Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2019. We are sharing it again as part of our month long celebration of Texas.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members and Houston, Texas natives ZZ Top might not immediately come to mind when you think of country music. But the legendary classic rock band — or that little ol' band from Texas as they call themselves — made up of guitarist Billy Gibbons, drummer Frank Beard and vocalist/bassist Dusty Hill, who passed away in 2021, is a lot more country than you think. (They even performed their first concert together at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Beaumont, Texas.)
A documentary on the band, ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas, premiered in 2019.
How ZZ Top Was Born
When the band was first formed, it was Gibbons, Dan Mitchell and Lanier Greig. Gibbons was really drawn to the names B.B. King and Z.Z. Hill and almost landed on the combined name of Z.Z. King. But since the king is technically "on top," ZZ Top was born. The band's first single, "Salt Lick," helped the group secure a deal with London Records, the U.S. affiliate of the British label Decca Records. Bassist Billy Ethridge replaced Greig and Frank Beard replaced Mitchell. Ethridge quit when he didn't want to sign with London records and Dusty Hill took his spot.
Tres Hombres, ZZ Top's first album with the main group, was an instant success and turned the band into stars pretty much overnight. One of the band's most popular songs, "La Grange," was written about the Chicken Ranch in LaGrange, Texas — the famous brothel portrayed in the country musical classic "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."
In 1975, the group released another top 10 album Fandango!, which featured the single "Tush." The band went on a worldwide tour to promote their 1976 album, Tejas, which peaked at No. 17 on the charts. After taking a two year break, ZZ Top signed with Warner Bros Records and released the platinum album Degüello which produced popular singles "I Thank You" and "Cheap Sunglasses".
From there, ZZ Top took their twangy, Texas-inspired rock and shot to the top of the popular music world. After the release of their 1983 multi-platinum album Eliminator, which featured some of the greatest hits in rock history, they won their first MTV Video Music Awards for "Legs." With Billboard chart-toppers like "Sharp Dressed Man," "Gimme All Your Lovin" and "Got Me Under Pressure," ZZ Top was one of the top acts on MTV. Several of their videos played in regular rotation on the insanely popular network.
Like their blues-rock peers Lynyrd Skynyrd, it was undeniable that ZZ Top had some serious country boogie and American blues influence. From their Worldwide Texas Tour to country and blues-rock songs like "Jesus Left Chicago," ZZ Top was able to further imbue country music into the DNA of the rock world.
Inside Their Lasting Partnership
After figuring out the perfect mix of personalities, the band has consistently been Gibbons, Beard and Hill for decades. Gibbons once told the National Podcast of Texas that the secret to their longevity lies in everyone essentially understanding personal space.
"Someone asked recently, 'How did you three guys manage to stay together for longer than most marriages?' Two words come to mind: separate buses. It's made it all go all right. It's a good team."
Gibbons has also told Kentucky.com that the three men just love playing together.
"Of course, standing as a trio, an odd number helps as there can't be any ties when a group decision is made. So, if one of us isn't in accord with the other two, odd man out just goes with the flow. And, since it's so in fashion to 'break up' and then 'get back together,' one can think of ZZ Top as being on an infinite tour that just skipped the part where you split. However, we're really good at getting back together."
Bassist Dusty Hill passed away in 2021 at the age of 72.
We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, Texas. We, along with legions of ZZ Top fans around the world, will miss your steadfast presence, your good nature and enduring commitment to providing that monumental bottom to the 'Top'. We will forever be connected to that 'Blues Shuffle in C.'," Gibbons and Beard shared in July of 2021.
The band's longtime guitar tech Elwood Francis has been filling in for Hill.
ZZ Top is set to perform at the 2023 Stagecoach Festival.
The country rock legends have continued to tour and honor their country roots. ZZ Top may be rock legends on par with The Rolling Stones, but they've got Texas in their blood and country music in their souls.
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