ZZ Top, “I Thank You” (1979): Thanksgiving One Track Mind

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There are plenty of Christmas rock songs out there, so I struggled at first to think of any Thanksgiving-themed tracks. But if you expand the definition to include any song that gives thanks, well then, the search for that right tune for the occasion gets a little easier.

In fact, Turkey Day is a perfect excuse to spin up some vintage ZZ Top, i.e., “I Thank You,” from 1979’s Deguello — an album I remember fondly. The bearded “little ol’ band out of Texas” had taken a three-year breather following 1976’s Tejas after producing hit after hit of some of the most memorable, tightest blues-rock of the 1970s. They still serve as some of the best examples of the style to this day: “Tush,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and “La Grange” only got us hungry for more.

So when the trio finally followed up in ’79, it was pretty highly anticipated release, and Deguello was no letdown. At the time, the album sounded a bit like ZZ Top had updated their sound with a New Wave flourish or two, but looking back, it sounds much, much closer to Rio Grande Mud than Eliminator. At this point in time, they were still very much a no-nonsense blues-based band, even covering a Robert Johnson tune (“Dust My Broom”), and organic R&B found some space on this record, too. One such R&B-styled number was the album’s first track, a cover of the Isaac Hayes-composed Sam and Dave hit “I Thank You.”

The intro begins with a more modern-sounding guitar interrupted by Billy Gibbons’ signature scruffy riffing, almost as if to signal that the band might try to keep up the times, but the guys in ZZ Top weren’t going to give up what got them to this point. What also got them there was the Dusty Hill/Frank Beard rhythm section, and it’s as hard and impenetrable here as the West Texas ground. Singing a timeless theme about the joy of good lovin’ is what this song’s about: “You didn’t have to love me like you did, but you did, but you did — and I thank you.”

Moreover, Gibbons gets it going during the short instrumental break with a solo that doesn’t break any speed records but performs the more admirable job of laying down a slab of soul-stirring blues. Isn’t what it’s about with ZZ Top, after all — good ol’ house-rockin’ Texas blues?

Even after all the commercial stuff they did a few years later, they’re still deservedly legends for what ZZ Top did before — and can still do today. And for that, I thank them.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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