ZZ Top Biography
Formed in Houston, Texas, USA, in 1970, ZZ Top evolved out of the citys psychedelic scene and consist of Billy Gibbons (16 December 1949, Houston, Texas, USA; guitar/vocals, ex-Moving Sidewalks), Dusty Hill (b. Joe Hill, 19 May 1949, Dallas, Texas, USA; bass/vocals) and Frank Beard (b. 11 June 1949, Frankston, Texas, USA; drums), the last two both ex-American Blues. ZZ Tops original line-up - Gibbons, Lanier Greig (bass) and Dan Mitchell (drums) - was also the final version of the Moving Sidewalks. This initial trio completed ZZ Tops debut single, Salt Lick, before Greig was fired. He was replaced by Bill Ethridge. Mitchell was then replaced by Frank Beard while Dusty Hill subsequently joined in place of Ethridge. Initially ZZ Top joined a growing swell of southern boogie bands and started a constant round of touring, building up a strong following. Their debut album, while betraying a healthy interest in blues, was firmly within this genre, but Rio Grande Mud indicated a greater flexibility. It included the rousing Francene which, although indebted to the Rolling Stones, gave the trio their first hit and introduced them to a much wider audience.
Their third album, Tres Hombres, was a powerful, exciting set that drew from delta music and high-energy rock. It featured the bands first national Top 50 hit with La Grange and was their first platinum album. The trios natural ease was highly affecting and Gibbons startling guitar work was rarely bettered during these times. In 1974, the bands first annual Texas-Size Rompin Stompin Barndance And Bar-B-Q was held at the Memorial Stadium at the University Of Texas. 85, 000 people attended: the crowds were so large that the University declined to hold any rock concerts, and it was another 20 years before they resumed. However, successive album releases failed to attain the same high standard and ZZ Top took an extended vacation following their expansive 1976/7 tour. After non-stop touring for a number of years the band needed a rest. Other reasons, however, were not solely artistic, as the trio now wished to secure a more beneficial recording contract.
They resumed their career in 1979 with the superb Deguello, by which time both Gibbons and Hill had grown lengthy beards (without each other knowing!). Revitalized by their break, the trio offered a series of pulsating original songs on Deguello as well as inspired recreations of Sam And Daves I Thank You and Elmore James Dust My Broom. The transitional El Loco followed in 1981 and although it lacked the punch of its predecessor, preferring the surreal to the celebratory, the set introduced the growing love of technology that marked the trios subsequent releases. Eliminator deservedly became ZZ Tops bestselling album (10 million copies in the USA by 1996). Fuelled by a series of memorable, tongue-in-cheek videos, it provided several international hit singles, including the million-selling Gimme All Your Lovin. Sharp Dressed Man and Legs were also gloriously simple yet enormously infectious songs. The trio skilfully wedded computer-age technology to their barrelhouse R&B to create a truly memorable set that established them as one of the worlds leading live attractions. The follow-up, Afterburner, was another strong album, although it could not match the sales of the former. It did feature some excellent individual moments in Sleeping Bag and Rough Boy, and the cleverly titled Velcro Fly. ZZ Top undertook another lengthy break before returning with the impressive Recycler. Other notable appearances in 1990 included a cameo, playing themselves, in Back To The Future III. In 1991 a greatest hits compilation was issued and a new recording contract was signed the following year, with BMG Records. The bands studio work during this decade failed to match the commercial and critical success of the 80s, although 1996s Rhythmeen demonstrated a willingness to experiment with their trademark sound. The trio celebrated three decades playing music together on 1999s XXX. The following year Hill was diagnosed with hepatitis C, forcing the band to cancel a planned tour. After his recovery the band completed work on a new studio album, 2003s Mescalero. The following March, the band was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Over the years, one of ZZ Tops greatest strengths has been their consistently high-standard live presentation and performance on numerous record-breaking (financially) tours in the USA. One of rocks maverick attractions, Gibbons, Hill and Beard have retained their eccentric, colourful image, dark glasses and Stetson hats, complete with an almost casual musical dexterity that has won over hardened cynics and carping critics. In addition to having produced a fine (but sparse) canon of work, they will also stay in the record books as having the longest beards in musical history (although one member, the inappropriately named Frank Beard, is clean-shaven). Whether by design or chance, they are doomed to end every music encyclopedia.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.