Sharply dressed in a black jacket, black ball cap and black sunglasses, ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill dined at The Speedway Club in Concord Tuesday afternoon on a jumbo chili cheese dog – minus the chili.
“I have to bypass the chili because I’ve got press to do in the afternoon,” Hill said to the small group gathered for lunch, “and we don’t want any surprises later on.”
But in fact, the whole point of Hill and bandmate Billy Gibbons’s visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway was to reveal a surprise. And an hour later, under a tent on the infield, it was revealed: Rock and Roll Hall of Famers ZZ Top will perform a 45-minute concert before the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24.
The announcement was made by track general manager Marcus Smith as Gibbons and Hill rolled up in a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air chauffeured by NASCAR driver Danica Patrick (who briefly appeared to struggle with the automobile’s “three-on-the-tree” manual transmission) and backed by one of the band’s biggest hits, “Sharp Dressed Man.”
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“Memorial Day weekend is about celebrating and honoring our military,” Smith said. “It’s about America. And I can’t think of any band better to personify America than ZZ Top.”
The Texan singers with the famously long-and-scraggly beards have been together – with drummer Frank Beard – for 46 years, selling more than 50 million albums along the way.
Although they haven’t released new music since 2012, the trio of 65-year-olds continues to tour relentlessly: Last Saturday, they played the historic Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa (famed for hosting the last performances by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson before their deaths in a 1959 plane crash). On Wednesday, ZZ Top performs a sold-out show at the Carson Center in Paducah, Ky.
Gibbons and Hill said at lunch that they both still love touring after all these years. But in spite of their decades of experience on the road, things still don’t always run smoothly.
Before the show in Clear Lake on Saturday, Gibbons said, tour manager Pablo Gamboa “came in and ... I said, ‘Isn’t it time?’ He said, ‘Well, it is time, but we’re gonna need another five or 10 minutes.’ I said, ‘Oh, OK. What’s the holdup?’ He said, ‘Your drummer’s locked on board his bus; he can’t get the door open.’
“The classic picture of him climbing out the window,” Gibbons said as he polished off a plate of shrimp and grits. “Could not get it open.”
As for why Beard wasn’t with them for the announcement Tuesday?
“That’s where we try to keep Frank,” Hill joked. “Locked on the bus.”