American rock band ZZ Top first gained real fame with their album “Tres Hombres” (1973), a Top 10 hit on the Billboard 200 and the band's first gold record in the U.S. The band went on to produce a string of hit albums, including “Fandango” (1975, #10), “Tejas” (1977, #17), “Degüello” (1979, # 24) and “El Loco” (1980, #17) before releasing “Eliminator” (1983), the band's most successful album to date. The album received diamond certification in the United States and 4X platinum in the U.K. After the huge success, ZZ Top released the multiple platinum selling album “Afterburner” (1985) and the platinum releases “Recycler” (1990) and “Antenna” (1994), but their subsequent three studio albums, “Rhythmeen” (1996), “XXX” (1999) and “Mescalero” (2003), failed to achieve the same level of success as their predecessors. Despite the decline in sales, the band has remained active and plays before live audiences. ZZ Top has produced over 40 singles, including the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks No. 1 hits “Sleeping Bag,” “Stages,” “My Head's in Mississippi,” “Concrete and Steel,” “Doubleback” and “Pincushion.”
Formed in 1969, ZZ Top, comprising of Billy Gibbons (lead vocals and guitar), Dusty Hill (vocals, bass and keyboards) and Frank Beard (drums and percussion), is known as one of the few rock bands to have the same members for over forty years. The band also had the same manager, Bill Ham, until September 2006. ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2006, the band received The Living Legend Award from the Board of Directors of the International Entertainment Buyer's Association (IEBA). Noted for their beards and sunglasses, Gibbons and Hill were reportedly offered $1 million each by the Gillette Company to shave their beards for a television commercial in 1984, which they declined.
Childhood and Family:
The son of a concert pianist, guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons (born December 16, 1949) formed the Texas group Moving Sidewalks at age 18. The band recorded several singles and one full length album and opened “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” during Hendrix's first American tour before disbanding. By late 1969, he had formed a new group with bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill (born May 19, 1949) and drummer Frank “Rube” Beard (born June 11, 1949) called ZZ Top. Hill and Beard were formerly in the same group, American Blues. In his autobiography “Rock + Roll Gearhead,” Gibbons explained the name came from a tribute to and a play on the name of blues guitarist B. B. King. Originally wanting to call the band Z.Z. King, they felt the name was too similar to B.B. King, who was at the “top.” The trio made their first performance together in February 1970 at an underground bar in Houston, Texas.
After signing a contract with London Records, ZZ Top released their first studio album, “ZZ Top's First Album,” on January 16, 1971. Recorded in 1970 at Robin Hood Studios with producer Bill Ham, the album produced the charting single “(Somebody Else Been) Shakin' Your Tree” (1971), which peaked at No. 50 on the Billboard Hot 100. The sophomore effort, “Rio Grande Mud,” released on April 4, 1972, went to No. 104 on the Billboard 200 and yielded the single “Francine” (1972), a Top 70 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
ZZ Top began gaining popularity when they served as an opening act for The Rolling Stones in three shows in Hawaii in January 1973. Their third studio album, “Tres Hombres,” which marked the first of a series of collaborations with engineer Terry Manning, was released on July 26, 1973. The album received praise and rose to No. 8 on the Billboard 200. It went gold in the United States and Canada and generated one of the group's most successful singles, “La Grange” (1973), which peaked at No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other album songs, such as “Waitin' for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” emerged as a fan favorite. In September 1974, the band drew a large audience with a performance at the Labor Day stadium concert in Austin, where they shared the stage with Joe Cocker, Santana, and Bad Company.
On April 18, 1975, ZZ Top launched the album “Fandango.” It peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and received gold status in the U.S. and platinum in Canada. The only single, “Tush,” peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song has ranked No. 67 on the VH1 list of “Best Hard Rock Song of All Time” and was featured in many feature films, including “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982), “The Perfect Storm” (2000) and “Ghost Rider” (2007).
In March 1975, ZZ Top began a North America concert tour called “Fandango Tour,” which ended in February 1976. They followed it up with the “Worldwide Texas Tour,” which ran from May 1976 to December 1977. Their next album, “Tejas,” was released on February 9, 1977. The album rose to No. 17 on the Billboard 200 and was certified gold by RIAA. The album spawned three singles with “It's Only Love” (1976), “Arrested for Driving While Blind” (1977) and “Enjoy and Get It On” (1977), which went to No. 44, No. 91 and No. 105 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively.
Because of their hectic schedule, the band took a break and on March 21, 1977, released their first greatest hits album, “The Best of ZZ Top,” which went to No. 94 on the Pop Albums chart in 1978 and No. 182 on the Billboard 200 in 1983. The album also went multi platinum in the United States and the group's manager/producer, Bill Ham, tried to negotiate a recording deal that permitted the band to hold rights to their catalog on London Records, which would later be distributed by their new label, Warner Bros. Records.
ZZ Top worked together again in 1979 for shows and the new album “Degüello.” Launched on August 27, 1979, under Warner Bros., the album rose to No. 24 on the Pop Albums chart in 1980 and No. 19 on the Austrian Albums chart. It was certified platinum by RIAA. The band covered the Sam and Dave hit single “I Thank You” for the album and their version peaked at No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100. Another single, “Cheap Sunglasses,” (1980), went to No. 89 on the Billboard Hot 100. The band supported the album with a tour, which took place in the United States and Europe from August 9, 1979, to January 3, 1981. The Rockets, Humble Pie, Alvin Lee and Rick Derringer were the opening acts on the tour.
Opening the 1980s, ZZ Top released the album “El Loco” on October 1, 1981. The album, which featured the band's first use of a synthesizer, peaked at No. 17 on the Pop Albums chart in 1981. It yielded three charted singles with “Leila” (1981), “Pearl Necklace” (1981) and “Tube Snake Boogie” (1981). “El Loco” was certified gold by RIAA and a tour began on May 30, 1981, and ended on January 8, 1983. Loverboy and Zebra joined the tour as opening acts.
ZZ Top achieved the zenith of its success with their eighth studio album, “Eliminator,” a mix of blues rock and synthesizers. Released on March 23, 1983, the album rose to No. 9 on the Billboard 200 and has been certified ten times multiple platinum in the U.S. In the U.K., the album peaked at No. 3 and went silver in 1984. The album also made the Top 10 in Australia, New Zealand and Austria and was named one of Rolling Stone magazine's “100 Greatest Albums of the 80s” in 1989. It also ranked No. 386 on the magazine's list of “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2003. The band supported the album with the “Eliminator Tour,” with Sammy Hagar as an opening act, from May 1983 to April 1984.
“Gimme All Your Lovin'” was released as the album's first single in 1983. The song rose to No. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock and No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the U.K., it went to No. 53 on the U.K. Singles chart, but enjoyed even higher charting (No. 10) when it was re-released. Other singles released from the album were “Got Me Under Pressure” (1983), a No. 18 hit on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks, “Sharp Dressed Man” (1983), which went to No. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks, No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 22 on the U.K. Singles chart, “TV Dinners,” No. 38 on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks chart and a No. 67 hit on the U.K. Singles Chart, and “Legs” (1984), which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 13 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play and No. 16 on the U.K. Singles Chart.
The follow up studio album, “Afterburner,” hit the music stores on October 28, 1985, and was a commercial success. It rose to No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and No. 2 on the U.K. Albums Chart and went 5X Platinum and Platinum in the U.S. and U.K., respectively. The album was supported with the “Afterburner World Tour,” which took place in North America, Europe and Asia and ran from December 1985 to March 1987. “Afterburner” produced six hit singles on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks, including “Sleeping Bag” (#1), “Stages” (#1), and “Woke Up with Wood” (#18).
On March 23, 1990, ZZ Top released the album “Recycler,” which marked the band's last studio album with Warner Bros. The album peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 200, No. 8 on the U.K. Albums Chart, No. 27 on the Australian Albums chart and No. 1 on the Swiss Albums Top 100. It was certified platinum in the U.S. and Canada and silver in the U.K. “Recycler” produced three No. 1 hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks with “Concrete and Steel” (1990), “Doubleback” (1990), which was also a Top 50 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and “My Head's in Mississippi” (1991). The album also contained the singles “Give It Up” (1991), No. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks and No. 79 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “Decision or Collision” (1991), which peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks. Still in 1990, ZZ Top had a cameo as an acoustic band in “Back to The Future Part III,” a comedy film directed by Robert Zemeckis that starred Michael J. Fox. The band then appeared in the television film “Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme.”
The concert tour “Recycler World Tour” began on October 20, 1990, in Dallas, Texas, and ended on August 30, 1991, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Bryan Adams, The Law, Thunder, and Little Angels were the opening acts for the show on July 6, 1991.
On April 14, 1992, Warner Bros. launched the band's “Greatest Hits” album with two new tracks, a remake of Elvis Presley's “Viva Las Vegas,” which peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks and No. 10 on the U.K. Singles chart, and “Gun Love,” a No. 8 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks. The album went triple platinum in the U.S., platinum in Canada and gold in the U.K.
The band released their next album, “Antenna,” on January 18, 1994, the band's first album release under RCA Records. Co-produced by Bill Ham and Billy Gibbon, the album went to No. 14 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 in the U.K. The first single, “Pincushion,” spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks. It also went to No. 15 on the U.K. Singles Chart. The album produced other singles like “Breakaway,” “Fuzzbox Voodoo” and “Girl in a T-Shirt,” which peaked at No. 7, No. 30 and No. 27 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks, respectively. “Antenna” eventually achieved platinum certification in the U.S. The supporting tour took place from May to December 1994. Meanwhile, on November 22, 1994, Warner Bros. released the group's compilation album “One Foot in the Blues,” which rose to No. 10 on the Top Blues Albums in 1995.
“Rhythmeen,” the band's next album with the RCA label, was released on September 17, 1996. It earned mixed reviews from music critics and peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard 200 and No. 32 on the U.K. Albums Chart. The album spawned four hits on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks with “Bang Bang” (#22), “She's Just Killing Me” (#12), “What's Up with That” (#5) and “Rhythmeen” (#35). The band supported the album with the “Continental Safari Tour” (June 14, 1996- March 8, 1997) and “Mean Rhythm Global Tour” (May 2, 1997- October 11, 1997).
ZZ Top closed out the decade with the release of the studio album “XXX” on September 28, 1999, which celebrated the 30th anniversary of the band. The album peaked at No. 100 on the Billboard 200 and generated the singles “Fearless Boogie” (1999), No. 13 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks, and “36-22-36” (2000), a Top 40 hit on the same Billboard chart. The “XXX Tour” was held between September 1999 to March 2000 with Lynyrd Skynyrd serving as the opener. The second tour, “Casino Tour,” took place from May 4 to May 12, 2002, while the third tour, “European Tour 2002,” lasted from October 1 to November 1, 2002.
After nearly a four year absence, ZZ Top released a new studio album titled “Mescalero” on April 15, 2003, which was solely produced by Gibbon. The album peaked at No. 57 on the Billboard 200 and became their last album with RCA Records. The only single released from the album, “Piece” (2003), failed to chart on any of the Billboard charts. The album was supported with the “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers Tour” (March to November 2003), the “Summer North American Tour” (June 2004 to September 2004) and “Whack Attack Tour” (June to November 2005).
On October 14, 2003, Warner Bros. released the band's box set called “Chrome, Smoke & BBQ.” It was followed by the compilation album “Rancho Texicano: The Very Best of ZZ Top” on June 8, 2004, which the band released under Rhino Records. The album peaked at No. 77 on the Billboard 200. On February 11, 2007, ZZ Top began a concert tour titled “Hollywood Blues Tour” in Hollywood, California, which ended on November 14, 2007, in Coachella, California. A concert in Grand Prairie, Texas, was recorded for the live DVD “Live from Texas,” which was released on June 24, 2008, under Eagle Rock Records. “Double Down Live” was released on October 20, 2009.
Austin Film Society: Texas Film Hall of Fame, 2008
Board of Directors of the International Entertainment Buyer's Association: The Living Legends Award, 2006
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2004