ZZ Top

ZZ Top

Background information
Origin Houston, Texas, United States
Years active 1969–present
Associated acts
Website zztop.com
Past members
  • Lanier Greig
  • Dan Mitchell
  • Billy Ethridge

ZZ Top /ˈzztɒp/ is a rock band formed in 1969 in Houston, Texas. Current members are bassist and lead vocalist Dusty Hill, guitarist and lead vocalist Billy Gibbons (the band's leader, main lyricist and musical arranger), and drummer Frank Beard. One of just a few major label recording groups with the same lineup for more than 45 years, critics and fellow musicians praise ZZ Top for its technical mastery. "As genuine roots musicians, they have few peers," according to former musician, critic and collector Michael "Cub" Coda. "Gibbons is one of America's finest blues guitarists working in the arena rock idiom [...] while Hill and Beard provide the ultimate rhythm section support."[1]

The band released its first album—called ZZ Top's First Album—in 1971. Beginning with blues-inspired rock, the band incorporated new wave, punk rock and dance-rock by using synthesizers. The band is also known for its humorous lyrics laced with double entendres and innuendo.

The band's top-selling album was the 1983 Eliminator, which sold more than 10 million copies in the United States. Total record sales of 25 million place ZZ Top among the top-100-selling artists in the United States, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.[8] That includes 11 gold, seven platinum and three multi-platinum records as of 2016, according to the RIAA.

By 2014, ZZ Top had sold more than 50 million albums worldwide.[9]

ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.


Early years (1969–72)

The original line-up was formed in Houston and consisted of Gibbons, organist Lanier Greig (died February 2013)[10][11] and drummer Dan Mitchell.

The name of the band was Gibbons' idea. The band had a little apartment covered with concert posters and he noticed that many performers' names utilized initials. Gibbons particularly noticed B.B. King and Z.Z. Hill and thought of combining the two into "ZZ King", but considered it too similar to the original name. He then figured that "king is going at the top" which brought him to "ZZ Top".[12]

ZZ Top was managed by Bill Ham, a Waxahachie, Texas native who had befriended Gibbons a year earlier. They released their first single, "Salt Lick", in 1969, and the B-side contained the song "Miller's Farm". Both songs were credited to Gibbons. Immediately after the recording of "Salt Lick", Greig was replaced by bassist Billy Ethridge, a band-mate of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Mitchell was replaced by Frank Beard of the American Blues. Due to lack of interest from U.S. record companies, ZZ Top accepted a record deal from London Records. Unwilling to sign a recording contract, Ethridge quit the band and Dusty Hill was selected as his replacement. After Hill moved from Dallas to Houston, ZZ Top signed with London in 1970. They performed their first concert together at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Beaumont on February 10.

In addition to assuming the role as the band's leader, Gibbons became the main lyricist and musical arranger. With the assistance of Ham and engineer Robin Hood Brians, ZZ Top's First Album (1971) was released and exhibited the band's humour, with "barrelhouse" rhythms, distorted guitars, double entendres, and innuendo. The music and songs reflected ZZ Top's blues influences. Following their debut album, the band released Rio Grande Mud (1972), which failed commercially and the promotional tour consisted of mostly empty auditoriums.

First decade and signature sound (1973–82)

ZZ Top performing live in 1976.

ZZ Top released Tres Hombres in 1973. The album's sound was the result of the propulsive support provided by Hill and Beard, and Gibbons' "growling" guitar tone. Dan Erlewine wrote that the album "brought ZZ Top their first Top Ten record, making them stars in the process". The album included the boogie-driven "La Grange" (written about the Chicken Ranch, a notorious brothel in La Grange, Texas, that also inspired the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas). On the subsequent tour, the band performed sold-out concerts in the US. ZZ Top recorded the live tracks for their 1975 album, Fandango!, during this tour; the album showcased their prowess in exciting live audiences. Fandango! was a top-ten album; its single "Tush" peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Tejas, released in 1976, was not as successful or as positively received as their previous efforts, although the album went to no. 17 on the Billboard 200.[13] ZZ Top continued the Worldwide Texas Tour in support of Tejas, though they had been touring for seven years. The band then went on what was supposed to be a 90-day break from public appearances. Gibbons traveled to Europe, Beard went to Jamaica, and Hill went to Mexico.[14] The break extended to two years, during which Gibbons and Hill grew chest-length beards.[15]

In 1979, ZZ Top signed with Warner Bros. Records and released the album Degüello. While the album went platinum, it only reached no. 24 on the Billboard chart.[16] The album produced two popular singles: "I Thank You", a cover of a song recorded by Sam & Dave, and "Cheap Sunglasses". The band remained a popular concert attraction and toured in support of Degüello. In April 1980, ZZ Top made their first appearance in Europe, performing for the German music television show Rockpalast. Their next album, El Loco, was released in October 1981, and featured the singles "Tube Snake Boogie", "Pearl Necklace", and "Leila".[17]

Synthesizer period (1983–91)

Hill and Gibbons in 1983.

ZZ Top's next album was even more successful. Eliminator, released in March 1983, featured two top 40 singles ("Gimme All Your Lovin'" and "Legs"), and two additional Top Rock hits ("Got Me Under Pressure" and "Sharp Dressed Man"), with "Legs" peaking at no. 13 on the Club Play Singles chart.[18] Eliminator was a critical and commercial success, selling more than 10 million copies,[8] and several music videos were in regular rotation on MTV. The band also won their first MTV Video Music Awards in the categories of Best Group Video for "Legs", and Best Direction for "Sharp Dressed Man". The music videos were included in their Greatest Hits video, which was later released on DVD and quickly went multiple-platinum.[8] However, the Eliminator album was not without controversy. According to former stage manager David Blayney in his book "Sharp Dressed Men", sound engineer Linden Hudson co-wrote much of the material on the album while serving as a live-in high-tech music teacher to Beard and Gibbons. Despite continued denials by the band, it settled a five-year legal battle with Hudson, paying him $600,000 after he proved he held the copyright to the song "Thug".[19][20][21]

Despite not selling as many copies as Eliminator, 1985's Afterburner became the band's highest-charting album,[22] racking up sales of five million units.[8] All of the singles from Afterburner were Top 40 hits, with two ("Sleeping Bag" and "Stages") hitting no. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart.[22] The music video for "Velcro Fly" was choreographed by pop singer Paula Abdul.[23] ZZ Top's grueling Afterburner World Tour lasted well into 1987, which also saw the release of The ZZ Top Sixpack, a three-disc collection of ZZ Top's albums from 1970 to 1981, with the exception of Degüello. The albums ZZ Top's First Album, Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, Fandango, and Tejas were remixed to have a more contemporary sound.[24] The original mixes were included on the 2003 CD box set Chrome, Smoke & BBQ, and the 2004 compilation album Rancho Texicano. In 2006, Tres Hombres and Fandango! were re-released on CD with the original mixes intact. In 2013, Warner Bros. released The Complete Studio Albums 1970–1990, a 10-CD box set which contained the original mixes of ZZ Top's First Album, Rio Grande Mud and Tejas for the first time on CD.

Recycler, released in 1990, was ZZ Top's last studio album under contract with Warner Records. Recycler was also the last of a distinct sonic trilogy in the ZZ Top catalogue, marking a return towards a simpler guitar-driven blues sound with less synthesizer and pop bounce than the previous two albums. This move did not entirely suit the fan base that Eliminator and Afterburner had built up, and while Recycler did achieve platinum status, it never matched the sales of those albums.

Return to guitar-driven sound (1992–2003)

In 1992, Warner released ZZ Top's Greatest Hits, along with a new Rolling Stones-style cut, "Gun Love", and an Elvis-inflected video, "Viva Las Vegas". In 1993, ZZ Top inducted a major influence, Cream, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 1994, the band signed a $35 million deal with RCA Records,[25] releasing the million-selling Antenna. Subsequent RCA albums, Rhythmeen (1996) and 1999's XXX (the second album to feature live tracks) sold well, but did not reach the levels enjoyed previously. ZZ Top, however, continued to play to enthusiastic live audiences. In 2003, ZZ Top released a final RCA album, Mescalero, an album thick with harsh Gibbons guitar and featuring a hidden track — a cover version of "As Time Goes By". RCA impresario Clive Davis wanted to do a collaboration record (in the mode of Carlos Santana's successful Supernatural) for this album. In an interview in Goldmine magazine, Davis stated that artists Pink, Dave Matthews, and Wilco were among the artists slated for the project. ZZ Top performed "Tush" and "Legs" as part of the Super Bowl XXXI halftime show in 1997.

A comprehensive four-CD collection of recordings from the London and Warner Bros. years, Chrome, Smoke & BBQ, was released in 2003. It featured the band's first single (A- and B-side) and several rare B-side tracks, as well as a radio promotion from 1979, a live track, and several extended dance mix versions of their biggest MTV hits. Three tracks from Billy Gibbons' pre-ZZ band, The Moving Sidewalks, were also included.

Critical acclaim and retrospective releases (2004–11)

In 2004, ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones gave the induction speech. ZZ Top gave a brief performance, playing "La Grange" and "Tush".

ZZ Top at the Crossroads Guitar Festival, on June 26, 2010

Expanded and remastered versions of the original studio albums from the 1970s and '80s are currently in production. Marketed as "Remastered and Expanded", these releases include additional live tracks which were not present on the original recordings. Three such CDs have been released to date (Tres Hombres, Fandango!, and Eliminator). The first two were released in 2006 and use the original mixes free from echo and drum machines, while Eliminator was released in 2008. The Eliminator re-release also features a collector's edition version containing a DVD featuring several videos and additional live tracks.[26]

The Eliminator Collector's Edition CD/DVD, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band's iconic RIAA Diamond Certified album, was released September 10, 2008. The release includes seven bonus tracks and a bonus DVD, including four television performances from The Tube in November 1983.

The band performed at the 2009 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on the final night on March 22, 2009. In July, the band appeared on VH1's Storytellers, in celebration of their four decades as recording artists.[27]

La Futura and recent years (2012–present)

ZZ Top performing at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio in 2015

Billy Gibbons stated in an interview in August 2011 that a new album had been recorded, with initial recording taking place in Malibu, California before moving to Houston, but was still unnamed and had yet to be mixed and mastered.[28] Gibbons said that the expected release date was sometime in March or April 2012, but later on a release in the late summer or early fall was announced.[28] The album was subsequently released on September 11, 2012.[29]

Entitled La Futura, the album was produced by Rick Rubin.[30][31] 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.[32] The song itself is an interpretation of "25 Lighters" by Texan hip hop DJ DMD and rappers Lil' Keke and Fat Pat.[33] The first four songs from La Futura debuted on June 5, 2012, on an EP called Texicali.[34] DJ Screw was a major influence on the album as well, particularly because Gibbons and Screw both worked with engineer G. L. Moon during the late 1990s.[35]

ZZ Top in September 2016.

The band kicked off a North American tour with a concert in Red Bank, New Jersey, at the Count Basie Theatre on March 3, 2015. After rescheduled dates and additions, the tour wrapped up with a concert in Highland Park, Illinois, at the Ravinia Pavilion on August 27, with opening act Blackberry Smoke. Jeff Beck joined ZZ Top for seven concerts on the tour.[36][37]

Other appearances

ZZ Top performed at the 2008 Orange Bowl game in Miami, as well as the Auto Club 500 NASCAR event at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. On June 23, 2008, ZZ Top celebrated the release of their first live concert DVD entitled Live from Texas with the world premiere, a special appearance, and charity auction at the Hard Rock Cafe in Houston.[38] The DVD was officially released on June 24, 2008. The featured performance was culled from a concert filmed at the Nokia Theater in Grand Prairie, Texas, on November 1, 2007.

On January 22, 2010, Billy Gibbons accompanied Will Ferrell and others playing "Free Bird" on Conan O'Brien's last Tonight Show appearance. O'Brien joined in on guitar.[39]

On June 8, 2011, a press release, reported on various media sources, announced that the new song "Flyin' High" will debut in space. Astronaut and friend of ZZ Top, Michael Fossum, was given the released single to listen to on his trip to the International Space Station.[40]

On June 4, 2014, ZZ Top opened the CMT Awards performing "La Grange" with Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line.

Band members

Current members

Early members
  • Lanier Greig – bass guitar, organ (1969; died 2013)
  • Dan Mitchell – drums (1969)
  • Billy Ethridge – bass guitar (1969)


Main article: ZZ Top discography
Studio albums
  1. ZZ Top's First Album (1971)
  2. Rio Grande Mud (1972)
  3. Tres Hombres (1973)
  4. Fandango! (1975)
  5. Tejas (1976)
  6. Degüello (1979)
  7. El Loco (1981)
  8. Eliminator (1983)
  9. Afterburner (1985)
  10. Recycler (1990)
  11. Antenna (1994)
  12. Rhythmeen (1996)
  13. XXX (1999)
  14. Mescalero (2003)
  15. La Futura (2012)


In addition to recording and performing concerts, ZZ Top has also been involved with films and television. In 1990, the group appeared as the "band at the party" in the film Back to the Future Part III,[41] and played the "Three Men in a Tub" in the movie Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme.[42] ZZ Top made further appearances, including the "Gumby with a Pokey" episode of Two and a Half Men in 2010[43] and the "Hank Gets Dusted" episode of King of the Hill in 2007.[44] The band was also guest hosts on an episode of WWE Raw.[45] Billy Gibbons also portrays the father of Angela Montenegro in the television show Bones. Their song "Sharp Dressed Man" used to be the theme song on television show Duck Dynasty. Black Dahlia Films, led by Jamie Burton Chamberlin, of Seattle and Los Angeles, has contributed documentaries and back line screen work (the footage on back screens during live shows) and has become an integral part of the band's film-making.[46][47]

Awards and achievements

ZZ Top's music videos won awards throughout the 1980s, winning once each in the categories Best Group Video, Best Direction, and Best Art Direction. The videos that won the VMAs are "Legs", "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Rough Boy".[48] Some of the high honors ZZ Top have achieved include induction into Hollywood's RockWalk in 1994,[49] the Texas House of Representatives naming them "Official Heroes for the State of Texas",[50] a declaration of "ZZ Top Day" in Texas by then-governor Ann Richards on May 4, 1991,[51] and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. They were also given commemorative rings by actor Billy Bob Thornton from the VH1 Rock Honors in 2007.[25]

ZZ Top also holds several chart and album sales feats, including six number-one singles on the Mainstream Rock chart. From the RIAA, ZZ Top has achieved four gold, three platinum and two multiple-platinum album certifications, in addition to one diamond album.[8] In addition to this, many of their songs have become classic rock and hard rock radio staples.

See also


  1. 1 2 Koda, Cub. "ZZ Top – Artist Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  2. Bashe, Patricia; George-Warren, Holly, eds. (2001). The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (3rd ed.). Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-0120-9.
  3. Talevski, Nick (2006). Rock Obituaries – Knocking On Heaven's Door. Omnibus Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-1-8460-9091-2.
  4. Bonson, Fred (August 31, 1996). "Wea's Greatest Hits". Billboard. 108 (35): 34. ISSN 0006-2510. It was the band's second album, "Tres Hombres," that established their boogie-rock credentials by peaking at No. 8 in 1974.
  5. Cibula, Matt (January 4, 2004). "ZZ Top: Mescalero". PopMatters. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  6. McPadden, Mike (2012). "ZZ Top". If You Like Metallica... Backbeat Books.
  7. Zalkind, Ronald (1980). Contemporary Music Almanac: 1980–1981 (1st ed.). Schirmer Books. p. 349.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "RIAA – Gold & Platinum Searchable Database – Eliminator". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  9. "ZZ Top "Live At Montreux 2013" DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital Formats Out July 22, 2014". Music Recall Magazine. June 16, 2014. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  10. Dansby, Andrew (February 16, 2013). "Greig, early ZZ Top member, dies at 64". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  11. "The Dead Rock Stars Club – 2013 January to June". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  12. "Uncle Joe Benson – The Story: ZZ Top 9-11-15 The Stor". SoundCloud. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  13. "Tejas – Awards". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  14. di Perna, Alan (July 2, 2008) ZZ Top: Cars, Guitars, & Three Unlikely Rock Stars at the Wayback Machine (archived October 30, 2008). Guitar World.
  15. Tom Vickers, sleeve notes for Rancho Texicano (Warner Bros Records Inc., 2004).
  16. "Degüello – Awards". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  17. "El Loco – Awards". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  18. "Eliminator – Awards". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
  19. Blayney, David (1994). Sharp Dressed Men. New York: Hyperion. pp. 196–203. ISBN 0-7868-8005-8.
  20. Frost, Deborah (1985). ZZ Top - Bad And Worldwide. New York: Rolling Stone Press. ISBN 0020029500.
  21. Sinclair, David (1986). Tres Hombres: The Story of ZZ Top. Virgin. ISBN 0-86369-167-6.
  22. 1 2 "Afterburner – Awards". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
  23. "Paula Abdul – Times Topics". The New York Times. August 5, 2009. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  24. Merlis, Bob; Bessman, Jim (1987). ZZ on CD: Meeting The Digital Challenge Head On. ZZ Top Six Pack CD Booklet: Warner Bros Records. p. 2.
  25. 1 2 "VH1 Rock Honors 2007 – Honorees". VH1. 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  26. "Eliminator" Reissue Coming March 25th! at the Wayback Machine (archived July 18, 2011). ZZtop.com. January 14, 2008.
  27. "VH1 To Premiere ZZ Top "Storytellers"" (Press release). AHN. June 10, 2009. Retrieved December 18, 2010.
  28. 1 2 "ZZ Top 'Sowing and Stitching Away' at New Album, Says Billy Gibbons". Ultimate Classic Rock. Archived from the original on September 21, 2011. Retrieved September 22, 2011.
  29. La Futura Arrives This September From ZZ Top at the Wayback Machine (archived October 14, 2012). ZZtop.com. August 3, 2012.
  30. Fricke, David; Helton, Eric; Murphy, Matthew (November 29, 2011). "Billy Gibbons on the band's next album". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  31. "La Futura By ZZ Top". MP396. September 13, 2012. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  32. "Battleship (2012) – Soundtracks". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  33. Giles, Jeff (May 30, 2012). "ZZ Top's New Single Based on '90s Rap Song". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  34. "Release Day!". ZZtop.com. Retrieved July 7, 2012.
  35. Ratliff, Ben (September 6, 2012). "Traveling at the Speed of Molasses". The New York Times. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  36. "ZZ Top 2015 North American Tour Schedule With Jeff Beck & Blackberry Smoke". Zz-top.concerttournewshub. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  37. "Upcoming Tour Dates". Zztop.com. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  38. "EVENTS". Hardrock.com. June 23, 2008. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
  39. Rotman, Natalie (January 23, 2010). "O'Brien ends run on 'Tonight' show after 7 months" (Press release). Associated Press. Retrieved May 9, 2015.
  40. "ZZ Top Debuts New Song In Space". Ultimate-guitar.com. August 6, 2001. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  41. "Back to the Future Part III (1990) – Full Cast & Crew". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  42. "Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme (1990) – Full Cast & Crew". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  43. ""Two and a Half Men" Gumby with a Pokey (2010) – Full Cast & Crew". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  44. ""King of the Hill" Hank Gets Dusted (TV episode 2007)". Internet Movie Database. 2007. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  45. "WWF Raw Is War – Episode dated 20 July 2009". Internet Movie Database. 2009. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  46. "Black Dahlia Films + Seattle, WA". Blackdahliafilms.com. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  47. "New ZZ Top tour features West Seattle talent". West Seattle Herald. September 7, 2012. Retrieved February 22, 2015.
  48. "1986 Video Music Awards". MTV. Viacom. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  49. "Hollywood's RockWalk – ZZ Top". Guitar Center. 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  50. Yonke, David (September 9, 2009). "ZZ Top: Rocking hard since '69". Toledo Blade. Retrieved December 18, 2010.
  51. "Member News Releases" (Press release). Texas House of Representatives. September 29, 2005. Retrieved December 18, 2010.


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