But there's something more that separates these Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees from their Southern Rock peers. For starters, most of their band didn't die in a plane wreck (Skynyrd). More importantly, they didn't stay in the arena-rock mindset while the world watched MTV (.38 Special). And finally, if they do have a drug/motorcycle problem, it isn't really a problem (the Allman Brothers).
But what really gives ZZ Top staying power is that they have roots that run deep. At first glance, it wouldn't seem likely that lead singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons turned into the gritty, hard-bitten blues master that he is. Gibbons didn't start out in some ramshackle hutch by the railroad tracks--no, he was a rich kid in Houston. But it was there that he was weaned on traditional R&B by his parents' housekeeping staff. It stuck with him, and in his early days he formed the legendary band the Moving Sidewalks, who garnered nominal success by opening for Jimi Hendrix. Now that's street cred! In fact, Hendrix boasted Gibbons as one of his favorite rising stars.
Still not convinced ZZ Top is a truly great band?
Okay, then: Here's the challenge. On the next sunny summer day when the grill's fired up, you've got a cooler full of beer, a handful of friends, and maybe a little weed, throw on any of ZZ Top's three masterworks: Tres Hombres, Fandango, or Deguello. Now, try to forget the cheesy videos and the overplayed FM radio glut of it all, and just listen. If your fun quotient doesn't start to rise and you're not hearing the sizzle of some of the finest white boys to ever shuffle-step their way up Blues Street, well… I'll be goddamned.