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ZZ Top at Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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That little ol' band from Texas is all grown up now if not necessarily mature.

ZZ Top turns 50 this year, marking the longest run of any rock group with its original lineup guitar Billy F. Gibbons, bassist Joe "Dusty" Hill and drummer Frank Beard intact. Over that time it's released 15 studio albums, selling more than 50 million copies worldwide, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during 2014. And let's not forgot those long beards, crazy hats, fuzzy guitars, vintage automobiles and crazy fun videos that have come alongside.

The trio is celebrating its golden anniversary this year with a documentary, "ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas," as well as a new compilation "Goin' 50." And, of course, you hardly have to twist its arm to get the band on road.

Gibbons, 69, says by phone that the secret to ZZ Top's longevity is simplicity. "We've got this inside joke don't learn the fourth chord," he says with a laugh. "Three chords pretty much says it all. There's really no end to make three chords make sense, but the challenge is to put them together. That's what we're still trying to do."

Gibbons adds that a tight relationship between the three members also has sustained the group, even during a late '70s hiatus when Beard was dealing with addiction issues. "The magic was to find three guys who were born in the same year and all listened to the same thing that was coming over the radio. Early on that connection allows us to brand a version of what brought us together musically. At the end of the day we still speak the same language, and that's the same energy that keeps us looking forward. There's really no end."

The guitarist is quick to point out that he considers ZZ Top a rock band, even though it's also been dubbed a blues group over the years. "We're not the originators. We're lucky to be interpreters of this great American art form. But interpreting allows us to move forward. The blues has a spiritual nature, and if you reach down into the depths of the soul, you come up with this thing called feeling. And if you pursue that, you may just get it."

Gibbons says the documentary gave the trio "an opportunity to reflect on where we came from. It's been nonstop, super-speed. We've never had the opportunity to slow down and think about it until now. Every story has got a good ending, but I told the (filmmakers), 'You guys have got a challenge. There is no ending.' But there's definitely a story there."

ZZ Top did some recording in Los Angeles recently, which Gibbons hopes may lead to the group's first new album since "La Futura" in 2012. "We're gonna try to replay "Blue Jean Blues" and "Brown Sugar," like we did in the movie, in a similar manner and use those as probably a starting point to pick up where we think we want to go. We don't know where we're gonna go, but I think those are good. Let's use that bluesy direction to draw us into the future."

ZZ Top and Cheap Trick perform at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, in the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Pkwy., Sterling Heights. Tickets are $35 and up; 313-471-7000 or 313Presents.com.

Web Site: www.313Presents.com

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