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Legends of Southern Rock: ZZ Top

by Michael Buffalo Smith

"ZZ Top was the best band in the world at remaining mysterious for so long. That was part of their appeal. You saw these beards, and they didn’t talk as much as they do these days. There was just a real mystery about them for a long time. And then in terms of their sound, I always liked people who are unique, and nobody ever sounded like them, before or since. You can call it blues rock or whatever, but once you hear the guitar of Billy Gibbons, you know it’s ZZ Top. They were one of a kind and still are. That’s what I always loved about them." - Billy Bob Thornton, for GRITZ


The Legends of Southern Rock Series

Some folks have asked me if ZZ Top should be considered a Southern Rock band. What? That "little ol' band from Texas" is as Southern Rock as a bottle of Wild Turkey and a dirt track race. They are one of the true pioneers, or three pioneers, actually... I was told there would be no math.

We proudly present our tip of the top hat to a true original. ZZ Top.

ZZ Top was formed when Billy Gibbons of Texas band Moving Sidewalks teamed up with Frank Beard and Dusty Hill of American Blues in 1969.

As for the band name, Billy Gibbons states in his book Rock & Roll Gearhead, that the name came from the name of blues master B. B. King. They wanted to call themselves Z.Z. King but sounded too similar to their blues hero. They figured that "King" was at the "top" so thus settled on ZZ Top. So much for the rolling papers theory.

ZZ Top played their first show in February, 1970 and toured almost nonstop for several years. Their first two albums were recorded in Texas. In 1973, they recorded their third album, Tres Hombres,  with engineer Terry Manning at Ardent Studios in Memphis. The record was released on London Records and contained the classic song "La Grange."

In September of 1974, ZZ Top drew 80,000 fans to a Labor Day stadium concert in Austin that they dubbed “ZZ Top’s First Annual Texas Size Rompin’ Stompin’ Barndance and Bar B.Q.”

The band continued touring, recording, and releasing albums until 1977, when they took an extended hiatus. Their long-time manager/producer/image maker Bill Ham used this time to negotiate a deal that allowed the band to keep control of their previous recordings, which would be distributed by their new label, Warner Bros. Records. They reunited two and a half years later in order to start recording under the Warners contract. During their down time, Hill and Gibbons had both grown their now-famous beards.

With the advent of MTV, ZZ Top’s stars aligned perfectly, and when they released the 1983 album Eliminator, music videos for the tracks "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man" entered heavy rotation, becoming instant audience favorites. The videos featured a bright red 1933 Ford Coupe 3 window hotrod called The Eliminator and a trio of mysterious, beautiful women.

The album also featured a distinctive synthesizer-laced sound—a rarity in the blues rock genre, which added a modern, electronic edge to the music, and helped the album become successful and a fan favorite. Eliminator remains their most successful album to date.

Recycler
was released in 1990, and proved to be the band's last album under their contract with Warner Records. With Recycler, ZZ Top began to move back towards a more guitar-driven blues sound. It was a move that left their Texas-techno fans cold, but brought a lot of smiles to their multitudes of old school Southern Rock fans.

ZZ Top also contributed to the soundtrack, and appeared as the band in the wild-west dance scene in the 1990 movie Back to the Future III. They also appeared in the 1990 TV movie Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme, portraying the Three Men In A Tub.

A comprehensive four-CD collection of recordings from the London and Warner Bros. years entitled Chrome, Smoke & BBQ was released in 2003, complete with ZZ Top paper dolls and a flip-book.

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

In 2006, it was reported that ZZ Top were recording their 15th studio album, however this album failed to appear, and on September 17, 2006 the band ended their contract with RCA Records and left their manager Bill Ham, president of Lone Wolf management. No reasons were given for these changes.

The band was honored by Billy Bob Thorton at the second annual VH1 Rock Honors on May 24, 2007. Nickelback performed a rendtion of “Sharp Dressed Man” as a tribute to the “little ol’ band from Texas.”

On November 1, 2007 the band taped a live performance at the Nokia Theater in Grand Prairie, Texas, which will become a live DVD release (projected release date of June 9, 2008).

ZZ Top's most recent high-profile was a performance at the 2007 Orange Bowl game in Miami. They also performed in 2008 at the Auto Club 500 NASCAR event at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

The Eliminator Collector's Edition CD/DVD celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band's iconic RIAA Diamond Certified album is scheduled to be released June 9, 2008. The release will includeseven bonus tracks (five of which are previously unreleased live cuts from 1983) and a bonus DVD (including the four concept videos originally associated with the album and four live performances from a 1983 British television program).



Discography

1971     ZZ Top's First Album   London Records
1972     Rio Grande Mud            
1973     Tres Hombres            
1975     Fandango!        
1977     Tejas            
1979     Degüello    
1981     El Loco        
1983     Eliminator    
1985     Afterburner    
1990     Recycler    
1994     Antenna    
1996     Rhythmeen        
1999     XXX        
2003     Mescalero            

Compilations
1977     The Best of ZZ Top    
1987     The ZZ Top Six Pack            
1992     Greatest Hits    
1994     One Foot in the Blues            
2003     Chrome, Smoke & BBQ            
2004     Rancho Texicano     77        

Some information borrowed from internet sites including Wikipedia.


The Legends of Southern Rock Series

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