Legend has it that a shaving products company once offered two members of the classic rock group ZZ Top $1 million to shave their iconic long beards, and they turned down the offer.
If anyone made the same deal to ZZ Top tribute act Eliminator, which plays the “Rock the Barns” concert series at the Walworth County Fairgrounds Saturday, Feb. 16, they might do the same.
“I haven’t shaved in almost 42 years,” said Ron Schneider, bassist/vocalist for Eliminator, “and if you look online at ZZ Top tributes, you’ll soon discover that we are pretty much the only band that doesn’t glue on cheesy-looking fake beards! Besides, $1 million doesn’t really buy much these days, does it?”
Schneider helped form Eliminator in 1992.
The current lineup consists of Schneider, guitarist Bobby “Bobby Z” Zielinski and drummer Jerry Matula.
In 1999, Eliminator met ZZ Top after connecting with a ZZ Top “super fan” via the Internet.
The fan, Mike Crane, told Schneider that ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons invited them all to a show in Memphis, Tenn.
“We still weren’t 100 percent convinced (Crane) actually knew ZZ Top, but figured we had nothing to lose, so we go to Memphis and there are 10th row seats waiting for us,” said Schneider.
Through Crane, Eliminator got to meet Gibbons, who had signed a guitar that Bobby Z brought to the show.
“Turns out they were very down to earth and very generous with their time,” Schneider said, of ZZ Top. “They spent time chatting with everyone in the room.”
Before Eliminator, Schneider played original music, then he performed in a cover band. He discussed the origin of Eliminator and his love of ZZ Top in the following Q&A, edited here for brevity and clarity.
Resorter: What inspired you to become a musician?
Ron Schneider: I specifically remember seeing classical guitarist Mason Williams playing his hit “Classical Gas” on “The Glen Campbell Show” around 1968. I realized that I wanted to play guitar after seeing that performance! My parents gave me an acoustic guitar for my 13th birthday and shortly after that I bought a cheap used bass with money I had earned cleaning aquariums at my local pet store. When I was 17, I met Dr. Bizzaro while I was playing in a cover band. We went on to form Dr. Bizzaro and the Disgustos. We gained popularity playing truck-ins for the custom van scene in the mid 1970s. We played originals and plagiarized Frank Zappa songs. ... We received national press in Custom Van magazines, Hot Rod Magazine and Rolling Stone, where they declared us “a good band modeled after early Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.”
R: Why join a tribute act?
RS: I was playing in a cover band in 1991 and trying to book dates when a booking agent told us we were a great band but he already booked 100 great bands, but he could really use a good ZZ Top Tribute band that was dependable. Original Eliminator drummer Tommy Randazzo and I took that as our cue to leave the cover band and become a ZZ tribute band. After all we were already playing a dozen ZZ tunes anyway.
R: What are your top five ZZ Top songs?
RS: “LaGrange” — it’s probably the best classic rock song of all time; “Dust My Broom” —traditionally, blues artists have made this song their own by changing the lyrics as they’ve seen fit — it’s originally known as “Dust My Blues” — and I just love ZZ’s take on it; “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers,” the ultimate bar room anthem; and “Gimme All your Lovin’” and “ Sharp Dressed Man.” These two songs catapulted ZZ to worldwide fame in the mid 1980s with the exposure they received from MTV. People are always on the dance floor for these tunes.
R: How do you think ZZ Top’s music holds up today?
RS: This is the 50th anniversary year for ZZ Top. Like Billy Gibbons says, “Same three guys playing the same three chords.“ Their simple blues/rock approach with clever lyrics holds up well without sounding dated.
R: Eliminator has been running a long time. What’s the secret to keeping the same band together so long?
RS: Dec. 4, 2018, marked our 26th year together. ... Other musicians often ask how can we stand playing the same songs year after year. The truth is we still enjoy playing these tunes, and I think that is the ultimate secret to staying together.
Eliminator’s Feb. 16 concert features a laser show. The concert starts at 7 p.m. with special guests Pidgin. Doors open at 6 p.m. at the Activity Center, 411 E. Court St., Elkhorn. Food and beer will be available. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.
Visit www.walworthcountyfair.com/p/events/rock-the-barns for more details.