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Music / ZZ Top

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The classic line-up of ZZ Top. From left to right: Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard.

Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man.

The little old band from Texas that could, ZZ Top is a long-running Blues Rock band from Houston with the classic lineup of guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard (who, ironically, has the shortest beard) lasting over fifty years. Formed in 1969, they were the longest-running rock band with the same line-up (with Golden Earring and then Rush close behind them) until Hill's death in 2021.

People most likely know them for three things. One of them would be their actual music, which is made up of Epic Riff-driven, frequently humorous Blues Rock tunes in The '70s, Epic Riff-driven frequently humorous Blues Rock tunes with synths and electronics in The '80s, and a compromise between the two since The '90s. The other two would be their distinctive appearance - sunglasses plus chest-length beards (except for Beard, who just has a moustache and sometimes a very close cropped beard) - and their videos in The '80s, which always involved hot chicks and Cool Cars, most notably the Eliminator.

Bass player Dusty Hill passed away on July 28, 2021; in accordance with Hill's wishes, the band will continue with their longtime guitar technician Elwood Francis in Hill's place.

Principal Members (Founding members in italic, current members in bold):

  • Frank Beard - drums, percussion (1969-present)
  • Billy Ethridge - bass (1969)
  • Elwood Francis - bass, vocals (2021-present)
  • Billy Gibbons - lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano (1969-present)
  • Lanier Greig - organ, bass (1969, died 2013)
  • Dusty Hill - bass, lead vocals, keyboard (1969-2021, died 2021)
  • Dan Mitchell - drums (1969)

Studio and Live Discography:

  • 1971 - ZZ Top's First Album
  • 1972 - Rio Grande Mud
  • 1973 - Tres Hombres
  • 1975 - Fandango!
  • 1976 - Tejas
  • 1979 - Degüello
  • 1981 - El Loco
  • 1983 - Eliminator
  • 1985 - Afterburner
  • 1990 - Recycler
  • 1994 - Antenna
  • 1996 - Rhythmeen
  • 1999 - XXX
  • 2003 - Mescalero
  • 2008 - Live From Texas
  • 2009 - Double Down Live: 1980 & 2008
  • 2012 - Texicali
  • 2012 - La Futura

ZZ Top is the Trope Namer for:

Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp troped man:

  • As Himself:
    • Billy Gibbons has a recurring role as himself on Bones. He's Angela's father and Hodgins' worst nightmare.
    • All three appeared in the King of the Hill episode "Hank Gets Dusted", which shows Hank to be Dusty's cousin, as well as being the band's favorite prank victim. At the end of the episode, they say that they go easy on Hank (relatively speaking) because they like him.
    • They appear in the series finale of Duck Dynasty to perform at Si's retirement party.
    • In the St. Elsewhere episode "Sweet Dreams", they perform their song "Legs" in Luther Hawkins' music video inspired dream in which he and the Eliminator girls have fun around the hospital.
  • Auto-Tune: Some egregious use of it on Mescalero, especially on "What Would You Do", "Qué Lastima" and "As Time Goes By".
  • Bawdy Song: A huge portion of their catalogue.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Many album titles are actually Spanish, e.g. "Tres Hombres" (meaning Three Men), "Degüello" (Beheading) or "El Loco" (The Crazy One). Not all that surprising, considering the band is from Texas.
    • They even recorded two songs in Spanish on Mescalero, "Mescalero" and "Qué Lastima".
    • When Eliminator broke a streak of five albums with Spanish titles in a rownote  and they were asked why, they would jokingly say that it was actually "El Iminator". And they went from there to XXX without a Spanish album title.
  • The Cameo:
    • They appear as the band at the Hill Valley 1885 festival in Back to the Future Part III.
    • They make a blink and you'll miss it cameo in the music video for WASP's "Blind in Texas".
    • They also appear in the first Space Quest game, but Sierra altered them in later revisions of the remake so they would not be sued because it was an unauthorized cameo.
  • Changed for the Video: The video for "Legs" uses a version of the song that adds backing vocals and another instrumental track as well as a different intro.
  • Chronological Album Title - ZZ Top's First Album
  • Cool Car: The Eliminator, that customized 1933 Ford coupe with a Corvette engine. Billy Gibbons bought the car and comissioned the customizations shortly before the release of Eliminator, and the car appears on the album's cover and in all of its music videos. Gibbons still owns the car, but he has loaned it out to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where it is on display.
  • Cool Shades: Just look at the above picture! They even exalt them in "Cheap Sunglasses".
  • Cover Version: Rare, but it's there - "Jailhouse Rock", "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear", and "Viva Las Vegas" by Elvis Presley, "Dust My Broom" by Robert Johnson, "I Thank You" by Isaac Hayes, "Tramp" by Lowell Fulson (popularised by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas), "As Time Goes By" from the movie Casablanca (hidden track on Mescalero). Their latest album's "I Gotsta Get Paid" is a blues-rock cover of DJ DMD's "25 Lighters".
  • Demoted to Extra: This happened to Dusty and Frank on Eliminator: despite them being credited on the album sleeve, Dusty's bass being replaced by keyboardsnote  and Frank by drum machines. For all intents and purposes, Eliminator is a Billy solo album (excepting Dusty's lead vocals on "I Got The Six" and "Bad Girl") with contributions by pre-production engineer Linden Hudson, who contributed drum machine programming and keyboard sequencing, and was alleged to have co-written most of the material, to the point that the band got into a legal conflict that was settled with him being granted the copyright to "Thug". Hudson had also shown Billy some research he'd done previously that most popular rock songs used the tempo of 120 beats per minute, which influenced Billy to write most of the album's songs at that tempo. And when the combination of blues guitar and incongruously synthesized backing tracks sent the album to diamond status, the formula was repeated on Afterburner and Recycler, and even led to the infamous re-releases of the band's past albums that replaced Frank's drums with drum machines. While the band continued using electronic loops and synth elements, Dusty's bass and Frank's actual drums returned to prominence starting with Antenna and Rhythmeen.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: People who picked up their earlier albums after hearing Eliminator tended to be a bit confused.
  • The '80s:
    • It's utterly impossible to watch the video of "Rough Boy" without instantly identifying the decade it was made in.
    • Same can be said for the videos for "TV Dinners", "Sharp Dressed Man", and "Velcro Fly".
  • Fan of Underdog: They are definitely on the side of the put-upon parking valet in the video for "Sharp Dressed Man" and the mistreated customer in the video for "Legs." (See Space Whale Aesop below).
  • Food Porn: The vinyl gatefold for Tres Hombres shows a sumptuous Mexican food spread.
  • Gold Tooth of Wealth: In "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide," the singer considers his gold tooth a visible indicator of wealth.
  • I Call It "Vera": Pearly Gates, Billy's prized 1959 Gibson Les Paul.
  • Indestructible Edible: From "TV Dinners", which was released as a single from the Eliminator album: "Twenty-year-old turkey in a thirty-year-old tin." You have to think about it for a moment.
  • Intercourse with You: "La Grange", "Mexican Blackbird", "Tube Snake Boogie", "Pearl Necklace", "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "I Got the Six", "If I Could Only Flag Her Down", "Bad Girl", "Sleeping Bag", "Planet of Women", "Love Thing", "Penthouse Eyes", "My Head's in Mississippi", "Girl in a T-Shirt", "Bang Bang", "Buck Nekkid"... you know what, we should stop before we end up listing all of their songs.
  • Irony: Frank Beard is the only member of the band without a beard.
  • Lead Singer Plays Lead Guitar: Lead guitarist Billy Gibbons was a co-lead vocalist along with bassist Dusty Hill. After Dusty's death, Billy was left as the band's sole lead singer.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: In rock, the longest. Fifty-two years, over a dozen albums, dozens of songs—one line-up. Took Dusty Hill getting sick to interrupt it, and even then he asked for the band to keep on (he died five days after his replacement debuted).
  • Loudness War:
    • Mescalero is an infamous example, with static and distortion very audible due to the amount of clipping and overuse of treble.
    • La Futura is also pretty bad, but not quite as bad as Mescalero. It was, like many loudness war albums, produced by Rick Rubin.
  • Man of a Thousand Voices: Billy Gibbons has a five-octave vocal range. This puts him up there with the likes of Devin Townsend and Kyo. Listen to a taste of it here.
  • Meaningful Name: The titles of Afterburner and Recycler imply that they are trying to copy Eliminator but less successfully, which many agree with. The band either self-deprecatingly or intentionally set themselves up for reviews that would bring up the irony of the album titles.
  • Medley: Fandango! has "Backdoor Medley", a medley consisting of the band's "Backdoor Love Affair", "Mellow Down Easy" by Willie Dixon, and "Long Distance Boogie" by John Lee Hooker.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Frank Beard... is the only member of the band to not have a beard. At least not a prominent one.
  • The Not-Remix/Updated Re-release: The CD versions of their '70s albums feature '80s drum machines added instead of the original drumming, marketed as the ZZ Top Six Pack. Many of the band's fans were displeased with the changes.
    • These versions were later sold as separate albums, and inexplicably remained the only versions available until the reissues of Tres Hombres and Fandango in 2006 used the original mixes. The other albums all followed as HDTracks downloads, and then finally made their appearance on CD in 2013, as part of the box set The Complete Studio Albums 1970-1990.
  • Power Ballad: "Rough Boy."
  • Pun: In response to some fans noticing that Eliminator was the first album since ZZ Top's First Album to not have Spanish in its title, Billy joked that it could be read as El Iminator instead.
  • Record Producer: Bill Ham, from 1969 up until 2003. He also co-wrote a lot of their songs.
  • Repurposed Pop Song: "Doubleback", which had an Old West version played in the above-mentioned cameo in Back to the Future Part III, and plays over the credits. It even received a Video Full of Film Clips.
  • Rock Trio
  • Self-Plagiarism:
    • "Dipping Low (in the Lap of Luxury)" is a blatant rewrite of "Gimme All Your Lovin'".
    • "Gimme All Your Lovin'" is itself a rewrite of "Francine".
    • The riff in the solo breakdown of "I Got the Six" is very reminiscent of the coda of "Nasty Dogs and Funky Kings".
    • "Planet of Women" copies the chorus riff from "Got Me Under Pressure" during its verses and has a similarly driving sound.
    • "Decision or Collision" sounds like even more of a recycling of "Got Me Under Pressure" and "Bad Girl" (which already sounded similar enough in tempo and feel).
    • "Rough Boy" is arguably a rewrite of "Leila" with mid 80s production.
  • Shout-Out: "Flyin' High" rhymes a reference to the title with "Jimi said he'd kiss the sky."
  • Siamese Twin Songs:
    • One of the more famous examples is "Waitin' for the Bus"/"Jesus Just Left Chicago" from Tres Hombres.
    • "Apologies to Pearly" and "Bar-B-Q" also count in their original mixes on Rio Grande Mud.
  • Something Blues: "Blue Jean Blues", "Pan Am Highway Blues", "2000 Blues", "Vincent Price Blues".
  • Space Whale Aesop: Fanservice aside, the message of the "Legs" video seems to be, "Be nice to people or ZZ Top and three hot women will magically show up and rescue those people you mistreated and make you pay for the bad things you did to them."
  • Spectacular Spinning: Billy and Dusty simultaneously spin their guitars a full 360 as a Signature Move, and even Frank got in on the act with his marching drum in the band's Back To The Future III cameo.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: "Rough Boy" is a very 80s sounding radio power ballad, but it was a big hit, hence it seems incongruous on Greatest Hits compilations. The band had done ballads before ("Hot Blue And Righteous" and "Leila" being two), but "Rough Boy" is considered by some as too much of a deviation from their sound.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Amusingly, Elwood Francis, the band's guitar tech-turned-current bassist since Dusty's passing, also has a rather impressive gray beard of his own. According to Billy, he made the decision to grow it out at the onset of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
  • True Companions: The fact the band had the exact same lineup for over fifty years shows how close these guys are. The only other rock band that even comes close to them in terms of lineup longevity is Rush who had the same lineup for 44 years.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution:
    • "La Grange", about the brothel which also inspired The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
    • "Mexican Blackbird" is also about a prostitute, with the narrator encouraging the listener to pay her a "visit" if they're "down in Acuna" and "ain't up to being alone".
  • Vocal Tag Team: Gibbons' Guttural Growler vocals (for instance, "Sharp Dressed Man") and Hill's shriller rock'n'roll voice ("Tush") complement each other nicely. "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers" being definitive proof.