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Sunday, 16 July 2017

The day I took ZZ Top to the barbers

It is the once-in-a-lifetime photograph that suggests the unthinkable.

Yes, that's iconic Texan rockers ZZ Top at a Birmingham barber shop.

Bearded Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill await their turn in the chair, while drummer Frank Beard - ironically the only bandmate without one - gets a trim.

The band popped in to Hollins and Gregg in Brum's Newhall Street after a spot of shopping.

But there's more to the much sought-after picture than meets the eye.

The date was August 16, 1985, and I was the Birmingham Mail's rock and pop writer.

ZZ Top were set to headline the giant Donnington Monsters of Rock festival - now known as Download - next day.

I met them at Birmingham Airport as they got off a private jet, and asked to pop into town.

After calling in to the HMV store to buy some albums, the Mail took the trio into uncharted territory.

The barber's chair.

They were still riding high on the success of the 25 million-selling Eliminator album. Singles Sharp Dressed Man, Got Me Under Pressure and Gimme All Your Lovin' had made them a household name.

There was huge interest in the band and speculation that they might unveil a new look.

Might they be - shock, horror - clean-shaven?

We stepped inside Hollins and Gregg and asked if we could snap some photos. But only on one condition.

"Nobody is to touch the band's beards," a nervous ZZ Top aide informed me. "It's more than my job's worth!"

The trio played along with the stunt, laughing and joking in their gruff Texan drawl.

But what was with the shades, the cheap sunglasses they wear to this day?

“We wrote a song called Cheap Sunglasses when we used to tour in cars," Frank told me.

"Every gas station in the world had a cardboard display of the cheapest and ugliest sunglasses you could imagine.

"I've bought a thousand pairs of them."

Billy added: "The hip trip for us was to throw them into the audience at our gigs.

"But we ran out and we couldn't get any more. So we now have to make do with Ray Bans.

"The Ray Ban Wayfarer was the original cheap sunglasses. You could buy a pair for six bucks."

Next day, ZZ Top rocked the Castle with all their hits - and a stunning spectacle.

Their famous Eliminator hotrod (well, a replica at least) was flown in, dangling from a helicopter.

But the beards were intact, untouched by the demon barber of Brum.