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Beards and music of Eliminator might fool some ZZ Top fans

August 1, 2018

The beards are real. The tribute is heartfelt. The music and choreography are about as good as it gets in the ZZ Top-interpreter realm … But you can decide the latter for yourself when Eliminator plays Watertown’s Riverfest Friday, Aug. 10, at 8:30 p.m.

Riverfest, which is free to the public, runs from Aug. 9-12 at Watertown’s Riverside Park.

“Hailing from Chicago, Eliminator has played from coast to coast for over 25 years, re-creating the complete ZZ Top concert experience at festivals, fairs, major motorcycle rallies, convention centers, bars and casinos,” the band’s website states. “Eliminator is regarded by major talent agencies, talent buyers, past clients and our peers across the world to be the most authentic tribute to ZZ Top.”

Ron Schneider, a truck driver by day and Eliminator’s “ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill” by night, took time to talk passionately about his longtime love of “The Lil’ Ol’ Band From Texas” Monday by phone as he made a trucking run from West Bend to suburban Chicago, where his band is based.

Schneider first heard ZZ Top when he was 16 years old, around 1971. He recalled it was the “Tres Hombres” LP that got him hooked. For the past 30 years -- five years longer than the life of his band Eliminator -- he has been growing his beard along with band mate, Bob Zielinski, who portrays guitarist Billy Gibbons.

“Ninety-nine percent of the other ZZ Top tribute acts out there have these really bad fake beards,” Schneider said. “They look really cheesy. We take a lot of pride in how we portray ZZ Top and we grew our own beards out. We take pride in the whole presentation.”

Schneider said Eliminator does not mess around with the musical arrangements their heroes put down for eternity on their classic albums. He said there are some minor additions to the live, stage choreography, but even those are few. They like to keep it real.

“You have to remember when we started, there was no internet. We couldn’t just call up YouTube and watch ZZ Top videos. We went to record shows and bought the bootleg ZZ Top VHS videos, which were often of pretty poor quality, and we studied those things over and over to get the moves right,” Schneider said.

Unlike ZZ Top, in which the singing is done predominantly by Gibbons, Schneider handles most of the singing in his Dusty Hill character. He said in many cases he can deliver the songs a bit better than his colleague who portrays Gibbons. Schneider considers himself “more of a singer than a bass player.”

“We were a three-piece cover band back before we went into the ZZ Top thing,” Schneider recalled, adding even a quarter of a century ago their sets were packed with ZZ Top classics. “There was a promoter who told us he would kill for a great ZZ Top tribute band that he could rely on, so we gave it a try and it worked. This band is an outgrowth of our ZZ Top fandom.”

Schneider said he likes all the diverse eras of ZZ Top, a band that has enhanced life for the planet’s “beer drinkers and hell raisers” for almost 50 years. Back when Eliminator was getting started in the bars and at biker festivals, its members were able to play more of the older Top material and some of the deep cuts off masterpieces such as “Tres Hombres,” “Rio Grande Mud” and “Tejas.” But times change and Eliminator’s audiences have, too. They play more of the large, general music festivals now and that means the audience demands more material from the 1980s, MTV era of ZZ Top. These songs, along with “La Grange” and a few of the other hits from the years before ZZ Top went mainstream, comprise Eliminator’s set in 2018.

Schneider and his band mates are hoping ZZ Top follows through on hints they might like to do a Las Vegas residency in the near future. He said this would open all sorts of markets in the United States for Eliminator to enter. As of now, the tribute band plays 45 dates nationwide, annually, and is hoping to go full-time and dump the day jobs.

Then there was that fateful day in 1999 when Schneider and the boys got their chance to meet their heroes face to face. This encounter took place after a ZZ Top show at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee. The meeting went well and Schneider said you could not meet a nicer bunch of good ol’ boys from Texas.

“They were very down-to-earth. All three guys are class acts who really care about the fans,” he said. “We have been very fortunate to portray them for 25 years and we have built up a good fan base. We consider ourselves very lucky.”

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