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Billy Gibbons on the “Zee Zee Top” Prom Photo

Billy Gibbons tells Andy Langer that he would date an early photo of the band that went viral this week to May 1970. 

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Three days ago, a Reddit user uploaded a photo of “Zee Zee Top” playing a prom in Texas. The Huffington Post picked up the image (above), and it quickly went viral. According to HuffPo, “The photo matches up with an account of a 1971 appearance at the Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School prom.” 

Then, seeming to corroborate the year, a commentor on the Reddit thread wrote

This is from my dad’s senior prom in May 1971! This was taken at Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School in Orange, Texas.

Apparently some time between signing the contract to play for the dance and the actual prom itself, the band broke out big. They tried to get out of the contract, but the school couldn’t find a replacement on such short notice so ZZ Top still performed. My dad said that people were climbing through the windows, crashing their prom, just to hear the band play. This was all at a really small school with a graduating class of around 100, maybe less. I’ll try to get him to scan his yearbook that has this exact picture in it.Sorry to hijack the top comment.

I called Gibbons, who was traveling on a bus from Nashville to North Carolina, to ask him for more details about the photo in question: 

Obviously, you’ve seen the image.
Yeah. It’s funny how that photo has gone viral. There’s not a day that goes by where somebody doesn’t say, ‘Hey I saw this funny picture of you guys. When was that?’ It has to be 1970.

That makes sense, because in the Huffington Post item about the photo it says, “The Reddit thread on which the image originally appeared identified the photo as being taken in 1969, but Hill didn’t join the band until 1970.”
We started in December of 1969. Frank and I joined forces for three or four nights in January, playing gigs as just the two of us, drums and guitar. Frank said he knew a guy that was pretty tough bass player. As it turns out, of course he knew Dusty Hill–they’d played together in the Dallas band American Blues. When Dusty made the scene he fit like a glove because he and Frank had already ironed out a rock-solid rhythm section arrangement.

Does anything in the photo help date it?
Frank and I are sitting on a PA system amplifier head made by Kustom—a rolled and pleated job. Kustom amps featured a puffy padding, a sofa upholstery-type thing. They were probably the worst sounding piece of gear you could get, but very affordable. I think they were only offered in 1970, so that helps date the photo.

The prevailing theory is that it was Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School in Orange, Texas. Does that sound right?
That makes sense. That is probably correct.

The other theory is that it’s May 1971. But that’s too late, right?
I’d say May 1970 is correct. Dusty is there, but it’s not long after he joined up.  And proms are in May, so I’d venture May 1970 is the right date.

Even if it’s early in the band’s life, given American Blues and your Moving Sidewalks, it seems like you’d already be past playing prom gigs. Because of your other bands, how quickly was there a ZZ Top audience?
Frank and Dusty enjoyed their own set of followers because of American Blues—you know the ol’ legends, they dyed their hair blue and got charged extra by hotels because the dye would rub off on the pillows. And I had the Sidewalks audience. Collectively, we could draw a little based on what we’d set up before ZZ Top,

Was there ever a time it was spelled Zee Zee Top?
People always want to know when we stopped being The ZZ Tops plural. But we’ve never been uncertain about the fact that its ZZ, no period, all upper case. And never an “ee”. That’s a yearbook club error.

Is this the only prom ZZ Top ever played?
I’m certain of that.

Bar Mitzvahs?
[Laughs] We may have done one of those.

Ha. Yeah. We’ve been a band of all occasions.

It is just how young and how non-hirsute y’all are that makes this photo special? 
I suppose it’s what you’d call the real ZZ Top? I guess it’s the real early ZZ Top, for sure. You can see the intensity behind the facial features. Dusty is the entertainer here. There’s something telling about that image. There’s a young ambitious spirit on display.

And now you’d ask that people stop emailing it to you?
Yeah. I’ve seen it. [Laughs.] I definitely have.

ZZ Top released “Consumption” a track from their new four-song digital collection, Texicali, which was produced by Rick Rubin. Listen to it here:

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  • asdfasdf

    I liek teh zee zee tops

  • They came CLOSE to playing another prom. I’d seen them play, and I lobbied the prom kids to get them to play our prom. They were gonna be BIG, I could tell.The deciding factor was they didn’t play much danceable music and it WAS, after all, a prom. We ended up getting The 1900 Storm, Bobby Bailey’s band, to play the prom. I’m not sure if any of the prom committe are even alive anymore, or they’d back the story.

    I don’t know how deeply involved Billy was in the negotiations, but we could have had them play the Mary Carroll High School prom in Corpus Christi for $500, less if we could book them another local gig. It would have saved them fuel money & windshield time, so it would work out.

    Billy G. may remember talking to me about it, and if he doesn’t, I’m sure Bill Ham does. Both those guys have razor sharp minds. Billy Gibbons probably remembers every gig he ever played, where, when, with whom, and for what money.

    We ran into each other a few years ago, probablly about 2006. I said something about the Mississippi Valley Fair being a long way from the Stardust Ballroom, and he remembered the promoter, the opening acts, and some of the guys in the bands that opened for them. That’s thirty five years, folks. He doesn’t miss much.

  • TY for the article, interviewing Billy, I know legitimacy of that photo was web question.Cool fact to know it’s a true photo. //cc Houston, TX.

  • Phil Pennington

    I was there, it was 1971.

  • Phil Pennington

    I was a senior in the Little Cypress High School graduating class of 1971. Jackie Hammeric was in charge of getting a band for the prom. Her boyfriend Kieth knew top and got them to agree to play our prom. It was held at the Jack Tar hotel ball room in Orange Texas. Top had already released their first album but hadn’t gone on tour as far as I know. To be honest, I had never heard of them. They played hard rock all night with amps cranked wide open, not dance music at all. All seating was assigned. There was no one climbing in through the windows. Jackie said they wanted to back out because they were going on tour, but since we couldn’t get another band on such short notice they went ahead and played as a personal favor. Seniors 1971 ROCK!