“That Little Ol’ Band From Texas” has been at it for well over a half century, delivering rock, blues and boogie on the road and in the studio to millions of devoted fans. With iconography as distinctive as their sound, ZZ TOP is virtually synonymous with beards, hotrod cars, spinning guitars and that magic keychain, all of which transcend geography and language.
It was in Houston in the waning days of 1969 that ZZ TOP coalesced from the core of two rival bands, Billy Gibbons’ Moving Sidewalks and Frank Beard and Dusty Hill’s American Blues. Their third album, 1973’s Tres Hombres, catapulted them to national attention with the hit “La Grange,” still one of the band’s signature pieces today. Eliminator, their 1983 album was something of a paradigm shift for ZZ TOP. Their roots blues skew was intact but added to the mix were tech-age trappings that soon found a visual outlet with such tracks as “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs” on the nascent MTV. It was one of the music industry’s first albums to have been certified Diamond, far beyond Gold and Platinum and a reflection of US domestic sales exceeding 10 million units.
As a touring entity, they’ve been without peer over the past five decades, having performed before millions of fans on four continents and have been the subject of their own Grammy-nominated documentary titled That Little Ol’ Band From Texas. The band’s line-up of the bearded Gibbons and Hill and Beard, who ironically is clean shaven, remained intact for more than 50 years until Dusty’s passing. When Dusty first fell ill, he annunciated Elwood Francis, the band’s long-standing guitar tech, as his “designated hitter.” Elwood whose musical chops and chin whiskers do Dusty’s legacy proud, continues to handle bass duties now and into the future.
The elements that keep ZZ TOP fresh, enduring and above the transitory fray can be summed up in the three words of the band’s internal mantra: “Tone, Taste and Tenacity.”. As genuine roots musicians, they have few peers. Their influences are both the originators of the form – Muddy Waters, B.B. King, et al – as well as the British blues rockers and Jimi Hendrix who emerged the generation before ZZ’s ascendance.
They have sold hundreds of millions of records over the course of their career, have been officially designated as Heroes of The State of Texas, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (by Keith Richards, no less) and have been referenced in countless cartoons and sitcoms. They are true rock icons and, against all odds, they’re really just doing what they’ve always done. ZZ TOP abides!