riginally named The Moving Sidewalks by Billy Gibbons (guitar), Lanier Greig (bass) and Dan Mitchell (drums), they would release a single on Billy Ham's 'Scat' label resulting in a subsequent deal with 'London Records'. As a unit, they changed their name to ZZ-Top shortly later. Gibbons was featured prominently (who has once received praise by Jimi Hendrix for his axe work) during this time. They made their line-up debut on their first single Salt Lick. This was short lived before Greig was fired in preference for Bill Ethridge. Their classic line-upe merged shortly later with Frank Beard (drums) joining in to take over from Mitchell, while Dusty Hill signed up to replace the short lived Ethridge.
Their aptly titled ZZ Top's First Album appeared in 1971; its simple title matching its simple southern blues and boogie sound, a style that would come to define their act. They were a strong live act and their heavy touring (mostly in the US south initially) would build a grass roots support that would later sell their records. The public was only offered a glimpse to what would come.
Their second offering, Rio Grande Mud (1972), offered their first US hit with Francine. But It wasn't until 1973's Tres Hombres that they made an impact on the music scene, however, receiving an 8 in the UK (the previous effort made only 69). Fandango! (1975) was their attempt at putting their stellar live show onto vinyl. The crew continued to work on their Texan drawl with boot-leather riffing, and by 1976 they were popular enough to take their "Worldwide Texas Road Tour" on the road. This tour would rival the Rolling Stones in stage props and ticket sales. Afterward, their Tush single would be their highest charting single of the decade (at 20).
Up until this time they still failed to get acclaim from their peers in the industry, and 1977's Tejas and The Best Of ZZ-Top (a best-of compilation) were largely ignored, despite the latter making 17 on the UK charts. But 1979's Deguello, their first for 'Warner', would change all that. The album showed a perfected style with a newly added sense of humor, showing they had suss after-all, and weren't just the lucky bunch of hicks that the media portrayed them to be (they didn't mind though). It featured a cover of Elmore James' Dust My Broom, the simple but catchy Cheap Sunglasses, and Isaac Hayes' I Thank You. El Loco (1981), the follow-up, was almost as good. It featured the novelty track Pearl Necklace, the answer to Cheap Sunglasses.
The tongue and cheek smut talk had only started when Eliminator (1983) was launched. Here they let it all out by featuring tracks like Gimme All Your Lovin', Sharp Dressed Man, and the smash hit Legs. The respective videos for these hit tracks delivered exactly what they advertised: plenty of legs and women to wear them. The videos also brought their trademark long beards and old red Ford Coupe to the public eye. The record sold more than 10 million copies in the United States alone. With total record sales of 25 million had now put ZZ Top among the top-100-selling artists in the United States ever.
Much of the jock talk was gone for 1985's Afterburner, however. Further to this, the old Ford Coupe was suddenly converted into a rocket ship in the shape of a Ford Coupe flying high in the sky. The videos for Sleeping Bag and Velcro Fly ensured more MTV playtime and a hit record. Recycler (1990) featured much of the same style but was less successful commercially. It also saw them part ways with 'Warner' and join with the 'RCA' family.
During the 1990s they were less prolific and released only three albums, the 1992 hits compilation ZZ Top Greatest Hits (featuring a cover of Elvis' Viva Las Vegas), Antenna (1994) and Rhythmeen (1996). The former saw them finally abandoning their 1980s style and choosing to return to their meaner roots, despite the slackening sales as a whole. XXX would follow in 1999.
In 2003, the band released their final album for 'RCA', whom they had been with since 1994, Mescalero, an album thick with harsh Gibbons guitar and featuring a hidden track -- a cover version of As Time Goes By.
In 2004, the band was inducted into the rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Expanded and remastered versions of the original studio albums from the 1970s and 1980s arrived in, including additional live tracks which were not present on the original recordings. So far, Tres Hombres, Fandango! and Eliminator have been re-released. The first two were released in 2006 and use the original mixes free from echo and drum machines, while Eliminator was re-released in 2008 featuring a collector's edition version containing a DVD featuring several videos and additional live tracks.
La Futura, the next new album, arrived in 2012. 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 the album debuted on June 5, 2012, on an EP called Texicali.
On September 9, 2016, a new live album entitled Tonite at Midnight: Live Greatest Hits from Around the World would arrive.
At time of writing, they still have their beards (except, ironically, Frank Beard). As for the old Ford and all the girls with Legs? Your guess is as good as ours... One thing is for sure their name ensures them the last alphabetical spot in this encyclopedia. By 2014, the last statistic we have, ZZ Top had sold more than 50 million albums worldwide!
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ZZ Top on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2016
Photo by:Brian Marks
CC BY 2.0
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