ZZ Top Is Zee Tops! 

Why ZZ Top is the World's Greatest Band!

Most of us aren't old enough to remember the real ZZ Top, the trio that claimed the throne of bar blues boogie in 1970. For people my age and younger, ZZ Top are a kind of hick-assed version of the Cars--an image due, in large part, to their phenomenal success in the mid-'80s, back when MTV was still showing round-the-clock videos. The "Little Ol' Band from Texas" wasted no time taking the video bull by the horns, plunking down mesmerizing synthesizers and slick production to ZZ Top's polished Texas boogie. (And what videos they were--filled with dazzling roadsters and hot chicks in T-shirts three sizes too small, presided over by three mysterious, post-apocalyptic Yosemite Sams.) To me, ZZ Top were Texas colliding with Hollywood. They were my dad's age--yet, somehow, they were cool. How cool? In 1984, at the pinnacle of their fame, the Gillette company offered band members Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill a million bucks apiece to shave their famous shaggy beards for a commercial--and they declined! They weren't sellouts!

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.

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