OK, ZZ Top are not exactly “off the beaten path”; but Lowdown In The Street is both a deep cut and, best I can tell, nobody else has transcribed it properly… so it’s fair game for Stairway.

ZZ Top were also my first real favourite band. This was in the Eliminator and Afterburner days, famous for spinning guitarshotrods, and so on — all profoundly un-cool in 1990s suburban Manchester where the Happy Mondays were a more orthodox obsession.

Anyway, this track comes from their 1979 album Degüello, best known for the hit Cheap Sunglasses; well before the synths and furry guitars of their late-80s heyday, and closer to their blues-rock roots.

Guitar tuning

The song isn’t in standard tuning. It’s in open C (which is C-G-C-G-E, from low to high). It’s an unusual one, perhaps best known from some of Soundgarden’s later hits like Pretty Noose.

At first I thought it was open G with a capo at the 5th fret, and you can actually do the job in that tuning if you want to. It’s less hassle to re-tune to, and since Billy never uses the low C of open C it sounds virtually identical. I’ll leave it as a challenge for you to work out, but you’ll find the fingering patterns are much the same as in open C — everything just moves over a string.

Lesson

Intro

If, like me, you’re a heavy-handed player, you might find it helpful to be careful to use a lighter touch throughout this song. The lower tuning makes it all too easy to push notes out of tune.

Intro

Verses

A little bit of hybrid picking here: pick that open 4th string with your plectrum, while plucking the 1st string with your ring finger. The rest of it can be done with regular alternate picking.

Verses

Chorus

I find myself wanting to go for bigger voicings on the low C here, but with characteristic restraint Billy keeps things sparse. Note there’s slight palm-muting to give this a bit of a percussive feel:

Chorus

That’s all. As with so much of Billy Gibbons’ playing, it’s pretty simple but very effective.