ZZ Top's 1983 album Eliminator introduced the Texas blues-rock trio to an entirely new generation of fans, but it also caused a rather inadvertent problem. "After that album, you had to divide the fans up between ones we had before it came out and after it came out," frontman Billy Gibbons tells Rolling Stone. "That's when the trouble began."
Hoping to capitalize off the success of the disc, the group remixed their earlier albums. "We made them big and floating and all the other adjectives that could be tagged to Eliminator," says Gibbons. "It's like when they added pedal steel guitar, honky tonk piano and a bunch of reverb to Hank Williams Sr. records. Just leave it alone."
The band's new, 10-disc boxed set brings the group's first 10 records back to their original mixes. "It's back to square one," says Gibbons. "Granted, the early recordings are quaint. But this isn't an attempt to walk down nostalgia lane. The albums are what they are, and so be it. 1983 didn't exist in 1970. . . Our main aim was to insist, with no questions asked, that the original mixes and masters would be untampered. Even the iTunes downloads will reflect exactly what was laid down at the time."
Now you can stream the band's 1976 LP Tejas exclusively; it was their first album after they broke into the Top 20 the previous year with "Tush." "That song changed things dramatically for us," says Gibbons. "Here we are, a bunch of teenage guys that just wanted what all rock & roll bands want: free beer and maybe a chance to get laid. All of a sudden, there was this reality that we were on the charts. It made us realize we could keep doing this for awhile."
The success of "Tush" kept them on the road for a long time, and they brought that energy into the studio when they began Tejas. "We really had to learn what it was to be in the rather antiseptic environment of the studio rather than the stage," says Gibbons. "They are two totally different animals. Tejas was one of those lucky moments where we kept our sensibilities amongst us. We said, 'Hey, we'll just close our eyes and lay it down like we're out doing what we like to do on the road.'"
Four decades later, ZZ Top are still touring at a pace that would leave groups half their age exhausted. They have 60 more dates on the books for the back half of 2013, and more are being added. "It's reckless," says Gibbons. "But I think that rock & roll is founded on just that, recklessness and rebelliousness. I still think I'm 18."