The band holds the distinction of being among the few rock bands still composed of its original recording members for nearly 40 years and until September 2006, the same manager/producer/image maker, Bill Ham.
ZZ Top reached peak commercial success in the 1970s and 1980s, scoring many hit songs during that era, but they remain together today and are still touring and releasing albums. ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 15, 2004. Summarizing their music, Cub Koda wrote, "As genuine roots musicians, they have few peers; Gibbons is one of America's finest blues guitarists working in the hard rock idiom ... while Hill and Beard provide the ultimate rhythm section support." Their song lyrics often feature sexual innuendo and humor.
Nearly as well-known as their music is the group's image: Gibbons and Hill are almost always pictured wearing sunglasses (a nod to their 1979 song "Cheap Sunglasses"), similar if not matching clothing, and their trademark chest-length beards (Ironically, in spite of his own surname, Beard almost always sports just a mustache). In 1984, the Gillette Company reportedly offered Gibbons and Hill US $1 million each to shave their beards for a television commercial but they declined, stating "We're too ugly without 'em".
ZZ Top in the 80s
ZZ Top started out the 1980s with an eclectic mix of songs on El Loco, released in 1981. The album featured the band's first use of synthesizer and incorporated unusual electronic effects. Singles stayed in the previous ZZ good-time vein, however, such as "Tube Snake Boogie" and "Party on the Patio".
By late 1983, with the telling release of Eliminator, ZZ Top had undertaken a complete artistic reinvention both in sound and image. Eliminator featured a darkly innovative and distinctive synthesizer-laced sound which wove into and augmented the band's guitar-bass-drums formula, a rarity in the blues-rock genre. To obtain the signature Eliminator sound, Gibbons also devised the "amp cabin", a collection of guitar amplifiers surrounding a microphone. (Rumor also had it that Gibbons and Hill used melted-down Cadillac fenders for guitar strings.)
With the advent of MTV, ZZ Top also readily embraced the phenomenon of the music video and boosted itself to new popularity with video releases of "Gimme All Your Lovin'", "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man", each featuring the band's new icon: a cherry-red 1933 Ford Coupe hot rod nicknamed The Eliminator. The comical videos featured a trio of mysterious, sexy women who roam around and rescue people from seemingly dire situations, along with an iconic Billy, Dusty, and Frank, who seem to appear out of nowhere and grinningly proffer keys to the Eliminator.
The ZZ Top sound now featured a modern, electronic, and danceable formula which won the band new fans and multi-million-dollar success in sales, radio and video play, and live tours. Eliminator remains ZZ Top's most successful album to date.
The band's next album, 1985's Afterburner, expanded Eliminator's use of synthesizers coupled with blues-rock rhythms. The ZZ Top sound now incorporated the use of sequencers, notably on the hit singles and videos "Sleeping Bag", "Rough Boy", and "Velcro Fly". The Afterburner album cover (and "Sleeping Bag" video) now portrayed the Eliminator as a hot-rodded version of the Space Shuttle and the band as a space-station lounge act in "Rough Boy".
Wikipedia contributors. ZZ Top. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. November 2, 2008, 18:08 UTC. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=ZZ_Top&oldid=249226941. Accessed November 2, 2008.