The men looked funny but their music was no joke
ZZ Top was built around guitarist Billy Gibbons, whose career began with the popular Southwestern band Moving Sidewalks. They opened a gig one night for Jimi Hendricks and he later mentioned Gibbons on “The Tonight Show” as one of America’s best young guitarists. After the breakup of The Moving Sidewalks, Gibbons and manager/ producer Bill Ham recruited Frank Beard and Dusty Hill from a Dallas band, American Blues.
Their debut compilation called First Album was released in 1970. This was followed up by extensive touring, that led to building a national following in the U.S., which eventually made all the band’s albums go gold or platinum. A year-long tour in 1976, dubbed the Worldwide Texas Tour, was one of the largest-grossing road trips in rock at that time. They sold over a million tickets.
A well-earned break was taken by the outfit for the next three years until 1979s Deguello. Though ZZ Top’s only major hit singles were Tres Hombres’ La Grange and Fandango’s Tush, their albums consistently made the Top 40.
With the release of their 1983 album Eliminator, ZZ Top made a quantum leap from best-kept secret to amazing stardom. Owed mainly to some smartly directed videos for songs such as “Gimme All Your Lovin”, “Sharp Dressed Man”, “Legs” and “TV Dinners”. Gibbons and Hill, with their long beards, became MTV icons, as did the cherry red 1933 Ford coupe (restored by Gibbons) that gave the album its name and which the band drove in the videos. This exposure brought a whole new audience into their ambit that began buying the band’s material, and the Eliminator selling some 10 million copies.
It remained on the charts for over three and a half years. “Legs” introduced a pulsating synthesizer beat into ZZ Top’s crunching blues-rock riffs. At the peak of its success, ZZ Top still remembered its roots and launched a fundraising drive to erect a Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At a special ceremony the band unveiled the Muddywood guitar, made from a beam taken from the sharecropper’s shack in which the blues giant Muddy Waters had been raised, which Gibbons donated to the museum.A. GEORGE ANTONY