The group members are Billy Gibbons (guitar, lead vocals), Dusty Hill (bass, lead vocals), and Frank Beard (drums, percussion).
ZZ Top Legs
They hold the distinction of being among the few rock bands still composed of its original members after more than 35 years and until September 2006, the same manager/producer, Bill Ham.
ZZ TOP - Sharp Dressed Man
They reached the peak of their commercial success in the 1970s and 1980s, scoring many hit songs during that era, but they remain together today and are still touring and releasing albums. ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 15, 2004. Summarizing their music, Cub Koda wrote, "As genuine roots musicians, they have few peers; Gibbons is one of America's finest blues guitarists working in the arena rock idiom ... while Hill and Beard provide the ultimate rhythm section support." Their song lyrics often feature sexual innuendo and humor. Gibbons and Hill are also famous for their custom guitars, many of which were co-designed by Gibbons with master luthier John Bolin of Bolin Guitars. Hill requests that his basses have a similar neck profile to the 1950's Fender Precision Bass he used extensively in the early days of the band.
ZZ Top - Doubleback
Nearly as well-known as their music is the group's appearance: Gibbons and Hill are always pictured wearing sunglasses (a nod to their 1979 song "Cheap Sunglasses"), similar if not matching clothing, and their trademark chest-length beards; ironically, Beard sports a mustache, but rarely a beard. In 1984, the Gillette Company reportedly offered Gibbons and Hill US$1 million apiece to shave their beards for a television commercial but they declined
ZZ TOP - Gimmie All Your Lovin LIVE
The men who would form ZZ Top had played in several different Texas-based groups. Notable were Moving Sidewalks with Gibbons, and The American Blues with Hill and Beard. They joined forces in late 1969: at first, Billy invited Frank for his project of a blues rock trio, and then, when they were looking for a new bassist, Beard proposed his former bandmate, Dusty.
The origin of the band's name was not officially known for many years. Some theories included: the two brands of rolling paper, Zig-Zag and Top; a tribute to blues legend Z.Z. Hill; Z-shaped barn-door braces Gibbons once saw at a farm; and/or Billy Gibbons seeing the two words running together on a dilapidated bill board. The real origin, as told by Billy Gibbons and also recorded in his book Rock + Roll Gearhead, is derived from the name of blues master B.B. King. They wanted to call themselves Z.Z. King but sounded too similar to their blues legend hero. They figured that "King" was at the "top" so thus settled on ZZ Top.
They played their first show in February, 1970 and toured almost continually for several years. Their first two albums were recorded at Robin Hood Studios in Tyler, Texas. In 1973, they started recording at Ardent Studios in Memphis for their third album, Tres Hombres (1973). They first gained wide acclaim with it, released on London Records. It contained the classic song "La Grange", referencing the bordello that is also the subject of the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
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. Unbeknownst to the other, Hill and Gibbons had both grown their now-famous beards. Ironically, the only beardless bandmember remained Frank Beard.
Eliminator and 1980s
They reached new heights of popularity with the 1983 album Eliminator, boosted to prominence by memorable music videos for the tracks "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man" each of which featured a small bright red 1933 Ford Coupe 3 window hotrod called The Eliminator and a trio of mysterious, beautiful women who travel around helping various people. 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.
Their next album, Afterburner, mostly featured the same blend of synthesizers, blues rock and the use of sequencers. But on subsequent albums, less and less synth- and sequencer-influenced music is heard. An occasional song with those elements and instruments is included on recent albums as a nod to their past.
In 1985, they released the three-disc set, The ZZ Top Six Pack. When Warner chose to remaster six select albums from 1970 to 1981, they (along with the members of ZZ Top) remixed the back catalog to make it sound like their new music output. All the drum tracks were re-recorded and other random digital effects were applied. In trying to fit six albums on three discs, some tracks were faded out sooner than their original release versions. At the same time, individual remixed cd releases were released. The band's actual sixth album, Degüello, was spared the "Six Pack" treatment because of a legal issue involving the estate of Elmore James, whose song "Dust My Broom" was featured on the album.
Recycler was released in 1990, and proved to be the band's last album under their contract with Warner Records. Recycler was also the last of the albums often considered a distinct trilogy in the ZZ Top catalogue. It marked a move back towards a more guitar-driven blues sound which continued in later albums, losing some of the synthesizer sounds and pop bounce of the previous two albums. This move did not entirely suit the fanbase that Eliminator and Afterburner had built up, and while Recycler did achieve platinum status, it never matched the multi-platinum sales of Eliminator and Afterburner.
In 1992, ZZ Top signed a five-disc deal with RCA Records. Sales were good, but not up to earlier standards. Many fans (or, as they refer to themselves, "fanzz") feel that the recordings of this era are as artistically strong as the earlier London and Warner Bros. recordings but have expressed disappointment with RCA's promotion of these releases.
In 1993, ZZ Top inducted Cream into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
RCA impresario Clive Davis wanted to do a collaboration record (in the mode of Carlos Santana's successful Supernatural) for their 2003 release Mescalero. As per an interview in Goldmine magazine, singers Pink, Dave Matthews, and Wilco were among the artists slated for the project. The band members declined this offer, and Davis and RCA subsequently shuffled the band to second-tier status.
2000 and beyond
In July 2000, while on tour in Europe, Hill was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which forced the cancellation of several dates in that tour. Hill has since recovered.
A comprehensive collection of recordings from the London and Warner Bros. years entitled Chrome, Smoke & BBQ was released in 2003.
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."
Expanded and remastered versions of the original studio albums from '70's and '80's are currently in production (removing the digital remixes of the Six Pack compilation). So far only two of these CDs have been released (Tres Hombres and Fandango!). Marketed as "Remastered and Expanded," both CDs include additional live tracks which were not present on the original recordings.
As of 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. In December 2006, Sanctuary Management added ZZ Top to its roster, however the band is still not currently signed to a label.
An article on Billboard in May of 2007 quotes Dusty as saying that the band is eager to sign a new contract and resume recording in the near future, but no hints at timescales have been made. Dusty did suggest that a live tour DVD is in the works. Whatever the outcome of contract negotiations, the band will have to complete their current tour before any new studio recordings take place. In an later interview on VH1's Top 20 Countdown, the band said "A new album will be coming out as soon as our tours are done and when we get a record deal."
The band were honorees by Nickelback (Sharp dressed man) at the second annual VH1 Rock Honors on May 24, 2007, along with Ozzy Osbourne, Genesis and Heart.
ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" is a song on the video game Guitar Hero, for the Playstation 2.
Billy Gibbons appeared on the Nickelback album "All the Right Reasons" on the tracks "Follow You Home", "Fight for All the Wrong Reasons", and "Rockstar". He also appeared in the newly released video of Rockstar.
Current tour and cancellations
The band's most recent (and currently ongoing) tour was kicked off in the intimate surroundings of the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Since then, they have moved back on to larger venues, and their 2007 USA tour will keep them on the road until the end of August, with only the month of July being free of US tour dates.
July was originally intended for a whistlestop European tour, however this has been cancelled for medical reasons. A press release issued by the band quotes Dusty's otolaryngologist, who stated that Dusty was to receive treatment for a benign inner ear growth affecting his hearing. This press release confirmed rumours of the European cancellation, which had been circulating in northern European newspapers for several days. At present, there is no indication that any dates in the USA will be affected by Dusty's treatment.
The group currently is beginning a summer tour on July 14, 2007 until September 21, 2007. This tour will begin in Woodlands, Texas and will include dates in Atlantic City, NJ; New York City; Las Vegas; the 2007 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, among others. A list of tour dates and venues has been posted on the band's website.
ZZ Top are playing some dates on their USA '07 tour with The Stray Cats and The Pretenders sharing the bill with them.
Their cars and motorcycles
Billy F Gibbons is a fan and avid collector of custom cars and motorcycles. His custom vehicles were a mainstay for the earlier ZZ Top videos and were also used for promotion.
The red 1933 Ford 3-window coupé Hot Rod 'The Eliminator' was customized by Don Thelen at Paramount. The car was featured in a video trilogy from the album "Eliminator", consisting of "Sharp Dressed Man", "Gimme All Your Lovin'" and "Legs". The car was also featured in various custom car magazines around the globe. 'The Eliminator' gets eliminated by two wheel loaders in the video "Sleeping Bag" from the "Afterburner" album, while it saves a young couple from being captured by the bad boys. The car gets reborn as a mix between the Hot Rod and the Space Shuttle, as shown on the cover of the "Afterburner" album. When the Eliminator Shuttle rockets into space, controlled by the ZZ Top crew, a text appears "to be continued...". But in the next video "Stages", the shuttle only has a very brief showing at the end with the text "Stay tuned...". In the following video "Rough Boy" the shuttle plays a larger role as the sole customer in a car wash space station. This video closes the "Afterburner" trilogy with the ominous text "Stay clean...". The Eliminator has one last (so far) and almost imperceptible appearance at the beginning of the video "Burger Man" from the "Recycler" album.
A 1/24 scale plastic model of the Eliminator was produced by Monogram under license.
Based on a 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak, the car was stretched 40 inches, painted in black with ZZ Top graphics and used in the video for "Velcro Fly" from the "Afterburner" album.
Based on a 1948 Cadillac Sedanette, the CadZZilla is a low-slung, sleek and dark custom car built by Boyd Coddington and designed by Larry Erickson. The name is a contraction of Cadillac, ZZ Top and Godzilla. It wasn't featured as prominently in ZZ Top's videos as 'The Eliminator', but it appeared in "My Head's in Mississippi" and in "Burger Man" - pulling out of the parking lot of a diner at the very beginning of the video. When CadZZilla has left the frame, it reveals a brief view of 'The Eliminator' parked besides the diner. An artist's rendition of CadZZilla was used on the cover of the "Recycler" album. In the video for "Doubleback", which uses Back to the Future Part III footage, CadZZilla appears at the final show down and similarly to the early Eliminator videos, three sexy women get out of the car and solve the problem. When the car drives off, a view of its rear license plate is shown: "I 8 Tokyo" - I ate Tokyo, a reference to Godzilla.
Scale models in 1/24 and 1/64 were produced under license.