How ZZ Top Got Past Their Manager’s Two-Drink Limit
In terms of a mainstream audience, ZZ Top were very much a fledgling band. The group had only two LPs to its name at the time: 1971’s ZZ Top's First Album and 1972’s Rio Grande Mud. Still, hype surrounding the band was beginning to build, and the Stones shows represented a massive opportunity for broader exposure.
“The word was that [Mick] Jagger had heard our stuff and he liked it,” noted bassist Dusty Hill in the documentary That Little Ol’ Band From Texas. “We weren’t anybody,” added drummer Frank Beard. “To get to go to Hawaii for one thing and to open for the Stones for three shows, that was amazing.”
If ZZ Top felt mounting pressure, they weren’t showing it. Instead, the band devised ways to milk the experience for as much fun as possible. “We decided we were going to go over two weeks in advance, and it was all under the guise of ‘we’re gonna warm up,’” frontman Billy Gibbons explained. “Well, the only warming up we did was walking Waikiki Beach and getting some suntan.”
The band spent the weeks leading up to its performances soaking in the Hawaiian sun and befriending members of the Stones. They also made sure to log plenty of time at the hotel bar, a decision that irked manager Bill Ham.
“After the first night, Bill Ham came to me and Frank and said, ‘You’ve already run up this bar tab pretty high. You guys have gotta cut back,’” Hill recalled. The manager wanted the group to focus on its music -- while also curtailing mounting expenses. He put the ZZ Top members on a two-drink limit per night.
Undeterred, the band found a loophole. “He had us on a two-drink limit,” Beard explained. “So Dusty and I found ... they made a drink called the chimp in orbit.” The giant specialty cocktail was so large it had to be placed on the floor, while patrons drank it from an oversized straw. It proved to be the band’s go-to drink for the remainder of the trip.
When Ham caught the rockers downing these massive concoctions, he was shocked. “And I go, ‘This is only my second one!” Hill boasted. The manager proceeded to walk out of the bar without saying a word.
Liquid courage was replaced by adrenaline when ZZ Top hit the stage on Jan. 21, 1973. The members were keenly aware of the challenge before them: Opening for the Stones carried weight, and the audience would turn on them if the group didn’t deliver.
“I was scared shitless, I really was,” admitted Hill. “And we walked onstage the first show with cowboy hats on and boots and jeans. And you could hear a pin drop.”
Sensing the tension, Gibbons took control. “I turned to Frank and Dusty and I said, ‘Okay, fellas. We’ve gotta hit it.'” That’s exactly what they did. Over the three Stones shows, ZZ Top announced their arrival, even earning encores from the band's notoriously hard-to-please fans.
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