ZZ Top and the AMAZING Man Behind Them
In 1968, I was music director and afternoon jock on KILT in Houston. Steve Ames brought me a record by a group known as the Moving Sidewalks with Billy Gibbons the leader. The tune was “99th Floor” and I played it and the record charted on the KILT music survey. It launched Billy Gibbon’s music career. I left Houston and the last time the Moving Sidewalks tune charted was my last time to make the survey. The following week Bill Young made the music chart and the Moving Sidewalks tune was not on the chart. Bill Young told me I’d hyped the song, but I said no. It is just the way it was. Well, what the hell, maybe I did hype the record. I left KILT for Cleveland in 1969 and began a long stint in the Capitol of Rock n’ Roll. In 1973 I received a phone call from a Houston friend who’s name is Bill Ham. Bill had promoted records for the Daily Brothers record distributors in Houston. As a result I became friends with Bill ham who was new to the business of record promoting. I took Bill Ham under my wing and gave him some advice on how to promote his product. Fast forward to Cleveland, Ohio and WIXY and I’m the program director. One day Bill called me to ask a favor which turned out to be not a big deal. Bill wanted me to introduce the band he was managing on their first Cleveland appearance. The band had recorded a Bill Ham produced an Album at Robin Hood Brian’s studio in Tyler, Texas. It was the bands third Album and it contained a song entitled “LaGrange”. The album Bill was promoting was called “Tres Hombres” which is Spanish for the number of players in the band. It was Z Z’s third album. At the club I sat at the bar with Bill Ham and Billy Gibbons before the doors opened and the crowd began to collect. Bill ham told me to introduce ZZ as the “little ole band from Texas....Z Z Top”. I’d met Billy Gibbons many years earlier at Bob Cope’s house when Bob was taking care of business for the Moving Sidewalks. I stayed to listen to the set and a song called LaGrange which I added to the WIXY play list and played for several weeks. It charted well in Cleveland and nationwide. It was the beginning of the successful launch of Z Z Top’s career. Over the year Bill has expressed his thanks to me many times for helping launch Z Z Top to national status. Bill Ham had brought the “boys” to Cleveland in a car with a trailer hook behind it to carry their instruments and equipment. ZZ Top would soon ride in limos... Actually, two limos since Billy did not smoke and Frank Beard and Dusty Hill did. I took a break from radio and went to work for Lone Wolf Productions, which was the managing company operated by Bill Ham. Lone wolf’s offices were located in a sparsely populated area of Houston. Bill had built the complex to resemble an old western town The main office was in front of the property and to get to the other buildings you had to pass through the main building. My job consisted of traveling ahead of the band on tour and get the heaviest names in Radio to come to the shows. There was always a party after the concerts so the “boys” could mingle. I had a traveling buddy who took care of the press. His name is Bob Small. After two years on the road I had finished my project with Bill Ham and went back into radio in 1978. The tour was called the Worldwide Texas Tour and it was launched to support the fourth Z Z Top album called Fandango. On the stage in the shape of Texas was a reflection of what most people thought was Texas. The ‘boys” were wearing the nudie suits which I always thought was a bit of genius from Bill Ham. On the stage were two steers, a buzzard and huge snake and lots of cactus. It was impressive to say the lease, but it was also costly to haul the animals around and give the animals time to enjoy some greenery. In Los Angeles Bill had the animal caretaker take the animals to a public park and Bob Small called the newspapers to let them know some “wild” animals were in the park. It made the new as Bill Ham had expected. Like I said he was and is a genius. I became friends with Bob who was a dyed in wool New Yorker from Tulsa, Oklahoma. A few years later Bob took me to Studio 54...he was well connected in the New York club scene. On an early date with my wife, Kendall, we flew to New York and Bob took us to studio 54. By this time Steve Rubell had departed and the club was on its way to becoming certified “not Hip”. Kendall got to see 54 at its most hip. Bill Ham ownes his office building in Austin and when we retired from our radio adventure in Joplin we contacted Bill. He insisted we come to see him in Austin. Since we retired to Houston it was a short drive which we made. When we got to Bill’s office he told his secretary to “hold all calls” since he was going to visit with us. We talked for hours in his conference room. In the course of that visit we took a break to go to a Bar B Q place and enjoy some Texas Bar B Q. Kendall and I left that afternoon to go back to Houston. As we were about to enter the elevator Bill was telling some of the people who worked for him that “Chuck Dunaway was responsible for breaking Z Z Top”. Z Z top left Bills management a few years ago. We receive phone calls with frequency from Bill and always at Christmas we get a five pound box of partially shelled pecans from Bill’s ranch. Bill Ham also guided the career of Clint Black among others. Clint was married at Bill’s ranch which was referred to in an article by People magazine as Clint’s ranch. Clint hired his wife’s mother, Jonni Hartman, as his agent and again Bill was without one of the acts he built. In addition to his Austin office building, Bill has a building in Nashville. A majority of country hits are published by Bill’s Lone Wolf publishing. Bill is a very private person and the best friend I could ever have. He is AMAZING.