Phase I: Houston guitarist Billy Gibbons wanted to start a Texas Boogie Rock group and signed up drummer Frank Beard. Beard had been in a band with a bass player named Dusty Hill, and soon the trio was complete. Between '70 and '73, ZZ Top records were huge in the great state of Texas - and no where else. They even managed to draw 80,000 fans to Austin for their First Annual Texas Sized Rompin' Stompin' Barndance Bar-B-Q. With the release of "Tres Hombres" and the song "La Grange" they began to garner a national attention. Their follow up album "Fandango" containing "Tush" cemented their reputation as the premier Boogie Rock band. For the rest of the decade they knocked out classics like "Arrested While Driving Blind" and "Heard It On The X" (a Mexican radio tribute). By the end of the decade their record label, London, put out a "Best Of" collection. And that might have been the end of the story.
Phase II: ZZ Top signed with Warner Records, who did a better job promoting the group. Second, both Gibbons and Hill stopped shaving which provided the band with their trademark long straggly facial hair (ironically Beard, given his name, only grew a mustache). But everyone wore dark (obviously expensive) sunglasses. A cover of Soul classic "I Thank You" and "Cheap Sunglasses" extended ZZ Top's tenure as FM Rock staples. But the "Eliminator" CD blasted them into the stratosphere. Enhanced production (sequencers, samples and synthesizers) augmented ZZ Top's sound. Also, the great Rockers "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Shape Dressed Man" and "Legs" had the most entertaining videos on MTV. They made Gibbons, Hill and Beard stars. The videos featured a ZZ Top car (a cherry red roadster with lightning bolts) and a key chain. The plot was essentially the same: the semi-rich and powerful are abusing some poor but good-looking people. ZZ Top arrives helping the underdog prevail. The heroes acquire the key chain and drive off in unbridled bliss. Perfect.
ZZ Top followed "Eliminator" with "Afterburner" and continued their relentless touring. But after that the formula flat wore out and ZZ Top went back to their Blues Boogie roots. Too bad they'd already been there and so had their audience.
Phase III: A quartet of 90's albums were solid efforts but failed to gin up much attention. The manic drive and pinpoint precision of earlier releases seemed to elude them. That trend continued with '03 release "Mescalero." But before the dust had even a chance to settle around that album, ZZ Top issued the four CD compilation "Chrome, Smoke & BBQ."
A year after "Mescalero," ZZ Top's last album for RCA, the group was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. The Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards made the induction speech and group played "La Grange" and "Tush."
Rumors of an '06 album proved fruitless but two years later, ZZ Top celebrated the release of their first live concert DVD entitled Live From Texas. Then came news that Rick Rubin would be producing ZZ Top's next album, "La Futura."
"I've got a little studio at my house out in L.A.," said Gibbons, "and it kind of takes the load off to be able to leave Texas, go to California, stay there for awhile, and then you get to leave California and come back to Texas."
Recorded in Malibu and Houston, the lead single from the group's first studio set in eight years (since "Mescalero") was "I Gotsta Get Paid." The song debuted in an advertising campaign for Jeremiah Weed, a brand of bourbon whiskey-based products. Figures.
Four songs from "La Futura" ("I Gotsta Get Paid," "Chartreuse," "Over You" and "Consumption") were also on the '12 EP "Texicali."
1971 ZZ Top's First Album
1972 Rio Grande Mud
1973 Tres Hombres
1981 El Loco
2012 La Futura
The resiliency of Texas Boogie guitar is truly amazing. Or maybe it's ZZ Top. "Eliminator" finds ZZ Top padded with synthesizers for their most popular album. Even with the production the Boogie drives "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Legs." "Afterburner" is another strong effort. As good as these albums are they're not really what ZZ Top is about. The group's essence is captured on "Tres Hombres" and "Deguello" featuring the fun "Cheap Sunglasses."
"Mescalero" is another of the group's Blues forays. The good news is that it is unmistakably ZZ Top. The group still possesses its core appeal. Not surprising, the most satisfying songs, like "Me So Stupid," are a nod to the group's glory days.
It's a tribute to ZZ Top that they can take a couple of the most overused Blues Rock riffs and turn "Chartreuse" into the best song on "La Futura." The remaining tracks are solid electric Blues.
"Greatest Hits" culls songs from the '70s and 80s plus a rousing, nearly straight-faced version of the Elvis Presley chestnut "Viva Las Vegas." "Chrome, Smoke & BBQ" has it all and more, capturing the group's career.