Far from a perfect album, this effort does two things: it provides a showcase for Billy Gibbons’ mastery of the electric guitar and the commercial potential the band would realize exactly a decade later.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I heard a lot of ZZ Top, and I always thought there were two guitars, if not more. I mean, there just had to be more than one guy laying down those tasty licks and gnarly solos. The fact that this is all Billy Gibbons is a testament to how truly astounding his songwriting and playing is. Each of these songs is a ZZT original, and songwriting credits go to Billy and also his bandmates Dusty Hill (bass, co-vocals on “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”) and Frank Beard (drums) on a few of the songs.
Tres Hombres is the band’s third outing and was their (first) commercial breakthrough. Although even bigger fame awaited them a decade later, this album (and specifically the hit single “La Grange”) turned them into a household name. Peaking at #8 on the Billboard charts, this record is certified gold in the U.S. and Canada (500,000+ sales).
Leadoff track “Waitin’ for the Bus” has what is a theme for this record: a killer guitar riff. This is the only song that features harmonica work, and I dig it. This is a tale of a man who just got off work and simply wants to get home- Billy sings “have mercy, been waitin’ for the bus all day; got my brown paper bag and my take-home pay”. The end of this song segues directly into “Jesus Just Left Chicago”, a production technique that was rare in those days.
“Beer Drinkers, Hell Raisers” is one of their live show standards, and this party anthem is the only track here featuring Dusty Hill singing with Billy. Some of ZZT’s best guitar soloing is found on this gem. Slow, steady, and soulful “Hot, Blue, and Righteous” is up next. This one is as naked as the Top get; no guitar heroics, no up-tempo attack, just a nice groove and some vulnerable and thoughtful lyrics. Things pick back up with “Move Me on Down the Line”, a short and sweet burst of what we now call Southern Rock that is reminiscent of Allman Brothers recordings.
“Precious and Grace” is another simple but funky guitar track that lacks theatrics but still packs a punch and leads into the classic “La Grange” perfectly. From the opening notes of “La Grange” it is immediately recognizable as ZZ Top. Yes, the Geico commercial may be the first image that pops into your head hearing this now, but this song is the one that opened the doors of stardom for these tres hombres forty-five years ago. Lost behind that all-time great riff and the laid-back (aloof?) vocal delivery telling us about that shack outside of town where they “got a lot of nice girls, have mercy” is some magnificent drumming that really keeps the song chugging along. A haw, haw, haw, haw, indeed.
Worthy Tracks: “Waitin’ for the Bus”, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”, “Hot, Blue, and Righteous”, “Move Me on Down the Line”, “Precious and Grace”, “La Grange”
Final Verdict: The second best album from one of the great guitar rock bands of the late 20th century is definitely deserving (spoiler alert: Eliminator is also featured on this list).
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/0Em8m9kRctyH9S3MTXAHvY?si=7lNu4FEsSMWoSbo3sorErg