Gary James' Interview With Tim Steinruck Of The
ZZ Top Triubute
These guys just love ZZ Top. They sport the authentic long beards, they have custom built guitars and a ninety minute show that features the entire ZZ Top hit catalogue from the 1970s to the present. We spoke with Leg ZZ member Tim Steinruck about the band.
Q - Tim, how popular is ZZ Top in Canada?
A - Oh, I'd say they're extremely popular. ZZ Top comes through every time they tour.
Q - How many times have you seen ZZ top in concert?
A - I would say four times.
Q - When was the very first time?
A - The very first time would have been in the late '80s.
Q - I got you beat!
A - I'm sure you do.
Q - I first saw ZZ Top in concert in 1972.
A - Wow! In the beginning!
Q - They didn't have the beards!
A - No. That's right.
Q - The jeans and the cowboy hats.
A - Wow! ZZ Top was one of the first bands I ever heard actually.
Q - So, you're Dusty Hill in the band.
A - I am.
Q - Have you ever met Dusty Hill?
A - No, I have not. I've had a beer with Billy Gibbons. I think it was four years ago (2010) at South By Southwest, which is in Austin, Texas. It's a music conference. I was heading there for a meeting with some record company people. I was playing with my original project down there. I was walking past the lounge and it was about 11 o'clock in the morning and there was Billy Gibbons standing at the bar by himself. I went up and had a chance to have a beer with him.
Q - Were you doing Leg ZZ at that time?
A - No, I was not. I had an original project called The Mighty One and we were down there doing some showcases for some record companies.
Q - What was Billy Gibbons doing there?
A - He was attending the conference. He was speaking at the conference. He lived in Austin, so he was just rubbing shoulders with everybody. It was quite something. I saw him later in the day, walking down 6th Street in Austin, which is a street that has a million places with 'live' entertainment. It was quite something. He just walked down the middle of the street and everybody was just shouting out his name. I came behind him a little while longer and they thought I was Billy Gibbons and they started shouting at me. (laughs)
Q - What happened to The Mighty One? Did they get a record deal?
A - The Mighty One did not get a deal. It is still an ongoing project. There's a new record coming out in 2015 and we've been working hard on that new record. In the meantime, we've been landing lots of licensing and some of those deals with the material that was written over the last couple of years.
Q - I take it you're releasing product on your own label?
A - Correct. It's an independent project for sure.
Q - How did you find Billy Gibbons to be? Down to earth guy?
A - Super down to earth guy. Very much a gentleman. Very much the Texas gentleman that ZZ Top is portrayed to be. He'd speak to anybody. Who else would you see wandering around a very public area at 11 o'clock in the morning just to hang out and be part of a musical festival? It was quite something. Humbling.
Q - You put this group together in what year?
A - It's been a year and a half, so it would have been late 2012.
Q - Why? Is there a market place for a ZZ Top tribute in Vancouver or do you guys travel?
A - We do travel. It's always been kind of a dream of mine to put together a ZZ Top tribute. I've had a long beard for many years now. Of course the first thing people do is, "Hey! ZZ Top!" I just finally decided to put the beard to work. (laughs)
Q - You grew it before you had any intentions of being in a tribute band.
A - Absolutely.
Q - Were you in The Mighty One when you had this beard?
A - Yeah. The Mighty One was pretty well the debut for that beard for sure. One of my trademarks has always been a long goatee and outlandish sun glasses. For the project I finally decided to grow the sideburns in and go for the full head of hair. I'm more of a bass player than I am a guitar player in The Mighty One. I've been searching for probably four or five years to find a Billy Gibbons character. There was a local band here in Vancouver that was doing a ZZ Top tribute who I sort of viewed as would be our competition as it were. After a few years of searching; I did search the entire world. I was actually talking to a gentleman in Germany who'd been doing a ZZ Top tribute for quite some time. That's the kind of people I was talking to. Finally, in late 2012 or early 2013, I said, "You know what? I am going to call the local guy who does the Billy Gibbons and just ask him if he's happy with his current situation." As it turned out, he was about to fold that particular project because the guys in the band he was playing with were more like just sidemen. They weren't really part of the band and didn't have the interest in investing in their project and taking it to the next level. They'd been playing for almost four years together. They had some success, but he wanted to take it to the next level. They didn't. So he went, "Okay, that's it. I'm going to shut it down and just secede." So when I gave him a phone call, we saw very much eye to eye in what we sort of projected the future of this thing to be. And away we went!
Q - How often do you work?
A - Presently we're working, I would say, every weekend right now throughout the Summer. We're playing some very big festivals.
Q - In Canada and outside of Canada?
A - In Canada and we're starting to talk outside of Canada. There was the potential for a show in Houston, Texas that we were going to play in September (2014), but it didn't quite work out for this year for a couple of logistic reasons, but I am confident that we'll actually be going and playing in ZZ Top's home state in the next twelve months. We're doing a lot of casino work also and so the American casinos are very interested in having us come and play. Our show is geared that way. It's extremely authentic. We studied ZZ Top in that all of the finer points of the music, even just the way of the pacing of the music where everything is a little bit more laid back. ZZ Top's music has a very laid back feel. We've really done our homework with that, rehearsing three days a week for the last eighteen months or so, unless we're doing shows. We take this very, very serious. It's not just guys with beards putting on some guitars and playing some ZZ Top. We recreated ZZ Top in their heyday. We have the funny, spinning guitars, which of course I think ZZ Top had in one of their videos. ZZ Top brings the fuzzy guitars on stage, but they have never actually spun their guitars on stage before. It was something they only did for a video. So that's something we can say we're very proud of doing. We spin our guitars for about three songs at the end of the set. People's jaws drop when they see that.
Q - Every ZZ Top tribute group has the beards. It that because the early ZZ Top without the beards would be unrecognizable?
A - Oh, for sure. Absolutely. Those beards became the trademark that overshadowed anything they did previous to that. I think when people think of ZZ Top now, except for people like yourself who saw them in the early days. The "Eliminator" album is one that really sticks out. I think that was their pinnacle in a lot of ways. That has "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "Sharp Dressed Man", and "Legs" of course. Those songs are at the very top.
Q - That you guys use custom built guitars tells me you guys must be making some money.
A - As it turns out, our guitar player, Barry Ewart, is a luthier, that is he has a business and builds guitars. He's also a world-renowned guitar technician. He was on the road in the early days with, well, I shouldn't say the early days, but the "Pump" days he was on the road with Aerosmith. He was their guitar tech and took care of 'em. He took care of all their guitars and even now he has a business here in Vancouver. People send their guitars from all over the world to be set up for studio recordings and for 'live' shows. They trust his work. So, Barry has built all the guitars we use. They're all custom made to the custom specifics and specifications that ZZ Top would require.
Q - Talking about studio work, you're a studio musician, aren't you?
A - I am. I actually have my own studio here in Vancouver.
Q - Have you had many famous people in your studio?
A - I have not had that many famous people in my studio. The most famous person I had was Paul Stanley when I had a deal back in the late' 80s, but since then I haven't had anybody super famous.
Q - Paul Stanley is famous enough! What was he doing in your studio?
A - Well, interestingly enough this was in the late '80s, early '90s. I was in a Van Halen tribute band called Unchained. That band kind of morphed from a tribute band into an original band. When Sammy Hagar came into the scene and David Lee Roth left the band, we sort of took up the torch of keeping the old, original Van Halen alive. I continued to write original music that would've been similar to maybe what they would have written back in the day. We had a very successful run with that band. When that band went into an original phase, what ended up happening is we played one of our large, local 'live' shows here, a place called The Commodore, which has huge history. We videotaped the show and we actually took the video tape cassette to the hotel where KISS was staying when they were playing in town and we were able to track down Eric Carr, the drummer for KISS who passed away many years ago from brain cancer. But he gave the tape to Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley and Paul Stanley gave us a call the next day from Seattle and asked us to come down. We put together a management deal with Paul and Polygram Records at the time. We had a relationship for about four years. He would come back and forth to Vancouver and we worked with him doing pre-production for a record. We went down to start to record the record in L.A. with Paul and it was a very successful situation except at that time there was sort of a cleansing of Rock 'n' Roll and Nirvana came out and that was kind of the end of that.
Q - I never knew Paul Stanley was a manager.
A - Paul Stanley decided he wanted to try his hand at band management. As you remember, at that time Gene Simmons was managing some bands and was starting to show up in movies. So, I guess Paul decided he wanted to do something similar.
Q - Were you his only band or did he have other bands?
A - We were his only band. I don't think he did anything else with any other bands.
Q - What kind of a manager was he?
A - He was a fantastic manager. Most of the focus at the time was really about getting an album recorded for Polygram and getting it ready for release. So, we really never got past that point of that situation. We never got into anything on a day to day basis, but he was attentive. Like I say, He came to Vancouver on a number of occasions and spent time with us up here in the studio doing pre-production before we went down to L.A. to record.
Q - Where is that recording today? On someone's shelf somewhere?
A - Someone formerly from Polygram has some 24 inch tape with some great songs on it.
Q - I hope it gets released!
A - That would be awesome.
Q - How many other bands in Vancouver are doing ZZ Top tributes?
A - None.
Q - You have Vancouver all to yourself!
A - We have Vancouver all to ourselves and as far as I can actually see, we've got Canada all to ourselves. I constantly monitor the ZZ Top tribute bands in the world actually. A lot of the bands will play the stuff well and they'll tape on some kind of cheesy fake beard and play some ZZ Top. There's lots of those acts out there, but there's very few that really do ZZ Top justice. One of them is a band in England called The ZZ Tops and they're actually endorsed by Billy Gibbons as being the closest he's ever seen. I'm hoping when we get down to Texas we can have the opportunity to meet with Billy and get his blessing also.