By: Charles Runnells, The News-Press
That must have been some brothel.
Everyone in La Grange, Texas, knew about The Chicken Ranch, says ZZ Top singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons. Many people went there, too — including some members of the band.
“Well, one could call it true inspiration,” says Gibbons, who plays Germain Arena next week with his famous blues-rock band. “Making the journey to the famed Chicken Ranch was something of a genuine rite of passage for successive generations of young Texans.”
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The song also drew inspiration from John Lee Hooker’s boogie-blues classic “Boogie Chillen.” Gibbons has credited “La Grange’s” power to its simplicity — just two chords and a Robert Johnson-inspired guitar solo.
As for his slurred, sleazy come-ons in the song’s beginning (“they got a lotta NICE girls…”), Gibbons says he wasn’t necessarily trying to sound stoned when he recorded them.
“In truth, it’s a blues-infused take on talking in tongues,’” he says. “You think you understand what’s being said. But, then again … do you really?”
“La Grange” became a break-out hit for ZZ Top in 1973. That same year, a TV news story exposed the brothel and eventually shuttered the establishment for good.
“Unfortunately, a crackdown ensued which ultimately led to the closing of the place by those who wanted to appeal to a prudish constituency,” Gibbons says.
The song helped launch ZZ Top’s career and paved the way for future hits such as “Tush,” “Legs,” “Sleeping Bag” and “Sharp Dressed Man.” In 2008, Rolling Stone magazine named “La Grange” one of its top 100 guitar songs of all time.
ZZ Top plays at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 16, in Estero. To get ready for the show, The News-Press chatted with Gibbons last week via email (the band doesn’t do phone interviews, a publicist said).
Here’s what Gibbons had to say about:
That famous Eliminator car, which he still owns and drives.
“That little red car is friend on wheels and remains fully operational,” Gibbons says.
He had Buffalo Motor Cars in Paramount, California, build the chopped ’33 Ford coupe for him in the early 1980s. It went on to star in many ZZ Top music videos.
“We’ve long been faithful followers of hot rods and custom cars and thought it would be great to have one for the road,” Gibbons said. “The look of our mascot was influenced by Pete Chapouris’ film car, ‘The California Kid.’
“The ‘Kid’ was built by the late Chapouris for the movie of the same name starring Martin Sheen.”