ZZ Top, Jeff Beck make hoax ‘Sixteen Tons’ performance a reality

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Far too few real-world examples of life-imitating-art-imitating-life crop up to resist one from last week’s ZZ Top-Jeff Beck show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

At earlier shows, in which each act did separate sets then came together at the end for a few numbers, they played ZZ classics including “La Grange” and “Tush” and some other artists’ hits, such as Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.”

But when they got to L.A., the vintage chestnut they turned toward was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 1955 folk-country classic “Sixteen Tons.”


The reason? That’s where things get fun.

Although this outing is the first tour the blues-rock Texas trio has shared with the English guitar hero, they took to the stage together for the first time in 2009, at Madison Square Garden for the 25th-annniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert.

For that show, they played ZZ Top’s “Rough Boy,” which Beck told Pop & Hiss last week is his favorite ZZ Top song, and Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” a song ZZ Top included in their own set at the Greek.

About three years later, a fan-created video mash-up with images from their Rock Hall of Fame collaboration was set to -- you guessed it -- Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” It was posted to YouTube in a hoax of what appears to be the two acts actually performing that song.

When ZZ Top lead guitarist Billy Gibbons learned of the video, he concluded that it was created by “someone who obviously had too much time on his hands.” Beck took it a step further and suggested, “Bloody hell -- we can do this!” and worked up the same arrangement used in the fan’s YouTube video.

Said Gibbons, as only he can, “It’s a mega meta kinda thang.”

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