ZZ Top hitches ride with Rick Rubin for comeback
By Jonathan Cohen
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Texas rock trio ZZ Top has signed to producer Rick Rubin's American Recordings imprint, hoping for a commercial and critical revitalization along the lines of prior Rubin clients Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond.
The veteran rockers and the similarly hirsute Rubin plan to make an album more in keeping with the blues boogie of such tunes as 1973's "La Grange" than their pop-friendly '80s sound, according to manager Carl Stubner.
The band recorded for London and Warner Bros. for the first 20 years of its career before being wooed to RCA in the mid-1990s with a five-album contract reportedly worth $30 million.
ZZ Top's most recent album, "Mescalero," spent just three weeks on the Billboard 200 in 2003, and sold 103,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Its stint at RCA, beginning with 1994's "Antenna," failed to match its run at Warner Bros., where it recorded the biggest hit of its career, 1983's "Eliminator."
Singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons, singer/bass player Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard announced two years ago that they had ended their RCA tenure and also parted ways with manager Bill Ham, who helped form the band in 1969.
Stubner, who began managing ZZ Top a year-and-a-half ago, has worked to increase ZZ Top's visibility via an increased focus on licensing and TV appearances, including the finale of "American Idol" this spring.
"We thought this was a great brand that was kind of dusty," he says. "My goal was to polish it and do certain things they hadn't done before."
To that end, Eagle Rock earlier this month released the first ZZ Top live DVD, "Live From Texas 2007," which debuted this week at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Music Video chart.
The band begins a European tour Friday in Oporto, Portugal, which will be followed by 18 co-headlining North American dates with Brooks & Dunn. In the fall, "our plan is to go do smaller theaters, like 3,000-seaters for a low-dough ticket price. Then we'll go finish the record," Stubner said.
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