes. The only two songs that really leave any sort of impression are very thinly veiled blues rip-offs.

Tres Hombres’ (and ZZ Top’s) biggest hit is La Grange, which owes a bigger debt to John Lee Hooker than the third world owes to the IMF. La Grange’s signature riff is Hooker’s Boogie Chillun and is as much a blues standard as cheap alcohol and unfaithful women. The other big hit is Jesus Just Left Chicago which you will immediately recognise as sounding like almost every other blues song you’ve ever heard, the only difference being that instead of a cheating woman the lyrics are about a roadtrip taken by a leading religious figure, which I’ll admit is a novel twist. (Frankly I wish they’d mined the novelty of this lyrical direction for the entire album. A concept album about religious figures going for wanders strikes me as a genius concept: “Bhudda left Brazil” “Vishnu Vacated Venuzeula” “Zeus struck out from Alabama before returning because he’d forgotten his mobile phone”)

I wish I had nicer things to say about Tres Hombres but to be frank I was just really disappointed. I looked at the track listing and was encouraged by the two songs I recognized but let down by the rest of it. I confess I’m really confused as to why it’s on this list. Have you ever heard of a band citing them as an influence? Does anyone know any ZZ top fans? Anyone out there own any albums? expect this one to get dropped when the inevitable list revision arrives in a few years time.

Highlight: They may not be the most original moments in rock and roll but La Grange and Jesus Left Chicago are dynamite tracks.
Lowlight: Possibly this lyric from Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers: “Soundin a lot like a house congressional/cause we’re experimental and professional” what the hell does that mean?
Influenced by: Albert King and John Lee Hooker.
Influenced: A whole generation of American college kids to drink lots.
Best amazon customer quote: “Moreover, the band's advocacies of sanctions against countries that convict foreign visitors for trumped-up crimes, capital punishment/life without parole for aggravated kidnapping, and increased funding for law enforcement make it especially gratifying that their best album is now available on CD as it was originally meant to be heard.”

So are the boys with the beards the ZZ Top of your 500 list or is Tres Hombre a bit ho-humbre? Let me know below.


  1. I went to their concert once and it was ok (but I also saw Abba too so there goes my cred)

  2. The credibility ledger is probably just about equal. You can excuse Abba by citing your age and balance it out with your Los Lobos ticket stub. So unless there are any other skeletons in your concert closet (Queen for example) you probably break equal.