The idea to put together this playlist came to me yesterday, after I had spotted this clip on Facebook. It shows John Fogerty and Billy Gibbons rocking out together to some Creedence Clearwater Revival and ZZ Top tunes to promote their upcoming Blues & Bayous Tour. While nothing is spontaneous here as it seems they want folks to believe, and I just wish they would have played more of each song than just the opening bars, hey, it’s still fun to watch these guys. And the thought of them doing a double-headliner that also will be right in my backyard sure as heck is very tempting!
I don’t want to pretend I’m a ZZ Top expert, but I have a good deal of their songs in my iTunes library – certainly more than enough material to inform this playlist. I think the first time these Texan rockers entered my radar screen was in 1983, when seemingly out of nowhere, they were all the rage on the radio with songs like Gimme All You Lovin, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs. At the time, my parents didn’t have cable, which wasn’t as popular in Germany as in the U.S., so it wasn’t until much later that I also got to watch some of ZZ Top’s hilarious music videos, such as the rotating guitars in Legs!
ZZ Top were formed in 1969 in Houston, TX, when Gibbons (guitar), Lanier Greig (organ) and Dan Mitchell (drums) got together. That formation recorded the single Salt Lick, but record companies weren’t receptive, and it didn’t go anywhere. Greig and Mitchell left shortly thereafter. In late 1969, bassist, keyboardist and co-vocalist Dusty Hill joined, replacing then-bassist Billy Ethridge. Hill subsequently introduced Gibbons to drummer Frank Beard with whom he had played in various other bands in the past. The classic line-up was in place and still is to this day, more than 45 years later – frankly, I don’t know of any other band that hasn’t changed its line-up over such a long time!
Due to continued lack of interest from U.S. record companies, ZZ Top finally signed a contract with UK label London Records and released their debut album. Cleverly called ZZ Top’s First Album, the record appeared in January 1971. While it established the band’s blend of blues, boogie, hard rock and southern rock, it didn’t get much attention. The sophomore Rio Grande Mud from April 1972 entered the U.S. Billboard 200, peaking at no. 104 in June 1972, while the single Francine climbed to a respectable no. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100.
ZZ Top’s commercial breakthrough came with the follow-up album Tres Hombres from July 1973. While the reception from music critics was lukewarm at the time, the album climbed all the way to no. 8 on the Billboard 200. The single La Grange, which has since become a classic, peaked at no. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1974. The band’s fourth album Fandango! from April 1975 brought another successful single, Tush, which peaked at no. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became ZZ Top’s highest charting single in the ’70s.
The band has since released 11 additional studio records, four live albums and various compilations. Eliminator from March 1983, which includes the above mentioned tunes Gimme All You Lovin, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs, became ZZ Top’s best-selling album, thanks to a more commercial sound the band had adopted in the early ’80s. Their 15th and most recent studio release La Futura appeared in September 2012. I haven’t seen any reports about a new album. La Futura was the first new record in nine years, so if that’s any guide, fans may need to have patience for a few more years. Time for some music!
Let’s start off the playlist with ZZ Top’s debut single Salt Lick, a nice blues rocker written by Gibbons, an early showcase of his outstanding guitar skills. I also like Greig’s organ work.
Brown Sugar, another tune by Gibbons to whom most of the band’s early songs are credited, appears on ZZ Top’s First Album. I like how the song begins slowly with just Gibbon’s vocals and his guitar, before it launches into a groovy blues rocker.
Tres Hombres may be best known for La Grange, but the tune I’d like to highlight from that album is the fantastic opener Waitin’ For The Bus, which is credited to Gibbons and Hill. I just totally dig the guitar riff and groove on that track, and also like the blues harp solo.
If I had just one ZZ Top tune to select, it would be Tush from the Fandango! album. To me it’s perhaps the ultimate guitar blues rocker. I love the riff and how tight the band is playing – there’s not one second being wasted here! Starting with this record, the band’s songs typically are credited to all three members.
In November 1976, ZZ Top released their fifth studio album Tejas. It includes this nice Stonesy tune called It’s Only Love.
Next up: Tube Snake Boogie from El Loco, ZZ Top’s seventh studio album from July 1981. It’s the first record on which the band started experimenting with a more commercial sound, introducing synthesizers on some of the tracks.
Even though it sounds more commercial than their ’70s records, no ZZ Top playlist would be complete without music from the Eliminator album. Despite the somewhat monotonous drum beat, which sounds more like a drum machine, Sharp Dressed Man is just a cool song. And the official video is too hilarious to leave out, so here it is!
And ‘coz it’s so much fun watching ZZ Top music videos from that time, here’s Legs. No doubt, the rotating guitars have become an unforgettable part of music video history.
I would also like to acknowledge a couple of the band’s later songs. Here’s Fearless Boogie, a tune from XXX, ZZ Top’s 13th studio album released in September 1999. And just in case, the title is a reference to the band’s then-30th year in business.
I’d like to close out this playlist with Chartreuse. The tune, which sounds a bit like a remake of Tush, is from ZZ Top’s most recent studio record La Futura. It surely proves these guys still know how to rock.
With total domestic record sales of some 25 million copies, ZZ Top are among the top 100 selling artists in the U.S. Internationally, the band has sold more than 50 million albums. In 2004, the Texan rockers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Asked during a Rolling Stone interview in November 2017 whether he still wants to be in ZZ Top at age 80, Gibbons said, “Well, yeah, I could do it. We are smack dab in the middle of a technological breakthrough that is making life extension quite a bit of the day-to-day norm.”
As for that double-headliner with Fogerty, the Blues & Bayous Tour kicks off in Atlantic City on May 25. Currently, there are 24 additional dates on the schedule, with the final gig being in Welch, Minn. on June 29.
Sources: Wikipedia, U.S. Billboard Charts, Rolling Stone, YouTube