Über ZZ Top
In the more than thirty years that they have been together, ZZ Top have mutated from a hard rocking boogie band into pop culture icons. Some might say, that they are also forward thinking musical geniuses whose appropriation of MTV and melding of Hard Rock to Dance rhythms put them so far ahead of the curve that -- for a while in the mid-1980s -- they seemed poised to take over the world. The band started out in 1970 when singer-guitarist Billy Gibbons got together with drummer Frank Beard and bassist Dusty Hill. Gibbons, only in his early twenties, was already a veteran musician whose previous band The Moving Sidewalks had had regional hit records and had opened for Jimi Hendrix. The band started out playing hard edged, deeply blues based Boogie Rock that cruised on the power of the Hill-Beard rhythm section and Gibbons' powerful vocals and even more powerful guitar. The band toured relentlessly, guided by svengali-like manager Bill Ham, a disciple of Elvis' Colonel Tom Parker. He helped them score a major record deal and created a certain band mythos (access to the band was severly limited; personal biographical information was closely guarded) that lingers to this day. Their third album, Tres Hombres broke things wide open with the smash hit "La Grange," a song driven by an insistent John Lee Hooker boogie riff and Gibbons' squealing guitar solos. They became increasingly popular on the live circuit, breaking attendance records set by The Beatles by 1976. Returning after a three year hiatus in 1979, they emerged with their now-trademark hirsute look and the hard-hitting record Deguello, which included the hit "Cheap Sunglasses." Gibbons' longtime fascination with all sorts of Dance music came into play with Eliminator (1981), which coincided with the rise of the music video as a promotional tool and took the band to new commercial heights. That record was propelled by a sound that wedded Texas Blues guitar heroics to banks of churning synthesizers and sequenced rhythms. It was the sound of money being minted as the singles "Sharp Dressed Man," "Gimme All Your Lovin'," and "Legs" shot up the charts. That the accompanying music videos included hot rod cars, leggy models, and the band doing oddly choreographed dance moves that rendered them at once hip and cartoonishly funny probably helped their album sales. Eliminator and its follow-up Afterburner sold gazillions of records and the band was, for a time, as popular as a band can be. In the 1990s the group's popularity waned some, and they moved away from the sequencers and synthesizers. They went back in the direction of their earlier work. They nonetheless continue to make vital music that draws deeply from the blues and R&B tradition, while always trying to bring something new to it.