08 July 2011

TGIF Rock-n-Roll Oldies: ZZ TOP - 1979

ZZ Top is a hugely successful Texas-rock band who've been quite innovative over four decades in the music business...

yet they never strayed far from the basic elements/roots that made the trio so popular and distinctive in the first place. 

The group's sound -like British trio Status Quo- features a blues-based 'boogie rock', but influences are wide and varied. They hail from Houston, and formed the band from local rival bands back in 1969. ZZ Top soon developed a solid following in Texas and began writing their own songs.  Once original drummer was replaced by Frank Beard- he, Billy Gibbons, and Dusty Hill formed the band as we know them now for 40 years.

The boys signed with London Records in 1970, releasing ZZ Top's First Album in 1971, yet selling few... although I've got it and it's great, as is the second album Rio Grande Mud- which at the time fared little better in the record stores.

ZZ Top in 1973

But after opening for such major bands as Humble Pie and Janis Joplin when they played Texas, ZZ Top were making themselves known. 1973's Tres Hombres completed the task when it went all the way to #8 on the Billboard Album chart. The record featured the single "La Grange", which of course went on to be a concert staple that has played on FM radio forever (although the first time I heard it was on AM radio when I was eleven!).

In January 1973 ZZ Top was asked by Mick Jagger to fly out to Hawaii and open for the Rolling Stones at upcoming Honolulu shows- Dusty Hill recalls the way that went: 

"We got word that Mick Jagger heard our first album and liked it. And he wanted us to open for the Stones in Hawaii. That just blew us away. 
But the next thing I heard was that Stevie Wonder opened for them here in the States and actually got booed at one show. So I was scared to death... 
We get onstage in Hawaii with our cowboy hats, boots and jeans and you could hear a pin drop. Somebody went, ‘Oh no, they’re a country band..."

After much touring and limited commercial success, the band went on a two-year hiatus in '77, which resulted -unbeknownst to each other at the time- in Gibbons and Hill growing chest-length beards. Genuinely surprised when they saw each other again, the two front men decided it would be a cool look onstage: in the event, they became instant icons.

The trio was back in the music business in 1979 (never forget the first time I heard "Cheap Sunglasses" in my Camaro on the way to school!), and by 1983 found themselves in the upper-tier of rock stardom with the album Eliminator, which sold over 10 million copies alone.

Throughout the 1980s, the band had several hits that became timeless rock radio classics. MTV also played a part, as the Texas rockers were a sensation on the cable video music channel.  ZZ Top won several awards for music videos like "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man"-any real American's got to love that '32 Ford of theirs!

I myself have caught the band live on two occasions, and I would say the '79 tour was one of the best shows -if not the best- I can recall having witnessed in my life, and a lot of fun, too. 

I absolutely love ZZ Top, every album-every song. If you're not familiar with some of the early 70s stuff, do yourself a favor and check it out- more of a raw, Texas blues-rock.

After over 40 years, the band continues to tour and record music. ZZ Top has sold more than 50 million albums...

Here from 1979's Deg├╝ello... covering Isaac Hayes:

More ZZ Top (live at Eric Clapton's Crossroads festival) -here-

ZZTop.com   Wikipedia