This sturdy American blues-rock trio from Texas formed in 1969 in and around Houston, from rival bands The Moving Sidewalks (Gibbons) and The American Blues (Hill and Beard).
Their first two albums reflected the strong blues roots and Texas humour of the band. Their third album, Tres Hombres (1973), peaked at #8 and gained them national attention with their hit La Grange, a signature riff tune to this day, based on John Lee Hooker‘s Boogie Chillen.
Their success continued unabated throughout the 70s, culminating with the year and a half-long Worldwide Texas Tour.
Exhausted from the overwhelming workload, they took a three-year break – during which, completely independently of each other, Gibbons and Hill grew their trademark beards – then switched labels and returned to form with Deguello and El Loco, both harbingers of what was to come.
By their next album, Eliminator (1983), and its worldwide smash follow-up Afterburner (1985), they had successfully harnessed the potential of synthesizers to their patented grungy blue-groove, giving their material a more contemporary edge while retaining their patented Texas style.
Now sporting long beards (except, ironically, for Frank Beard), golf hats and boiler suits, they met the emerging video age head-on, reducing their message to simple iconography.
ZZ Top made videos for three tracks from Eliminator which, while not very politically correct, featured the randy band with an assortment of beautiful ladies in amusing situations.
The videos made hits of all the songs (Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs), sent the album into the multi-platinum zone (it eventually became one of the best-selling albums of the decade), won the band a few MTV Music Video Awards and made them superstars.
They moved with the times while simultaneously bucking every trend that crossed their path.
Though the hit singles became less frequent, ZZ Top had another Top 10 album with 1990’s Recycler. After a switch to RCA Records, the band enjoyed another platinum record, 1994’s Antenna, and released an album of blues treatments that same year entitled One Foot In The Blues.
As genuine roots musicians, they had few peers. Gibbons is one of America’s finest blues guitarists working in the rock arena, while Hill and Beard provided the ultimate rhythm section support.
ZZ Top’s music is always instantly recognisable, eminently powerful and 100% American in derivation and style.
They continued to support the blues through various means, perhaps the most visible when they were given a piece of wood from Muddy Waters‘ shack. The group members had it made into a guitar, dubbed the “Muddywood”, then sent it out on tour to raise money for the Delta Blues Museum.
Bass player Dusty Hill passed away on 28 July 2021 at his home in Houston. He was 72.