By Jeb Wright
When tribute albums are made, most people expect lackluster versions of the band being paid the honor by a bunch of rockers on the cusp of having to get day jobs. Not so with the new ZZ Top album titled A Tribute From Friends, as this one sees fellow Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famers Steven Tyler and Mick Fleetwood joining some of today’s brightest talents, including Wolfmother, Daughtry and Wyclef Jean, and releasing a collection of Top tunes that are creatively reworked and well executed.
Suffice it to say that when someone as famous in the industry as Mick Fleetwood schedules interviews to pump up another band, as is the case with this interview, then it is a huge compliment. Fleetwood truly loves ZZ Tops music, and has since first hearing their debut album in London, all those years ago.
Read on to discover who the band the M.O.B. is and why they formed to record “Sharp Dressed Man.” Fleetwood also reveals his passion for the blues and his desire to get back on the road with his band, Fleetwood Mac in 2012.
Jeb: Tell me about the band, The M.O.B. that is on the new ZZ Top tribute album. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler is your singer on your track.
Mick: My singer is Steven Tyler, who is so intact, vocally, that it is amazing. He has gotten better with age, but I’m talking about range and power. There are people out there who compensate and lower the key they sing in, but Steven Tyler doesn’t have to do that. It is not a question of saying the other people are full of shit, it is a matter of saying he is a brilliant singer who, somewhat unbelievably, has come through the years with his voice entirely intact.
Jeb: Tyler gives “Sharp Dressed Man” that bluesy, Aerosmith sound that only he can.
Mick: I know; he’s a mofo for sure. He was brilliantly enthusiastic when I asked him to do this. I love the fact that he’s a friend of mine. I might add that he was very busy when all of this was happening, as he was doing American Idol.
He was so compliant when he came to the island. Steven showed up and enthusiastically put down his four or five hours in the studio; he’s a pro. I’m saying this because he is such a big character; he’s about as huge a character as you can get with his public persona. He has been through a lot with his band and they have prevailed. He has prevailed as a person. He is so unbelievably happy and on top of the world, that he really made it a pleasure to do this song.
Jeb: Had you ever played with Tyler before?
I have jammed around with him before, but this is the first time we ever did a track together. He clocked in during the sessions, was there and was involved after he recorded his part. Bob Rock was mixing the track for us and I told him, “Steven, you don’t need to be here during the mixing. I know how busy you are. I can handle it.” He said, “No, I want to be here. I am going to do this.” The whole essence of how this was done was a pleasure for every single member of The M.O.B.
Jeb: We should mention the other members, besides Steven and you, are John McVie and Jonny Lang.
Mick: I am a huge fan of Jonny Lang. I am actually a disgustingly huge fan of his. To tell you the truth, not only was I very attracted to his guitar playing when he was a youngster, I think he is an incredible singer. He does not sing lead on “Sharp Dressed Man,” but we were jamming around in the studio and Steven and he would sing together and it was a trip. It’s not on the track, but it was great. Steven is phenomenal. Again, it sounds like I’m applauding the people who were so sweet to be there for the thing that I put together for Gibbons and the band, but they all really loved to do it.
Jeb: How did you get involved with the ZZ Top tribute?
Mick: My manager also manages ZZ Top. I’ve known Gibbons since the old days. I pretty much asked to do a track when I heard it was happening. I was happy to do it and I was flattered to do it. A lot of cool people were on the album, but The M.O.B. are the elder statesmen. Most of the other bands are from another generation, but that’s okay, as we were happy to be there.
Jeb: You would expect guys like Daughtry, or Wolfmother on a ZZ Top tribute, but not guys from Aerosmtih and Fleetwood Mac. It’s a huge compliment to them that you are on this album.
Mick: I am sure you know, but some people may not know, that Fleetwood Mac began as a blues band – this is from whence we came. We started hearing the early stuff that ZZ Top was putting out, which was heavily amplified and funky. We knew from whence it came, which was from guys like Peter Green, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. We wondered what this weird rock n’ roll band was doing. We were being a little more true with our interpretations of American Blues and we thought what they were doing was really cool.
When Eric was playing with John Mayall and we were doing our thing with Peter Green, we were emulating the original sound of the blues. When you go forward, then bands like Cream and ZZ Top took an art form and ran with it and it suddenly became a mutated thing. Billy Gibbons has always been the funkiest player. I applaud the uniqueness of ZZ Top.
Jeb: When did you first hear ZZ Top?
Mick: We discovered the band when they got fairly well known in England. It really is a storytelling time but they really ran with the blues based music and created something knew. I understood what it was they were doing. They did it the same way that Steve Miller, Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, when he was in the Cream, did. You have to take your hat off to them. We welcomed them in because we understood the background and schooling. ZZ Top had a great background in R&B, blues and early rock n’ roll.
Jeb: Why did The M.O.B. choose “Sharp Dressed Man” for the album?
Mick: There were a few songs left to choose from, and that was the one that we all loved. I got the list before Steven looked at it and I sort of put my boot in there because Steven is such a sharp dressed dude that I thought there might be some sort of cheekiness that somehow, he could be that man. He is a dandy. To tell you the truth, I’m a great clothes lover myself. That combo, I thought, was aesthetically appropriate.
Jeb: Which remakes do you like the most?
Mick: I would go with “Cheap Sunglasses” by Wolfmother. They are a very cool band. The other one I really like is “Legs” by Nickelback.
Jeb: Nickelback showed that not everything they do sounds the same, as they do a cool version of “Legs.”
Mick: I know the guys. The bass player, Mike Kroeger, lives on Maui with his family. I’ve got to meet the band and he is a good friend and a really good bass player.
Jeb: Maui is a rock n’ roll Mecca.
Mick: There is one hell of a band we could put together out here. John McVie lives in Honolulu. Pat Simmons of the Doobies is in Maui and Willie Nelson has lived here for forty years.
Jeb: The ZZ tribute is executively produced by Beard, Gibbons and Hill. Did they give you any feedback on “Sharp Dressed Man”?
Mick: I think everyone was happy. They were all thrilled.
Jeb: Fleetwood Mac and ZZ Top have both created unique sounds in their respective bands. I think it is interesting that, over the years, both bands sound has changed, yet you still know who it is.
Mick: I go way back with ZZ Top, in terms of listening to them. I was aware of what they were doing when they first started. In the ‘80’s, they got all slicked out in a super cool way. They put the whole image thing into overdrive, which was just a huge extension of what they were about anyway.
They were a band that came out of bars and that played brothels and shit; they are the real deal. They have never went away. They are amazingly popular all over the world. God knows they don’t need to, but they love working and playing. I’m quietly jealous, as in truth, Fleetwood Mac doesn’t work enough. John and I are old geeksters and we are like, “Shit, are we ever going to go back on the road again?” ZZ Top never stopped, they’re like BB King or Elton John; they just work. They are troubadours; they go from town to town.
Jeb: Has doing this tribute for ZZ Top got any of your own blues juices flowing?
Mick: I never get that far away from the blues. I have a great little four-piece blues band I go off and play secret tours with in Europe and Australia, where we play pubs. The band was born out of Maui. I play with a great guitar player named Rick Vito, who is a phenomenal slide player. He has a huge preference to playing the old Fleetwood Mac stuff when Peter Green was in the band. We have fun doing that.
I love playing blues. In truth, that is what I am. To this day, Fleetwood Mac has a true blues rhythm section, which is the alchemy of the music we went on to make. We have changed and morphed our way, but if you look, without being presumptive, it has a chunk to do that you know what you’re hearing is Fleetwood Mac. You know when you hear the Stones play its Charlie Watts and Keith Richards and there is a thing that they do.
I think that is the backbone of what it is with all of the people who have come in and out of Fleetwood Mac. The band everyone knows is Lindsey [Buckingham], Stevie [Nicks], John [McVie], Christine [McVie] and myself, although Christine has been gone a long time now. Behind all of that was this pop driven, eclectic, dark music and I think it’s fair to say that behind all of that, no matter who came and went in the band, John and I never went away.
Jeb: That is a good point.
Mick: It is, and I don’t want to puff the ball up too much but I think that has, no doubt, something relevant to do with it. It could be a good thing, or it could be a bad. You’re basically fucked because that is the rhythm section and we have never really changed.
Jeb: Even though the music changed, it is still you at the root of it.
Mick: Our style is the same style that we played with Peter Green. I get what you’re saying, that there is this umbilical cord through it all. I think it has to do with that. I applaud all of the lovely music that we’ve played. I’m not one of those guys who says, “Oh, I hate this music. I never wanted to play anything other than the blues.” It is not that at all. I do have a real reference point in the blues, which is why I enjoy playing this music by ZZ and getting on the phone and telling people that these guys are fucking great.
Jeb: Do you realize what a tribute it is to those three guys to have a member of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame promoting their music?
Mick: I look at them as being totally iconic; that’s the irony, I suppose. I understand what you are saying but I don’t look at it that way. We’re all a bunch of children, really. This bunch of children, aside from Mr. Lang, comes from the same class as ZZ Top. We look at ourselves as all coming out of the same pot that made this journey. We don’t really understand that we might be a little more famous than we think we are. To be honest, it doesn’t even come into my mind.
When I heard about this project, I wanted to be involved but I thought, “Oh my God, do they want me to play on it?” I have no reference point other than that. Sure, if you sit down and talk about it then you realize that everyone has had so much enjoyment from music, had a great life and made a shitload of money and you can still play… Gibbons is like that. He can’t believe that they are still packing out 12,000 seats a night playing the music they love to play. What else would they do? As I said, I’m jealous as shit at the work they get to do. I love to play and when I am not playing in one of my bands, then I invite people up to my old ramshackle farm up in the hills and have a nice bottle of wine, play and have fun. We need to do that.
Jeb: Do you feel bands like ZZ Top and Fleetwood Mac worked harder than bands today?
Mick: It is fair to say that the elder statesmen’s work ethic, which we are now a part of, is incredible. I don’t want to say that guys like Jonny Lang do not have a great work ethic, as he works his ass off, but there are people who come out of nowhere these days, who have made an album in their bathroom, that have no idea what it is like to be snowbound in Alaska trying to get some college gig when they are sixteen years old. I don’t really wish it upon them, but it is an interesting thing. The point I am getting to is that when things happen to you like that, then you work so hard just to be able to play, that you don’t think about being a star.
Some newer bands have no reference point, so the romance of being in the same classroom and doing something like that, they do not understand. Whereas guys like ZZ Top and Fleetwood Mac all look at each other like we’re a bunch of kids in the back of a van. The point being, that when get asked to do something like this album then, of course, we are going to do it. I am surprised Keith Richards isn’t on this album, as guys like Keith and Gibbons know their shit.
Jeb: The young bands today often seem to be in it for other reasons that music. The result can be disastrous for them, personally.
Mick: I think if you get someone who gets problematic then it is because they get puffed up, bigger than life with their own produced image. They get involved in all of the video shenanigans. Some of those kids make it and some of them don’t. Some of them never really knew why they were doing what they were doing. They get all caught up in something that is fun for a while but they don’t have the references that we have.
Jeb: Is The M.O.B. a one off band?
Mick: It is. My fantasy is to do something with Mr. Lang and John. I don’t put Steven in there because he is a little bit busy with other things. He can come and sing a song with us at some point. I would really love to see that element and I have spoken with both John and Jonny about having the core essence of what would be a really, really funky band that people like Steven could come in and out of and have it transpire into something. There are definitely talks about that but it does not include Steven. The rest of us have spoken about it as a vision and a pipedream. I would love to see that happen.
Jeb: Is Fleetwood Mac going to tour again? Are you just talking a break?
Mick: We are definitely taking a break and it’s a longer break than any of us anticipated. When we last came off the road we were planning to take 18 months off and get back and do it again.
We knew Stevie was going to make an album, which got delayed. We are really waiting on Stevie, to tell you the truth. We were supposed to go out this year and now we are hovering around what is going to take place next year. The reason I said, “hovering around” is because about six months ago I would have said that we are going out next year, but the truth of the matter is that Stevie is still out on the road promoting her album, which I played on, I might add, as did Lindsey.
I really don’t know what is going to happen because we’re in a holding pattern. We keep thinking her tour is ending and we can’t really talk about Fleetwood Mac until her tour actually does stop. We are somewhat beholden to Stevie. The need, desire and want to do it is definitely there.
Fleetwood Mac is a funny old machine. It’s certainly not about not going out because of fear and loathing and complete disfuntionality. At this point in our careers, and life, knowing that there are so many components, makes it difficult. I would imagine when Keith Richards and Mick Jagger want to go out as the Stones then they go, “Okay, we are going out” and Charlie and the rest just tag along. Our two front people, Stevie and Lindsey, both have albums out and are touring. Lindsey probably wouldn’t have done that if Stevie hadn’t been doing what she is doing. You get that three steps forward and four steps back sort of thing happening. We are used to it.
Jeb: So we will see Fleetwood Mac again.
Mick: I can tell you that I don’t think you’ve seen the last of Fleetwood Mac. There were days when I would say we all loathed each other and that Stevie and Lindsey won’t talk to each other, but it is nothing to with that now. It is just circumstance, really. We are keeping the flag flying of what I call the worst run rock n’ roll franchise in the business. We certainly can’t be accused of greed because of how we have done it. We could have probably made thirty thousand times more money than we have, but that’s Fleetwood Mac. We do what we do, how we do it and I suppose that has a certain amount of class to it.
Jeb: In the past, I’ve interviewed the man who produced your breakthrough self-titled album, Keith Olsen…
Mick: I made the decision, but if he hadn’t played the tape of the album that he made with Buckingham Nicks for me when I wandered into Sound City... Keith happened to be in the room and he said, “Let me play something for you that I made right here in this room.” I said, “Okay, I’ll check it out.” That is how Stevie and Lindsey joined the band.
Jeb: Last one: You used Olsen on the self-titled album and it was a huge hit, so I have always wondered why you didn’t use him for Rumors?
Mick: Actually, it was something that I had no idea about. It was really a Lindsey and Stevie dynamic. When I met Keith, and I saw the vision of Lindsey and Stevie being in Fleetwood Mac, and then it all came to be, I thought the natural fit would be Keith. I figured they knew Keith and that they must really work well together – and they did but not to the extent that I thought. In truth, Stevie and Lindsey were going to move on. I do not believe that Keith was going to make the next Buckingham Nicks album.
It worked out great, and what came out of it was the desire not to go that route again. Richard Dashut, who worked with Stevie and Lindsey, and then made countless albums, producing and engineering us, became part of the team. Richard was, I believe, with Lindsey, and Lindsey wanted to be more in control. He is so talented, and creatively overpowering, that I think his vision was to make a Buckingham Nicks album with Richard producing it. When they joined the band, it all just melted away. Keith went on to have huge success, and I mean huge success, in the industry. He probably made a lot more money than he would have with Fleetwood Mac.
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