ZZ Top[a] is an American rock band formed in 1969 in Houston, Texas. The group consists of founder Billy Gibbons (vocals, guitar), Dusty Hill (vocals, bass), and Frank Beard (drums). Initially rooted in blues, the band's style has evolved throughout their career, with a signature sound based on Gibbons' blues guitar style and the rhythm section of Hill and Beard. Their lyrics, often embellished with sexual innuendo, focus on their Texas roots and sense of humor. Popular for their live performances and the identical physical appearances of Gibbons and Hill—who are rarely seen without their long beards, sunglasses, and Stetson hats—the group has staged several elaborate tours.
ZZ Top formed after the demise of Moving Sidewalks, Gibbons' previous band. Within a year, they signed with London Records and released ZZ Top's First Album (1971). Subsequent releases, such as their first top-ten album Tres Hombres (1973) and the singles "La Grange" and "Tush", gained extensive radio airplay. By the mid-1970s, they had become renowned in North America for their live act, highlighted by their performances during the Worldwide Texas Tour from 1976 to 1977, which was a critical and commercial success.
Following a two-year break in response to creative stagnation and exhaustion, ZZ Top reinvented themselves in the late 1970s with a new musical direction and their now-famous public image. Beginning with their albums Degüello (1979) and El Loco (1981), they experimented with instruments including clavinets, saxophones, and synthesizers. They established a more mainstream sound and gained international favor with the records Eliminator (1983) and Afterburner (1985), which integrated influences from new wave, punk, and dance-rock. The popularity of their music videos, including those for "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "Sharp Dressed Man", and "Legs", helped propel them onto the television channel MTV and made them one of the more prominent artists in 1980s pop culture. Their Afterburner Tour set records for the highest-attended and highest-grossing concert tour of 1986. After additional acclaim with the release of their 10th album Recycler (1990) and its accompanying tour, their experimentation continued with mixed successes on the albums Antenna (1994), Rhythmeen (1996), XXX (1999), and Mescalero (2003). The group most recently released La Futura (2012) and Goin′ 50 (2019), the latter of which is a compilation album commemorating the band's 50th anniversary.
ZZ Top has released 15 studio albums and sold an estimated 50 million albums worldwide. They have won three MTV Video Music Awards, and in 2004, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone ranked Gibbons number 32 on its list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". Throughout their career, as a band and as individuals, they have supported several campaigns and charities, including Childline, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and a fundraiser for the Delta Blues Museum.
Early years (1969–1972)
The name of the band was Gibbons' idea. The band had a little apartment covered with concert posters and he noticed that many performers' names used initials. Gibbons particularly noticed B.B. King and Z. Z. Hill and thought of combining the two into "ZZ King", but considered it too similar to the original name. He then figured that "king is going at the top" which brought him to "ZZ Top."
ZZ Top was managed by Bill Ham, a Waxahachie, Texas, native who had befriended Gibbons a year earlier. They released their first single, "Salt Lick," in 1969, and the B-side contained the song "Miller's Farm." Both songs credited Gibbons as the composer. Immediately after the recording of "Salt Lick," Greig was replaced by bassist Billy Ethridge, a bandmate of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Mitchell was replaced by Frank Beard of American Blues. Due to lack of interest from the major American record companies, ZZ Top accepted a record deal from London Records, the American affiliate of the British Decca Records label. Unwilling to sign a recording contract, Ethridge quit the band and Dusty Hill, Frank Beard's American Blues bandmate, became his replacement. After Hill moved from Dallas to Houston, ZZ Top signed with London in 1970. They performed their first concert together at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Beaumont, Texas, on February 10, 1970.
In addition to assuming the role as the band's leader, Gibbons became the main lyricist and musical arranger. With the assistance of Ham and engineer Robin Hood Brians, ZZ Top's First Album (1971) was released and exhibited the band's humor, with "barrelhouse" rhythms, distorted guitars, double entendres, and innuendo. The music and songs reflected ZZ Top's blues influences. Following their debut album, the band released Rio Grande Mud (1972), which produced their first charting single, "Francine".
First decade and signature sound (1973–1982)
ZZ Top released Tres Hombres in 1973, which reached the No. 8 position on the Billboard 200 albums chart by early 1974. The album's sound was the result of the propulsive support provided by Hill and Beard, and Gibbons' "growling" guitar tone. Dan Erlewine wrote that the album "brought ZZ Top their first Top Ten record, making them stars in the process." The album included the boogie-driven "La Grange" (written about the Chicken Ranch, a notorious brothel in La Grange, Texas, that also inspired the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas). On the subsequent tour, the band performed sold-out concerts in the US. ZZ Top recorded the live tracks for one side of their 1975 album, Fandango!, during this tour. Fandango!, which also contained one side of new studio songs, was a top-ten album; its single "Tush" peaked at number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Tejas, released in 1976, would be the band's final album under their contract with London Records. It was not as successful or as positively received as their previous efforts, although the album went to number 17 on the Billboard 200. ZZ Top continued the Worldwide Texas Tour in support of Tejas through most of 1977, even though they had been touring regularly for seven years. The band then went on what was supposed to be a 90-day break from public appearances. Gibbons traveled to Europe, Beard went to Jamaica, and Hill went to Mexico. The break extended to two years, during which Gibbons and Hill grew chest-length beards.
In 1979, ZZ Top signed with Warner Bros. Records and released the album Degüello. While the album went platinum, it only reached number 24 on the Billboard chart. The album produced two popular singles: "I Thank You", a cover of the David Porter/Isaac Hayes composition originally recorded by Sam & Dave, and the band original "Cheap Sunglasses". The band remained a popular concert attraction and toured in support of Degüello. In April 1980, ZZ Top made their first appearance in Europe, performing for the German music television show Rockpalast. The band later played the BBC show The Old Grey Whistle Test, where they shared a studio with English electronic band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD). ZZ Top became fans of OMD's synthesizer-driven music and adopted elements of their energetic performance style, before themselves experimenting with synthesizers on the October 1981 album El Loco. The album peaked at number 17 on the Billboard chart, and featured the singles "Tube Snake Boogie", "Pearl Necklace", and "Leila".
Eliminator, Afterburner, and Recycler (1983–1991)
ZZ Top's next album was even more successful. Eliminator, released in March 1983, featured two top-40 singles ("Gimme All Your Lovin'" and "Legs"), and two additional Top Rock hits ("Got Me Under Pressure" and "Sharp Dressed Man"), with "Legs" peaking at number 13 on the Club Play Singles chart. Eliminator saw the band fully embrace synthesizers and elements of new wave music; electronic band Depeche Mode have been cited as an influence on the album. It became a critical and commercial success, selling more than 10 million copies while peaking at No. 9 in the U.S. Billboard pop charts. Several music videos from the album were in regular rotation on MTV. The band also won their first MTV Video Music Awards in the categories of Best Group Video for "Legs", and Best Direction for "Sharp Dressed Man". The music videos were included in their Greatest Hits video, which was later released on DVD and quickly went multi-platinum. The later lead singer of Survivor, Jimi Jamison, provided backing vocals in the album, after hanging with the band since the late 70's in different occasions. Gibbons referred to Jamison as the "fourth member" of the group for being a big fan, contributor and "humble person". However, the Eliminator album was not without controversy. According to former stage manager David Blayney in his book "Sharp Dressed Men", sound engineer Linden Hudson co-wrote much of the material on the album while serving as a live-in high-tech music teacher to Beard and Gibbons. Despite continued denials by the band, it settled a five-year legal battle with Hudson, paying him $600,000 after he proved he held the copyright to the song "Thug".
Despite not selling as many copies as Eliminator, 1985's Afterburner became the band's highest-charting album (No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard chart), racking up sales of five million units. All of the singles from Afterburner were Top-40 hits, with two ("Sleeping Bag" and "Stages") hitting number one on the Mainstream Rock chart. The music video for "Velcro Fly" was choreographed by pop singer Paula Abdul. ZZ Top's grueling Afterburner World Tour lasted well into 1987, which also had the release of The ZZ Top Sixpack, a three-disc collection of ZZ Top's albums from 1970 to 1981, with the exception of Degüello. The albums ZZ Top's First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, Fandango, and Tejas were remixed to have a more contemporary sound.
Recycler, released in 1990, was ZZ Top's last studio album under contract with Warner Records. Recycler was also the last of a distinct sonic trilogy in the ZZ Top catalogue, marking a return towards a simpler guitar-driven blues sound with less synthesizer and pop bounce than the previous two albums. This move did not entirely suit the fan base that Eliminator and Afterburner had built up, and while Recycler did achieve platinum status, it never matched the sales of those albums. However, the single "My Head's in Mississippi" did reach No. 1 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart that year.
Return to guitar-driven sound (1992–2003)
In 1992, Warner released ZZ Top's Greatest Hits, along with a new Rolling Stones-style cut, "Gun Love", and an Elvis-inflected video, "Viva Las Vegas". In 1993, ZZ Top inducted a major influence, Cream, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1994, the band signed a $35 million deal with RCA Records, releasing the million-selling Antenna. Subsequent RCA albums, Rhythmeen (1996) and 1999's XXX (the second album to feature live tracks) sold well, but did not reach the levels enjoyed previously. In 2003, ZZ Top released a final RCA album, Mescalero, an album thick with harsh Gibbons guitar and featuring a hidden track—a cover version of "As Time Goes By." RCA impresario Clive Davis wanted to do a collaboration record (in the mode of Carlos Santana's successful Supernatural) for this album. In an interview in Goldmine magazine, Davis stated that artists Pink, Dave Matthews, and Wilco were among the artists slated for the project. ZZ Top performed "Tush" and "Legs" as part of the Super Bowl XXXI halftime show in 1997.
A comprehensive four-CD collection of recordings from the London and Warner Bros. years, Chrome, Smoke & BBQ, was released in 2003. It featured the band's first single (A- and B-side) and several rare B-side tracks, as well as a radio promotion from 1979, a live track, and several extended dance-mix versions of their biggest MTV hits. Three tracks from Billy Gibbons' pre-ZZ band, the Moving Sidewalks, were also included.
Critical acclaim and retrospective releases (2004–2011)
Expanded and remastered versions of the original studio albums from the 1970s and 1980s are currently[when?] in production. Marketed as "Remastered and Expanded", these releases include additional live tracks which were not present on the original recordings. Three such CDs have been released to date (Tres Hombres, Fandango!, and Eliminator). The first two were released in 2006 and use the original mixes free from echo and drum machines, while Eliminator was released in 2008. The Eliminator re-release also features a collector's edition version containing a DVD featuring several videos and additional live tracks.
The Eliminator Collector's Edition CD/DVD, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band's iconic RIAA Diamond Certified album, was released September 10, 2008. The release includes seven bonus tracks and a bonus DVD, including four television performances from The Tube in November 1983.
The band performed at the 2009 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on the final night on March 22, 2009. In July, the band appeared on VH1's Storytellers, in celebration of their four decades as recording artists.
La Futura and subsequent events (2012–2018)
Billy Gibbons stated in an interview in August 2011 that a new album had been recorded, with initial recording taking place in Malibu, California, before moving to Houston, but was still unnamed and had yet to be mixed and mastered. Gibbons said that the expected release date was sometime in March or April 2012 but, later, a late summer or early fall release date was announced. The album was subsequently released on September 11, 2012.
Entitled La Futura, the album was produced by Rick Rubin. The first single from the album, "I Gotsta Get Paid", debuted in an advertising campaign for Jeremiah Weed Whiskey and appears on the soundtrack of the film Battleship. The song itself is an interpretation of "25 Lighters" by Texan hip hop DJ DMD and rappers Lil' Keke and Fat Pat. The first four songs from La Futura debuted on June 5, 2012, on an EP called Texicali. DJ Screw was a major influence on the album as well, particularly because Gibbons and Screw both worked with engineer G. L. Moon during the late 1990s.
The band kicked off a North American tour with a concert in Red Bank, New Jersey, at the Count Basie Theatre on March 3, 2015. After rescheduled dates and additions, the tour wrapped up with a concert in Highland Park, Illinois, at the Ravinia Pavilion on August 27, with opening act Blackberry Smoke. Jeff Beck joined ZZ Top for seven concerts on the tour.
On September 9, 2016, ZZ Top released a new live album entitled Tonite at Midnight: Live Greatest Hits from Around the World.
In 2017, ZZ Top announced their "2017 Tonnage Tour" which was to last from February 19 to March 14. However, they were forced to cancel last few dates of their tour due to the ailment of bassist Dusty Hill.
Upcoming sixteenth studio album (2019–present)
In a September 2019 interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, Hill stated that "there's a good chance" ZZ Top will release a follow-up to La Futura: "We've got a lot in the can. It depends on how we would want to put it together or redo it or whatever. Because it's years of stuff. We just record everything, and then we go, 'Well, no, this didn't quite feel right, right now.'" Gibbons told Las Vegas Review-Journal in April 2020 that he, Hill and Beard have been "cooking up another round of wicked sounds for the next ZZ record." On June 21, 2020, Gibbons stated interest in having guitarist Jeff Beck make a guest appearance on the album.
ZZ Top played Super Bowl XXXI in 1997, along with the Blues Brothers and James Brown. ZZ Top also performed at the 2008 Orange Bowl game in Miami, as well as the Auto Club 500 NASCAR event at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. On June 23, 2008, ZZ Top celebrated the release of their first live concert DVD titled Live from Texas with the world premiere, a special appearance, and charity auction at the Hard Rock Cafe in Houston. The DVD was officially released on June 24, 2008. The featured performance was culled from a concert filmed at the Nokia Theater in Grand Prairie, Texas, on November 1, 2007.
In June 2011, various media sources reported that the new song "Flyin' High" would debut in space. Astronaut and friend of ZZ Top Michael Fossum was given the released single to listen to on his trip to the International Space Station.
In addition to recording and performing concerts, ZZ Top has also been involved with films and television. In 1990, the group appeared as the "band at the party" in the film Back to the Future Part III and played the "Three Men in a Tub" in the movie Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme. ZZ Top made further appearances, including the "Gumby with a Pokey" episode of Two and a Half Men in 2010 and the "Hank Gets Dusted" episode of King of the Hill in 2007. The band also guest hosted an episode of WWE Raw. Billy Gibbons also had a recurring role as the father of Angela Montenegro in the television show Bones; though the character is never named, it is strongly implied that Gibbons is playing himself. Their song "Sharp Dressed Man" was one of the theme songs used for the television show Duck Dynasty, and on the series finale of the show they appeared with Si Robertson as a vocalist to perform the song on stage during Robertson's retirement party. Black Dahlia Films, led by Jamie Burton Chamberlin, of Seattle and Los Angeles, has contributed documentaries and back line screen work (the footage on back screens during live shows) and has become an integral part of the band's film-making. ZZ Top made a guest appearance in the episode "Sweet Dreams" (Season 3 Episode 8) of the television show St. Elsewhere on November 14, 1984. While the band appears in Luther's dream, once Luther wakes he finds the "Z" keychain in the lock of the door to the room he was sleeping in.
Awards and achievements
ZZ Top's music videos won multiple VMA awards during the 1980s, topping the categories of Best Group Video, Best Direction, and Best Art Direction for "Legs", "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Rough Boy", respectively. Among high honors for ZZ Top have been induction into Hollywood's RockWalk in 1994, the Texas House of Representatives naming them "Official Heroes for the State of Texas", a declaration of "ZZ Top Day" in Texas by then-governor Ann Richards on May 4, 1991, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. They were also given commemorative rings by actor Billy Bob Thornton from the VH1 Rock Honors in 2007.
ZZ Top has also achieved several chart and album sales feats, including six number-one singles on the Mainstream Rock chart. From the RIAA, ZZ Top has earned four gold, three platinum and two multiple-platinum album certifications, and one diamond album.
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