ZZ Top

  • Blues rock band from Houston Texas, formed in 1969. The trio has remained the same for 51 years – Billy Gibbons (lead vocals, guitars, songwriting), Dusty Hill (lead vocals, bass guitar), and Frank Beard (drums). It was the longest run with an unchanged lineup in popular music history. Hill died in 2021, and was replaced by Elwood Francis (Hill’s guitar tech).
  • 20 year old Gibbons formed the band with 2 other musicians, an organist and a drummer. He chose the name – he knew that many performers had names that utilized initials, like blues artists B.B. King and Z.Z. Hill. Originally, he thought of going with Z.Z. King, but he felt that it sounded too similar to B.B. King. Then, he figured that to be King means to go to the top, so he went with ZZ Top.
  • The band made a single called Salt Lick in 1969. The organist soon left and was replaced by a bass player, who was soon replaced by Hill. The drummer also was replaced by Beard. They signed a record deal, and released 2 albums – ZZ Top’s First Album in 1971 and Rio Grande Mud in 1972. Neither sold well, and concerts were performed to mostly empty venues.
  • In 1973, they released their breakthrough album, Tres Hombres. It included the single La Grange, about the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange Texas. While the single only made it to #41 on the Billboard Hot 100, it established the band as a guitar driven blues-boogie rock band. The song is ranked #74 by Rolling Stone on their Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time list.
  • Their next album, Fandango!, was released in 1975. It included another signature song by the band – Tush, which reached #20 on the Billboard 100 chart. Three more albums followed from 1976 to 1981 that sold well, but they still did not have any major hit singles.
  • That changed with 1983’s Eliminator album. It expanded their sound, using more synthesizers along with their boogie guitars. The album sold over 10 million copies in the U.S., giving it Diamond certification – one of only 92 non-greatest hits albums ever to achieve that status. Three songs cracked the top 10 of the Mainstream Rock chart – Gimme All Your Lovin, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs. The album is #398 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
  • ZZ Top’s next album, Afterburner, was released in 1985. It was another huge seller, with sales over 5 million copies in the U.S. Hits from the record include Sleeping Bag, Stages and Rough Boy. 
  • Four albums were released in the 90s. They show a return to their guitar driven sound, with less emphasis on a pop sound or synthesizer. As such, they were less successful commercially, though their first 2 albums did go platinum. While singles did not chart highly on the Billboard 200 chart, several were at the top of the Mainstream Rock chart, including Doubleback, My Head’s In Mississippi and Pincushion. In 1997, they performed Tush and Legs at the Superbowl halftime show.
  • The band’s most recent studio album was released in 2012 – La Futura – their 15th studio album. It was praised by critics as some of the best work they had ever done. Reportedly, they are working on a new album – Hill had already recorded the bass and vocals for the album before he died.
  • ZZ Top has earned iconic status. A big part of their identity are the long beards worn by Gibbons and Hill (yes, it’s true – drummer Frank Beard does not wear a beard). Their signature sound earned them an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Their videos were massively popular during MTV’s heydays in the 80s – Legs, Sharp Dressed Man and Rough Boy all won MTV Video Music Awards. Here’s the video for Legs – ahhh, remember the 80s? You will when you watch this!

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