This "Little Ol' Band From Texas" had its origins outside of Houston. This American blues-driven trio consists of three members—two of which sport foot long beards. Billy Gibbons plays the guitar, Frank Beard (the only member without a beard) plays the drums, and Dusty Hill plays the bass. Gibbons, Beard and Hill jammed together for the first time on February 10, 1970, forming themselves from rival bands (Gibbons played on The Moving Sidewalks, while Hill and Beard played on The American Blues). The trio came together with their love for blues and an appreciation for Jimmy Vaughan.
Guitarist Gibbons grew up idolizing the rhythm and blues styles of Elvis Presley and James Brown before playing for the Moving Sidewalks in 1967. The Moving Sidewalks released "99th Floor" which had major local success, and also opened up for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968. Unfortunately, Gibbon's bandmates were drafted for Vietnam, leading him to the American Blues Band, where he met fellow ZZ Top bandmembers Hill and Beard.
This Texas favorite failed to release a major hit with their first LP, First Album (1970) which was released under London Records. The band continued playing, and their next two records earned them two national hits and an invitation to open for the Rolling Stones in 1972.
By now, Billy Gibbons had perfected his "dirty electric guitar sound," and began attracting national attention with their next album—Tres Hombres (1973). Tres Hombres became ZZ Top's first gold album, and featured "La Grange," which was based on John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen," and became their first Top 40 hit. The album also featured classics such as "Waitin' For The Bus," and "Jesus Just Left Chicago."
The group's success continued throughout the decade, with consistently good musical output and a fast-growing fanbase. ZZ Top's next album, Fandango (1975) stayed on the charts for 83 weeks and sold over a million copies. It featured live versions "Shaking Your Tree," "Brown Sugar," and "Back Door Love Affair," all of which were songs from their debut album. This half-studio, half-live album also featured "Tush," which hit the Top 20, and "Heard It On The X," another fan favorite.
In 1976, ZZ Top began their World Wide Texas Tour, promoting their latest album, Tejas (1976). The album featured hits such as "Arresting For Driving While Blind," and "El Diablo." But what caught the most attention was the actual tour. The band brought live cattle, bison, rattlesnakes and cactus on stage, and ended up grossing more than $11.5 million, making it one of the most successful tours of that time. Now it would seem that the band would take the next step forward—but to the surprise of all, ZZ Top took three years to relax.
The trio returned in 1979 by signing with the Warner Bros. and released Deguello, arguably one of the band's best performances. By this time ZZ Top was selling out arenas and receiving much deserved airplay. The album featured "I Thank You," "Cheap Sunglasses," and "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide." Deguello was temporarily pulled from the shelves due to a legal dispute between the members of Elmore James' estate, whose "Dust My Broom" appears on the album. The suit was eventually settled, and the album returned to the shelves.
Next in store for ZZ Top fans was El Loco (1981) which featured songs such as "Party On The Patio," "Pearl Necklace," and "Tube Snake Boogie." But this wasn't enough for the widely popular and successful band. They released the experimental and catchy rock album, Eliminator (1983), which was named after Gibbons' 1933 Ford Coupe. It sold ten million copies, peaked on the Billboard charts at number nine, and remained on the charts for 135 weeks. It featured hits such as "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Legs."
The band maintained its popularity partly due to the increasingly popular cable channel, MTV, where they created a hip and endearing image, sporting sunglasses, long beards, golf caps, and boiler suits. "ZZ Top videos, replete with the '33 Ford and bearded bad boys, became MTV staples and icons of the age." Gibbons became known across America as one of the best blues guitarist, and Hill and Beard provided rhythm section support.
ZZ Top began experimenting with drum machines, sequencers and computer sampling on Afterburner (1985)—another worldwide hit album featuring the Top 10 hit "Sleeping Bag," as well as "Velcro Fly," and "Rough Boy."
After taking another multi-year break, ZZ Top returned in 1990 with the critically acclaimed Recycler. The album featured "Doubleback," the theme song for Back To The Future III, and "My Head's In Mississippi," a combination of ZZ Top's early blues rock, and later computerized, high-tech work.
ZZ Top released a Greatest Hits album in 1992, which is customary for artists to do after remaining on top of the charts for so many years. It featured classic hits and two new singles, "Gun Love," and "Viva Las Vegas."
ZZ Top switched labels yet again—this time signing under RCA, where they released Antenna (1994). Here, the band abandoned the synthesizers, and their sound became highly reminiscent of their old days. It featured "Pincushion," "Breakaway," and "World Of Swirl." That same year, they released One Foot In The Blues which became a compendium of seventeen classic ZZ Top blues originals.
Rhythmeen (1996) was released next, featuring singles such as "She's Just Killing Me," (which also appeared on the soundtrack for From Dusk Till Dawn) "What's Up With That," "Bang Bang" and "Rhythmeen." ZZ Top went on their Continental Safari during 1996-1997, and then embarked on a follow-up global tour called "Mean Rhythm."
ZZ Top's latest albums, XXX (1999) gives indication that the band has not forgotten their musical roots, and will remain a solid draw on the concert circuit.
This "Little Ol' Band From Texas" has topped record charts for more than three years straight. They have broken concert attendance records set by the Beatles. They have received praise from the legendary Jimi Hendrix. And they have even been part of an episode of The Simpsons. After the extent of their success and hits which they have been delivering for the past three decades, one can only wonder what more the band has in store for its fans.