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ZZ Top

Known to the world as "That Lil' Ol' Band from Texas," ZZ Top had a thoroughly unique career. They started as a trio putting their own spin on blues & boogie rock, and became arena rock stars in the 1970s. In the '80s, they cannily reinvented themselves, hot-wiring their sound with sequencers and synthesizers and becoming unlikely MTV heroes with a series of clever videos that turned bearded frontmen Billy Gibbons (guitar) and Dusty Hill (bass) into an eccentric visual signature. This gambit made them one of the only groups of their era to not only survive in the new arena of pop, but to become more popular than ever, gaining a new audience without sacrificing the old one. At their core, ZZ Top's songs never changed that much, taking standard blues figures, filtering them through Gibbons' precisely raunchy guitar, marrying them to the simple but funky groove of Hill and drummer Frank Beard, and adding lyrics steeped in surreal wit as they dealt with sex, booze, the blues, and the glorious idiosyncrasies of life in Texas. Their stardom faded a bit in the mid-'90s as their albums stopped topping the charts, but they remained a popular live act that could reliably fill large venues and give fans a great show more than 50 years after the act debuted. 1973's Tres Hombres was their first major success and the point where their trademark sound found itself, 1983's Eliminator introduced the streamlined, new wave-influenced approach that brought them their greatest success, and 2012's La Futura, the final studio album from the original trio, was a return to form that delivered Lone Star guitar raunch with flashes of electronic sheen.ZZ Top was formed in 1969 by guitarist and songwriter Billy Gibbons. Born in Houston, Texas in 1949, Gibbons was the son of a musician who encouraged his passion for music; when he initially showed interest in playing percussion instruments, his father arranged for him to take lessons with Latin music icon Tito Puente. However, witnessing a recording session with B.B. King had a greater impact on the young Gibbons, and for his 13th birthday, he was given an electric guitar and an amp. He started playing in rock bands when he was living in California with his family, but it wasn't until he returned to Texas that he formed his first band of note, the Moving Sidewalks, a psychedelic outfit who cut a local hit called "99th Floor" (a nod to the 13th Floor Elevators, who Gibbons acknowledged as a key influence) and an album called Flash. Not long after Flash was released, the Moving Sidewalks broke up after two of Gibbons' bandmates were drafted into the Army, and he chose to form a more blues-oriented group. With Moving Sidewalks drummer Dan Mitchell and Neil Ford & the Fanatics bassist Lanier Greig, Gibbons assembled a blues and boogie power trio he called ZZ Top (ZZ from bluesman Z.Z. Hill, and Top as a play on King, as in B.B. King). With manager Bill Ham serving as producer, the new band cut a single for the local Scat Records label, "Salt Lick" b/w "Miller's Farm." It would be the only recorded document of ZZ Top's first lineup; creative differences led to Greig and Mitchell leaving the band, and Gibbons recruited a new rhythm section, bassist Billy Etheridge (who would later work with Stevie Ray Vaughan) and drummer Frank Beard (born in 1949, he had played with the Texas blues-rock band American Blues, cutting three albums with the combo). After shopping ZZ Top around to a number of record labels, Ham persuaded London Records to take a chance on them. Etheridge was unhappy with the terms of the contract and chose not to sign, quitting the group. In need of a bass player, Beard suggested they bring in Dusty Hill (also born in 1949, in this case in Dallas), who had been his bandmate in American Blues. This lineup would soon go into the studio and cut 1971's ZZ Top's First Album, and would work together for the next 50 years.