Gary James' Interview With D.W. D'Wood OF The
ZZ Top Concert Re-Creation
Based out of Kansas City, Eliminator KC isn't a tribute band. They are a concert re-creation. They pay particular attention to the beards, the trademark ZZ Top attire, the musical equipment, the accurate replication of the music and the persona of each of the members of ZZ Top. D.W. D'Wood, who portrays Billy Gibbons, spoke to us about Eliminator KC.
Q - What separates Eliminator KC from the rest of the bands out there paying tribute to ZZ Top?
A - Well, there's a niche for everything in this world and we just happen to be at the top of the niche that we do.
Q - That's what I like to hear, confidence!
A - We just do this trick and we do it closer than anybody in the world actually. You can search all you want. You're not going to find anything closer to ZZ Top. We've been doing it for fifteen years. We're humble guys. We've got to prove it every night! (laughs)
Q - You're based out of Kansas City, Missouri?
A - That is correct.
Q - How are you moving all of your equipment around? Truck? Do you have a back line waiting for you at the gigs?
A - Actually, what we do is, we will get an anchor show, one of the bigger shows that are higher paying shows along the way. If those support shows aren't available and it's over a thousand miles, we'll usually fly and do the show with back line equipment. It's basically casinos that are interested in us, say on the West Coast. We've been down as far as El Paso, that'll fly us in. Usually the festivals and other events and concerts we do around the country, we usually drive in. We're old road warriors and we've been doing this for fifteen years, so we're no strangers to hitting the road and living on the road for awhile. But we calmed down. We got smarter. We travel less for more money. (laughs) We have a good time doing it around the country. Actually, we just had a little band meeting and we really have high expectations for this thing to take off in say the next five to ten years. It's kind of a timeless trick that we do. The library that ZZ Top offers American music or world music for that matter is going to be timeless. Don't get confused man, I'm not saying ZZ Top is The Beatles, but I will say that ZZ will have a place in American music history as being one of the first crossover bands that took Blues music and made it commercially successful in America. They survived a lot and they're still out there doing it. I love all sorts of music. I'm a Blues guitarist who happens to love going out and replicating those bluesy licks and the growl and the bluesy voice and lucky to be able to do it.
Q - What were you doing before Eliminator KC?
A - What we were before the ZZ Top thing was we were in the tribute business. We played some Jimmie Van Zandt out of Jacksonville, Florida. Bob, the bass player and Chris, the drummer, were the rhythm section for the Jimmie Van Zandt band in '98 or '99. That's where I met these cats, but we've been at it fifteen years altogether in the tribute business. This is our twelfth year doing that amazing ZZ Top.
Q - When you say you see the group getting bigger, do you mean playing arenas like ZZ Top?
A - No. We've opened up for several big name bands on huge stages. We've opened for Ted Nugent, 38 Special, Molly Hatchet, Pat Travers and so on. But this is what I say to all that. We're not really a tribute band. We try to separate ourselves from tribute bands in what we do. We are a concert re-creation. We're not guys that do anything half-way. We're a concert re-creation. In other words, we're playing the same instruments. We have the same microphone stands as they have. We have the same speaker cabinets they have stacked up the same way. We have the 35 foot by 15 foot desert backdrop that they used back in the '70s and '80s during the world tours. We're authentic. Our job, when we decided to get into this business, was to put together a concert re-creation better than just a bar tribute band. He haven't played bars for years. I'm not putting down bars, but we're more of a concert setting. You want to see ZZ Top and you don't have $120.000, well, call us for seven grand and we'll be glad to show up. That's our philosophy.
Q - Is that what you get, seven grand a night?
A - We've made that and we've made $400 a night in the last fifteen years we've been doing this. We've had some great hits and we've had some stuff we've payed our dues on, but it all levels out. We're all able to make a living at it. When you're a kid and you pick up a guitar at 12 years old and say, "I want to play the guitar for a living," that's finally come through for us.
Q - How many people do you take on the road with you?
A - We have a support group of three people. We have a driver, we have a guitar tech and we have what we call our production manager that gets together with the front of the house people that are hired for the event. We rarely deal with bringing our own P.A. in. All that's available at the venue for the festival or whatever we're playing. We just have people that handle our stage.
Q - Did you ever have the dream of creating your own music?
A - Absolutely. I've been there. We've all been there, but people stopped buying that genre of music. I started off in the mid '70s from Kansas City playing in a band regionally, four or five states. I was 17, 18 years old, barely old enough to go in the bars and play, and we busted ass for five years. We turned into a band called Missouri. We crafted it after the band Kansas. We had great success. We sold about a half a million records. I played guitar in the band and the lead singer turned into an alcoholic and died. The Disco era didn't help. Writing songs in 1978, 1979, 1980? No. It wasn't happening. It was all Disco. Thankfully in the '80s there was some cool music. As life goes on, I struggled to make it in the music business from the time I was 16 'til about the time I was 25 and I realized I needed to get a career. So, I got a career and it was out of the music business. Always loved music. Played a lot of different instruments and continued to play in local bands. Around 1995 or 1996, I saw Pete Townshend play in Dallas. I drove down to see him and said, you know what? That's what I am. I'm a musician. I said to myself, I'm going to get back in the music business. That was fifteen years ago. I'm a very good guitar player. Now, I'm kind of a story teller.
Q - Have you ever met "Wild" Bill Gibbons?
A - Well, Willy, Brother G and I met several times, on three different occasions and he loves what we're doing. I first met him at a concert in Kansas City. We have a real close DJ who said, "I might get you to meet Billy." We took pictures. This was about four, five years ago. Nothing like what we do now. Yeah, he was laughing. He said, "You're gonna beat me out of a job." I gotta tell you, probably the biggest thrill that we've, ever got was we had the opportunity to fly down to El Paso on Valentine's Day this year (2014) and we fly down to this casino and it's to open for B.B. King. When I got the news that was happening, that we were able to put that show together; he knows Billy Gibbons. They're good friends. We got down there and we play. We had a great set. These people just sucked it up like a chocolate malt. This crowd is going wild. We put on the fuzzy guitars. We went backstage to put on the fuzzy guitars and we walked by his room and he had the door open and he was in his wheelchair and he looked at me and said, "Billy would be proud of you. You're a good one." (laughs) To me, that kind of reminded me of sitting down in a basement, 14 years old in 1970, dreaming about being a guitar player and having one of your heroes say, "You're a good one."
Q - Do you know what Billy Gibbos thinks of ZZ Top tribute groups?
A - To me, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. That's what my impression is. Any musician that plays in a Classic Rock band is just doing the same thing, but they're copying twenty to thirty artists a night. All I do is copy one and I look like him. So, I look at myself as more of an impersonator than maybe more than a musician. People are there to see what we do. Those licks that Billy Gibbons does are timeless. The level of difficulty is people say they're easy songs. Maybe they are. You know what makes America great. Simplicity. Do the simple things and do it the best you can.