How ZZ Top Came Full Circle With ‘Recycler’
Instead, Billy Gibbons and company arrived at the studio a couple of days ahead of their equipment, so they ended up borrowing some gear and participating in a series of loose jams. Along the way, ZZ Top found a pathway back to their long-ignored roots.
"We started playing the blues," Gibbons told the Associated Press in 1991. "Two days later, we had scrapped everything we had done up to that point and started writing all new material to do in a more traditional blues style. In just 48 hours we had dramatically changed the direction just because it was so natural for us."
ZZ Top's 10th album, released on Oct. 16, 1990, kept their platinum streak alive, while spinning off a trio of No. 1 hits on the Billboard Album Rock chart, including "Doubleback," "Concrete and Steel" and "My Head's in Mississippi." Only "Doubleback," which was recorded earlier for use in Back to the Future, Part III, made use of sleek, now-familiar processed sounds. Elsewhere, deep cuts like "Decision or Collision" rattle along like a classic music car that’s a can or two short of oil.
They'd "started jamming the same three chords we always use," Gibbons told the Los Angeles Times. "It felt so good, it redirected our angle."
Listen to ZZ Top Perform 'Decision of Collision'
ZZ Top's immediate surroundings – a studio in the Beale Street blues district of Memphis, Tenn. – added another dimension. "At any given hour, you could walk out and get an earful of the cotton fields," Gibbons said. "The street singers are always there, so it's like constant input."
This back-to-basics approach dovetailed with the band's efforts in promoting a then-fledgling Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss., about an hour and a half south of Memphis. ZZ Top first visited the exhibit space, then located inside a local government building, some three years before. By the time Recycler arrived, they were actively helping the museum's curator gather material – and doing stand-alone publicity, as well.
"It's just a very special little place that not many people know about because no one really has a reason to go to Clarksdale," Dusty Hill said in '91. "It's in the back of a library and it has all kinds of pictures, records and history of the people who made it all happen."
They'd come full circle. ZZ Top would continue down this rootsier path, ultimately abandoning the high-tech feel of their '80s era completely. And it's a good thing, Gibbons argues. "What we did with Recycler just felt better," he told the AP back then. "If we had stayed on the synthesizer journey, we might have ended up as a rap band or something."