Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
Blues-rock trio formed '69 in Texas: Billy Gibbons, guitar, vocals; Dusty Hill, bass, vocals; Frank Beard, drums all b '49 in Texas; Gibbons had supported Jimi Hendrix '68 in Moving Sidewalks ('99th Floor' was regional hit); recruited Beard from American Blues, where he'd played with Hill. Released single 'Salt Lick' on manager/prod. Bill Ham's Scat label, made first LP privately, issued on London as ZZ Top's First Album, reflected straightforward blues infl. (John Lee Hooker, B. B. King etc); Rio Grande Mud '72 almost reached top 100 LPs USA; Tres Hombres '73 climaxed first stage of career, no. 8 LP USA: incl. stage favourites 'Jesus Just Left Chicago', 'La Grange', latter tale of Texas bordello becoming first US single hit at no. 41. Having achieved the big time, they peppered material with in-jokes for fans. Fandango '75 was half live, half studio, incl. much-covered heavy metal classic 'Tush', while Tejas '76 accompanied Worldwide Texas Tour '76--7 that sold 1.2m tickets and incl. (in USA) $140,000 worth of Texas livestock to set the scene: Newsweek reported that ticket sales exceeded Elvis Presley's, attendance exceeded Led Zeppelin, record sales beat Rolling Stones. Drained, they took a break (Gibbons studied synthesizer music in Europe), switched to WB, released Deguello '79, with nods to the past in covers of Elmore James's 'Dust My Broom' and Sam and Dave's 'I Thank You'. Now bearded and in boiler suits, they settled into two- year pattern, releasing El Loco '81, Eliminator '83, the latter a new commercial breakthrough and peak of second stage, merging heavy metal with disco and pop hooks but retained blues base, storming charts with hits 'Gimme All Your Lovin'' (no. 37 USA/10 UK), 'Legs' (8 USA), 'Sharp Dressed Man' ]fr56/45[, all backed by videos, distinctive hot-rod pictured on sleeve, translating group's well-known sexist/macho sense of humour: they could move with the times and simultaneously buck fashion. Another two-year break (during which Hill was nearly killed in firearms accident); then Afterburner '85 (the car had become a spaceship) was almost a cut-for-cut remake of Eliminator: no. 4 LP USA incl. top ten 'Sleeping Bag', but for the time being European success at least had been temporary. They surmount the limitation of a trio format by using backing tapes in live act (which draws criticism), but fans are loyal. Recycler '90 was followed by a Greatest Hits set '92 for four top ten USA albums in a row; Antenna '94 was a switch to RCA, reaching no. 14; Rhythmeen '96 was more of the same, blues with a lashing of Texas sauce ('Gibbons plays the whole of ''Loaded'' with what sounds like a faulty guitar lead, the instrument stuttering in and out of a heavily reverbed mix like a drunk negotiating a route home' (David Sinclair). The ZZ Top Six Pack on WB '88 had six early albums on three CDs.