Saturday, August 4, 2012

Z Z Top

Blues, Boogie and beards! If you are a true connoisseur of all things rockin', then these three words are all you need to know that we're talking about that little old band from Texas...ZZ Top! They came together in Houston, Texas in 1969 with the original line-up of guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons, bassist Anthony Barajas and drummer Peter Perez. After several more personell changes that same year, Gibbons was joined by bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard, who surname notwithstanding, happens to be the only member without a beard. this line-up has remained unchanged to this day. The band's music is firmly rooted in the blues with an irresistable blend of boogie and hard rock, absorbing modern influences through the years without losing one iota of the down-home boogie that lies at their core. All this is topped off with songs that celebrate the joys of the road, whiskey, good women and bad behaviour with a lyrical cleverness and sense of humour. As to the band's name, Gibbons states in his autobiography, Rock And Roll Gearhead , the "ZZ" came from Bluesman Z.Z. Hill and the "Top" from blues great B.B. King, whom Gibbons considered to be at the "top" of his list of blues artists.

The band's manager Bill Ham, after molding the band into a professional act got them signed to London Records. They played their first show on February 10, 1970 in Beaumont, Texas and their debut album titled ZZ Top's First Album (clever, that) was released in 1971. Short on polish but long on attitude, the single from that LP "(Somebody Else Been) Shakin' Your Tree" peaked at #50 on the Billboard Top 100. The second album, 1972's Rio Grande Mud was greeted by good reviews but got very little airplay and as a result charted at #104 on the Billboard Top 200. The third time proved to be the charm with 1973's Tres Hombres. The band's gritty punch and Gibbons' yet-to-be -duplicated guitar tone along with quality songs like their ode to a small-town Texas whorehouse "La Grange" earned them their fist trip to the Top 10 and made them stars in the process.

It was on the subsequent tour to promote Tres Hombres that the band recorded the live tracks for the next album Fandango. This would be a half-live, half-studio collection which would also enter the top 10 while the single from the LP, "Tush" would peak at #20 on the Billboard chart. This solidified their status as one of the elite touring and recording acts.
1976 saw
the release of Tejas which was not as big a success as the previous two albums. The band continued their world tour and all told they had been touring for the last seven years. At the end of the tour the band split up for what was intended to be a 90-day break. The 90 days extended to two years, during which Gibbons and Hill grew their famous chest-length beards. Beard however, remained beardless. In 1979 the band signed to Warner Brothers Records and released the album Deguello. While going platinum, it only went as high as #24 on the U.S. chart. Two singles came from that album, a cover of the Sam And Dave hit "I Thank You" and the group's own "Cheap Sunglasses".

Next came El Loco, followed by what was probably their biggest album to date, 1983's Eliminator. A critical and commercial success, it sold more than 10 million copies and contained four mainstream rock hits, "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "You Got Me Under Pressure", "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man". The videos to those songs got heavy play on MTV, and the band won two MTV Video Music Awards for "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man".

Eliminator was a bit of a departure from the band's previous outings. Synthesizers and drum machines were used. In addition to this, research was obtained by the band that indicated the tempo of 120 beats per minute was the most popular tempo in rock at the time, which resulted in most of the tracks being recorded at that tempo. All too often such concessions to current trends caused a band to lose some of their music's soul and integrity. Not so here, these changes only served to add more punch to an already hard-as-nails approach. This formula was repeated on 1985's Afterburner, resulting in the band's highest charting album to date, with all of the singles from it reaching the top 40,two of which going to #1. The album sold 5 million units. The video for the single "Velcro Fly" was choreographed by Paula Abdul.

ZZ Top's last album for Warner Brothers was Recycler, which marked a return to the earlier, simpler guitar driven sound. With less synthesizer and pop influence, the album was not so well received by the fan base they built up with the previous two albums, which was huge. Fortunately the band had already had a large following from earlier in their career which offset this to a degree. While never matching the sales of Eliminator and Afterburner, Recycler did go platinum nonetheless on the strength of hits like "Give It Up" and "Burger Man".

The band signed a $35 million deal with RCA Records in 1994 and released the million-selling album Antenna. Subsequent releases Rythmeen and XXX sold well but not at the level of any of their previous output. The band's tours however maintained sell-out levels. Their final RCA album was the particularly guitar-heavy Mescalero.They performed at the half time show of Super Bowl XXXI in 1997, and made many guest appearances at sports events and television specials.
The band was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2004. They announced in 2008 plans to record a new album with producer Rick Rubin that will be a return to their pre-80s sound.


  1. Great article. ZZ Top is classic, and Billy Gibbons will always be one of the greatest guitarists. Just the solo on "Rough Boy" definitely proves this.

  2. Just got finished listening to "Rough Boy" and you are absolutely right, Ryan. Many thanks