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Author Topic: The Big ZZ Top thread  (Read 71084 times)

louder

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #15 on: February 14, 2005, 07:26:00 am »

hi
terry,thank you so much for your replay,i am realy glad.
as for the solo nationwide,i saw billy play it in a tv live show in germany,and it`s like this:he is playing 2 c notes a octave apart(fifth string, third string),so i am so sorry to tell, but no open strings here.
best regards
pedro
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compasspnt

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #16 on: February 14, 2005, 08:44:14 am »

Thanks, Pedro.

I hope somebody can figure out exactly how to play it!

Terry
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tenaciousJay

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #17 on: February 14, 2005, 12:05:22 pm »

Thanks again Terry.

Stupid to think that you would remember the one line but it's one of those moments that stick out to me every time I hear it. Same way with Heard It On The X when it breaks then it starts with a slide solo - gives me chills every time.

Thanks louder, I did think he was just slapping the strings with his left hand as an octave, when I try it I have to mute behind them with my right hand or it's a mess. Sounds like he can mute it just fine with his left hand - or maybe he's muting by the bridge.

Terry I wonder if you could comment on the guitar sound in Eliminator. What I always heard it was all Rockman - but was there an amp mixed in as well? And thoughts on the direction of that album as a whole - it certainly was a huge change in sound, even if there were hints of it on earlier albums.
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compasspnt

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #18 on: February 15, 2005, 10:20:05 am »

tenaciousJay wrote on Mon, 14 February 2005 12:05


Terry I wonder if you could comment on the guitar sound in Eliminator. What I always heard it was all Rockman - but was there an amp mixed in as well? And thoughts on the direction of that album as a whole - it certainly was a huge change in sound, even if there were hints of it on earlier albums.


The full story of the making of Eliminator (the politics, the chicannery, the technical aberrations, the high social drama, the exodus, the payback) is one that I cannot tell.  Even if I could, there certainly wouldn't be room for it here!  It probably won't even make it into "the book" (or the movie).  Just don't forget that truth is often stranger than fiction!

However, I will address certain specific musical or technical issues, and I'll begin with your guitar amp question.

THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO ROCKMAN USED ON THIS RECORDING!
Not a little bit, not a tiny bit; NOT ANY.  I don't know how these stories get started.  Billy may indeed have used Rockman at a later date, after I left the situation, but I did not allow it when I was working with him.  He did bring one in to try, but I was not satisfied with the sound, compared to an amplifier.

The amp used, almost exclusively, on Eliminator was a Legend.  This was about a 50 watt hybrid unit, employing a tube/valve preamp, and a transistor power amp.  This is the amp which has a finished wood case, and a rattan-type cane grill.  It has one 12" Celestion speaker.  Legend were later bought by, or at least distributed by, Gibson, but they were independent when we started using them.  I still have this amp; it is almost new.  A couple of years ago I plugged one of the Eliminator guitars into it, just to see...there was the sound!

The guitars were custom built by Dean.  Dean were out of Chicago, and were trying to break into the high end (a la Jackson, PRS) market.  They were very nice, albeit different, instruments.  Subsequently however, they got a contract with Sears to make guitars, so they opted for the big bucks, Korean manufactured, low end market instead.  But the ones we used were very nicely made.  There were two which we employed.  One was somewhat like a cross between a Flying-V and a Moderne shape, very long "ears," and the other was a sort of a warped, pointy Stratocaster-y shape.  Both guitars had a single DiMarzio Super Distortion high output pickup, and almost no controls.  I don't think there is even a tone control...what would you need one for?  They have big, heavy, brass bridge/tail pieces bolted into the body.  These guitars were very live, very resonant, and would verge on resonant feedback at all times; they were also very hard to keep in tune because of this.  But they were always alive.  Billy has the first one mentioned, and he gave me the latter, which I still have.

The guitar was recorded with basically only one setup; one amp (Legend), one speaker (12"), one guitar (Deans, the two were almost exactly the same), one mic (AKG 414B-ULS, I still have it) in one position (about 5" from the cone, placed at a slight angle off axis), one mic pre (the SpectraSonics console).  98% of ALL guitar on this album, whether lead or rhythm was done this way.  Any variations were from the player himself, who, remember, did not even have a tone control.  That's how good Billy was back then.  We did use very briefly a small amp by Ross, but we didn't like it much, and I think only a tiny part or two was kept from this, if any.

The rhythm guitars were done in a precursor-to-Protools style.  Short phrases were played, and then double tracked, onto one set of tracks, and then the chord change/next phrase was played on a second set of tracks.  This allowed a seamless transition between changes; since the Deans were so close to feedback at all times (acoustically, through the fairly loud JBL monitors), we couldn't even lift the fingers to change chords!  Then I would trim the edges of each section by punching in and out to silence at the beginnings and ends of the phrases (somewhat analogous to "trimming the region" today).  This method also "eliminated" to a degree the loud harmonic squeaks between chord changes. The punch in/out points, if done exactly perfectly, made for a primitive cross fade of probably 10-20 ms, and ended up sounding very different as rhythm guitar, sort of like a big train rolling down a track, almost out of control; without knowing how it was done, one wouldn't really realise why it was different.

For the leads, as always, there was a lot of punching done.

The bass was mostly played either by Billy or by me, and was either a bass instrument, or a Moog Source (the Source was a Mini Moog [rhymes with 'Vouge'] analogue synth with digitally controlled parameters...I still have this, too).  Synth chords were played on a Memory Moog (polyphonic Mini).

Billy sang great, different vocals, as usual, and the harmonies were done either by Jimmy Jamison or by me.

There are a MILLION more things which could be told about this distinctive album, but as mentioned, most of it is probably better left unsaid.  But one interesting thing, at least to me, was the recording of "Legs."  We had tried it a couple of ways unsuccessfully at Ardent, so I decided to try a new approach.  I had a 24 track studio in my attic at home, so I took Billy's lead guitar and vocal home on a 1/2" two track L/R ("samples").  I recut the entire track myself, and then hand flew in Billy's parts onto the track.  This meant careful timing of the play button on my MCI 1/2", for each and every phrase, as after a few seconds, they would drift out of sync.  I mixed it there through my Soundcraft 1200 console (these were also the mic pre's) onto the MCI 1/2".  The multitrack was also the Soundcraft 2" machine, which I really loved.  Then I did a totally different version, which became the long "dance mix" later released to clubs, and it is now included in the new box set.  Later, I saw a review of this dance version credited, to Jellybean Benitez ...go figure!

Anyway, that's a lot about Eliminator for now.  Thanks for your interest!

Terry
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strawberrius

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #19 on: February 15, 2005, 11:17:09 am »

terry -

are u saying you played the drums on LEGS? 1 @ a time O.D. style? or a kit?
that is insane - whenever i work with drummers, there is a fill that has become known as the "zz topper"  which is any snare fill that ends with the last 2 16th notes of a bar (all over LEGS).

if this is true, then u r the creator of the famous "zz topper" fill. and although this is not a revolutionary drum fill, it has been mentioned by name in just about every rock session i have done in the last 18 years.

kudos!!!!

-john fields
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Bill Mueller

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #20 on: February 17, 2005, 06:06:57 pm »

Wow Terry, this is a great thread. It's great learning some of your techniques that made those records what they were. Your real technique however is fearlesness.

Question. Did you ever record Billy's square black "Palm Tree" guitar? I don't remember who made it but it had a very different sound from Pearly, kind of dry and focused. I also remember that it was difficult to tune. I don't think I ever got it right. Billy would always retune it, even if I spent a half hour on it.

I will never forget ZZ Top's live shows. You would think they could not get any more intense and then they would do an encore and just shock you with the extra level of heat. Then they would do a second encore and kick it up two notches higher. Once in LA (Paladium I think), they did three encores and I thought I was going to faint from the intensity. My heart couldn't take it. Of course they were also the loudest damn band ever heard. Six of those Rio Grande stacks! Billy had two full stacks on his side and one of his stacks on Dusty's side and visa versa.

Thanks again.

Bill
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Radd 47

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #21 on: February 17, 2005, 08:45:44 pm »

I saw them a while back when BG had the Orange amps. Then I noticed a tiny Alamo off to the side with a mic on it. Clapton used to do the same thing.

I remember a story about Billy getting hit on the hand by a flying beer bottle one night. They walked off the stage and didn't come back. The crowd was pissed, so they grabbed the guy who threw the bottle and passed him to the front, where he was hauled off backstage by the roadies to recieve what punishment I do not know of but can imagine.

I wish I knew how he get's that intermittant speaker break up sound on Dusty's "Loaded" and a few other tracks. Sounds like a loose wire or something.

Hey Terry, what the heck is Billy saying at the end of Sharped Dressed man? Added by you I presume from one of those other tracks?

Thanks Terry! Cool posts!

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compasspnt

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #22 on: February 20, 2005, 03:20:15 pm »

Radd 47 wrote on Thu, 17 February 2005 20:45



Hey Terry, what the heck is Billy saying at the end of Sharped Dressed man? Added by you I presume from one of those other tracks?



As I recall, he's saying (just as the final solo begins),

"You can't lose with the dress I use....now dress 'em up real fine!"

TM
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Brian Kehew

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #23 on: February 25, 2005, 05:41:40 am »

Thanks for the info Terry. I'm a longtime engineer and I think your ZZ albums (particularly "Fandango") are THE 'hi-fi' rock recordings. (I MUCH prefer them to the celebrated Steely Dan stuff!) But only if you get to hear them right... which is tough!

Unless one owns the old "Greatest Hits" CD (with the cowboys on the cover - find it!!!!) ALL of the issued ZZ CDs are terrible. So far - there are only rumors of the original mixes on CD... I have never found them, aside from the cowboys CD - buy it!!! (or The Box Set - later down...)

I talked to Billy about this once - when the "SixPack" came out - all the old albums were remixed with chorus, delays, triggered drums, etc. Billy says "It was to please the modern fans of the new ZZ sound. Myself, I prefer the originals." Me, too. AsS he knew I cared SO much, Billy once sent me a whole box of all the ZZ Cds in hopes that some might be the original issue - no luck (BTW - a kind and wonderful guy, I must say! He even gave me some lessons on playing ZZ hits on gtr; including "We never do things the HARD way...")

The Box Set - not good. It is probably the worst mastering job I've ever heard on such a release. I work in reissues for Warners for a living, and (true to ZZ fashion), this was done by the band's people. But, on the box, each track sounds SO different from the next, and some are downright dull, others really brittle. It certainly does not respect the original tapes - which you can hear on the "cowboy" hits CD - find it, everyone!!! It is sonically stunning (and I think it was even taken from safety tapes!)
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Brian Kehew

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #24 on: February 25, 2005, 05:47:59 am »

I forgot to mention "Blue Jean Blues" - wow!

What a pure and beautiful sound. I use this track (ONLY from the old "cowboys" hits CD!) to show people what one can do with mics and a studio. You can even hear the subtle amp buzzes and room ambience around the drums. Very tricky to record such empty music, really, compared to the loud, full stuff!
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compasspnt

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #25 on: February 25, 2005, 07:34:25 am »

Thank you so much Brian.  It's nice to know a few people out there care.

I cannot even begin to say how depressing it is to me that the original sounds have almost never been related properly to CD.  To have worked so hard, and cared so much, and then for other people who have absolutely no idea about the intricacies of sound or production to carelessly ruin it all, or worse, to have intentionally injected a vision of their own which is crass and ridiculous, is the height of sonic absurdity.

And yes, the new box set at least is taken in part from the original mixes; but as you say, the mastering is unbelievable.

Rant over; sorry for that!

Terry
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sqkychair

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #26 on: February 25, 2005, 02:59:15 pm »

Oh wow,
I just found this thread.

ZZ Top had an immeasurable impact on my guitar playing. First found them during the Fandango era. Still one of my favorites.
Deguello is right up there as well. Love Billy's playing.
Frank's Top 40 ranch is just down the street from me.

Terry, thanks so much for giving us all this great info around here.

Quote:


That one seems to get overlooked as a classic ZZ LP but it's always been one of my favorites. Bad, Nationwide kills me every time I hear it. Do you recall how Billy played that first solo? There's a part right after the intro of the solo where it sounds like he's quickly tapping 2 notes octave apart with his left hand but I could never get it to sound right.



tenaciousj,
I used to play this tune long ago. I remember struggling with it for a little while, but finally got pretty close by forming the octaves at the 3rd and 5th fret, A and G string.
I palmed the pick and used my thumb and middle finger. My palm was close to muting but not quite, just a little damping to hold down stray high end stuff. Rapidly pick with the thumb (low note) and third finger (high note) and you should get it.

Speaking of great fade outs, I love the fadeout on Nasty dogs, funky kings. First the groove could just go another minute or so as far as I am concerned. Laughing Then, everything SEEMS to fade up into some great mono place in the sky.
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Radd 47

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #27 on: February 25, 2005, 04:36:04 pm »

I love the fade on Pincushion also. Off the Antenna album, don't know who engineered that. Cherry Red is also a good outro.
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Brian Kehew

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #28 on: February 28, 2005, 01:53:39 pm »

>>I cannot even begin to say how depressing it is to me that the original sounds have almost never been related properly to CD. <<

... When even "The Archies" probably have good-sounding issues on CD! (But then again, the Beatles don't!)

There IS a parallel between the Beatles and ZZ on this: the managment itself - they "do their own thing" which worked well for them over the years. Bill Ham was a genius, as ZZTop OWN their own masters since 1970 (which was rarer than a horny Racquel Welch then)... and Apple does what they want, when they want. Each side has a little too much control in this case.

But in a few situations, the stock methods are pretty good - especially WBros "Rhino" wing that ONLY does reissues (I work mixing for them). Unfortunately, they didn't let Rhino do the work on this, and the mastering is among the WORST I have ever heard - everyone notices it. How and why in this day and age can it be so porrly done? (I'm not talking about limiting too much, for a change, but bright and dark eq randomly across the music, argh...)
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Bob Olhsson

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Re: The Big ZZ Top thread
« Reply #29 on: February 28, 2005, 05:04:30 pm »

Brian Kehew wrote on Mon, 28 February 2005 12:53

...Bill Ham was a genius, as ZZTop OWN their own masters since 1970 (which was rarer than a horny Racquel Welch then)...
Not nearly as rare as people seem to assume!
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