To celebrate the release of the new 50 track 50th Anniversary ZZ Top collection Goin’ 50, we present 25 fun facts about that Little Ol’ Band From Texas. And not one of them mentions that their beardless drummer is named Frank Beard!
1. The name ZZ Top is a tribute to legendary bluesman BB King and local Texan blues great ZZ Hill. They were originally going to call themselves ZZ King, but realised it was probably too close and would cause confusion.
2. The first ZZ Top single, 1969’s “Salt Lick” shares its name with a legendary Texan B-B-Q joint that opened a couple of years earlier. The single was a flop and the band broke up. They reformed shortly with a new bassplayer, Dusty Hill, which meant it was good they hadn’t gone for BB Hill when deciding on their name.
3. A major blues nut, ZZ Top mainman Billy Gibbons has a guitar named Muddywood, which he made from a piece of wood from a cabin that Muddy Water was brought up in on Stovall’s Plantation, Mississippi. ZZ Top had Muddy Waters and his band open for them on tour in 1981.
4. Most people don’t know it but Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill didn’t sport those twin long beards until they took a two year break in 1977. Their bearded return was followed a few years later by the advent of MTV, and all of a sudden the hardcore Texan blues band had a visual gimmick that could not be beat! Coupled with their new sound, which combined synthesised rhythms with their dirty guitars, their new look, as seen in their first ever video – for “Gimme All Your Lovin’” – took the band to the top! The album Eliminator and singles “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs” followed suit.
5. Indeed, ZZ Top looked kinda weird without those beards. Sounded killer though. Check out this early footage.
6. Motorhead recorded a cover of ZZ Top’s “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” at the sessions that produced their first album in 1977.
7. Motorhead proteges, the all-female hard rockers Girlschool, recorded a cover of ZZ Top’s “Tush” in 1981.
8. AC/DC were also clearly ZZ Top fans in the 70s. Have a listen to ZZ Top’s classic “Jesus Just Left Chicago” from 1973’s breakthrough Tres Hombre album back to back with the Seedies’ “Ride On” from 1976.
9. Billy Gibbons made his first record with his band the Moving Sidewalks in 1967. “99th Floor” was a number one hit in Houston and later became known as a 60s garage rock classic. It was routinely covered by in the 80s by bands like the Lime Spiders and the Chesterfield Kings.
10. Houston contemporaries of Billy Gibbons’ band the Moving Sidewalks were the legendary psychedelic pioneers the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. ZZ Top recorded a cover of the Elevators’ great “Reverberations” for an album paying tribute to the Elevators frontman, Roky Erickson, who Gibbons would later join on stage each year at Austin, Texas’ SXSW Conference and Festival.
11. Texan film director and Quentin Tarantino’s pal Robert Rodriguez got ZZ Top to record tracks for his borderland roadhouse vampire film From Dusk Till Dawn in 1996. The turbo-charged fuzz-blues monster “She’s Just Killing Me” sounded incredible blasting out of cinema speakers upon release! Check out Selma Hayek and George Clooney in the clip!
12. “She’s Just Killing Me” subsequently appeared on ZZ Top’s fantastic 1996 album Rhythmeen, which also included this wonderful track in honour of the great horror movie actor Vincent Price!
13. ZZ Top’s first hit single “La Grange” is about the same brothel on the outskirts of La Grange, Texas that was later the subject of the Broadway play and film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
14. Something else a bit naughty. ZZ Top have been know to perform Fleetwood Mac’s ode to masturbation “Rattlesnake Shake”. That’s early Mac, fronted by Peter Green, not Stevie era!
15. More naughty – ZZ Top’s great cover of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You”, as featured on 1979’s Degello, was later covered by legendary Melbourne punk/hard-rock band the Powder Monkeys in the 90s. The Powder Monkeys’ “I Thank You” is more in the spirit of Motorhead’s ZZ Top cover than it is ZZ Top’s version, but they get a good groove going. They chucked in a few naughty words too so maybe don’t play it in front of the kids.
16. One more naughty for now. ZZ Top’s 1985 album Afterburner included a song called “Woke Up With Wood”. That’s naughty!
17. The music video for "Velcro Fly", also from Afterburner, was choreographed by Paula Abdul! Okay maybe this is naughty too!
18. ZZ Top have been known to cover the Don Nix song “Going Down”, a much loved blues-rock song in Australia thanks to covers by the Aztecs, the Coloured Balls, the Angels, Rose Tattoo and others.
19. The 1975 ZZ top fan fave “Heard It On the X” was inspired by the border radio stations in Mexico, all of whom had call letters beginning with X. These stations had no wattage cap, so could be heard across Texas and beyond. A couple of stations run by the iconic American disc jockey Wolfman Jack helped shape the musical tastes of the ZZ Top guys and a lot of other Texan kids in the 50s.
20. ZZ Top had a hit with “Viva Las Vegas” in 1992. They love Elvis and have performed a number of other tunes associated with him including “Jailhouse Rock” and “Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear”
21. A country tribute album to ZZ Top called Sharp Dressed Men was released in 2002, including Brookes & Dunn, Brad Paisley, Willie Nelson and others. Check out Dwight Yoakam’s killer-diller version of “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”!
22. The fantastic “Burger Man” , from 1990’s Recycler, disappointingly didn’t make the cut of Goin’ 50, so make sure you check it out here. The video, which features a Burger Man monster, is a great tribute to cheesy 50s sci-fi and horror films and the tune rips!
23. Another ZZ Top ode to American trash culture, “TV Dinners”, appears on Goin’ 50, and has a cool video so here’s that too!
24. Billy Gibbons is a love of vintage hot rods. He was able to buy the car that became known as The Eliminator after someone suggested he put in on the cover of what was to be their multi-platinum breakthrough album Eliminator so he could say it was a prop and claim it as a tax expense! It was also featured in the videos for the album, including of course “Sharp Dressed Man”.
25. In 2004, ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Keith Richards gave the induction speech! It don’t get much cooler than that!
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