When it comes to bands that have been around long enough to infiltrate most areas of the American culture, ZZ Top is near — well — the top. They’ve been around for over 50 years and have made classic hits that get people of all ages rocking. Go to any tavern with a jukebox and you’re likely to hear "Sharp Dressed Man" or "Gimme All Your Lovin’" before you’ve finished your first or second beer. If these guys got a cut of the quarters, they’d probably be on the richer side of things regardless of whether or not they ever got paid for album sales.
The band is also Texan to an almost unnecessary extent, in a good way of course. They seem to love their home state, and their home state seems to love them just as much. Their musical style is a mix of rock and blues, but they always bring a little bit of that Texas twang with them everywhere they go, which has to be woven into the natural fabric of their beards at this point.
Their unique blend of sounds has made them wildly popular over the years. According to Billboard, at least 10 of their albums have peaked at spots in the top 25, with the majority of those peaking in the top 10. But their music isn’t the only the unique thing about this band. There are plenty of interesting details about ZZ Top you probably don’t know. Check ’em out.
ZZ Top didn’t always have the beards
Let’s be honest, when you think of ZZ Top the first thing that comes to mind is the mid-torso-length beards these guys have been rocking since before many of us were born. Whether you can name a ZZ Top song or not, you still know the beards. Could you imagine ever seeing vocalist and guitarist Billy Gibbons or bassist Dusty Hill with a clean-shaven face or even a manageable scruff? Well, there was a time when that was still their preferred look, and we’re not talking about when they were running around in diapers.
According to Yahoo! Entertainment, the band spent their first decade without their iconic facial hair. Gibbons and Hill had a tendency to wear comparatively short beards. Like, normal people beards you could still tame with a razor. That is until they arrived at a meeting after having been on an extended vacation of sorts. Hill and Gibbons had forgotten to shave, and their beards had become extensive. This was an entirely uncoordinated move that caused each of them not to recognize each other at first glance, but once they realized they’d both independently grown the same mats, they were there to stay.
It should be noted that the only member of the band who didn’t rock a massive beard after that day was the person whose name should’ve demanded it, drummer Frank Beard.
ZZ Top have passed up good money to keep their beards
Once ZZ Top’s beards were hanging to their chests, they weren’t going anywhere no matter what. Not only have they stayed, but Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill seem to have thrown their razors away for good. They outright refuse to cut their facial hair, and they’ve gotten plenty of high-dollar offers to do so.
As Gibbons explained in an interview with Brave Words, razor manufacturer Gillette had once called the duo with a massive proposition. The company wanted Gibbons and Hill to be in one of their commercials. It would’ve been a big promotion for the company, having a group of international bearded superstars shilling their products, but Gillette isn’t about growing one’s beard long. It’s about shaving it off. They offered the bearded pair $1 million to scrape off the scruff in front of a camera, but these chest-long beards were worth more than money to the band. They refused. "No dice," Gibbons says. "Even adjusted for inflation, this isn’t going to fly."
He then goes on to say seeing one’s face in the mirror, clean shaven, is akin to a horror film, specifically a Vincent Price movie, and the idea should never be entertained. Not that the drummer of the group ever had to worry about it since he’s always been 100% Beard.
Here’s how ZZ Top got their name
The name ZZ Top seems to hold a bit of mystery. For a long time, nobody knew exactly how they got their name, so the rumors started to burn while legends grew from their ashes. In an interview Billy Gibbons did with KLRU, they talk about the myths flying around as of 2008. Gibbons’ favorite is the rumor that says they’re named after Zig Zag and Top cigarette rolling papers. KHOU 11 addresses a different rumor that says ZZ Top got their name from a pizza delivery business sign that had some of the letters missing, causing it to spell ZZ Top. Which is a great way to unveil an epiphany in a stoner film, but not a great way to name a band.
Gibbons has set the record straight quite a few times now, beginning in a book he published. The actual story, as Ultimate Classic Rock describes, was actually quite simple. The band was sitting around their old apartment hang out, when Gibbons looked up at the posters. Z.Z. Hill and B.B. King stood out as some of his favorite bands, so he mixed the two together but realized how much Z.Z. King sounded like B.B. King. To switch things up and since B.B. King was at the top of the genre, "Top" became their stand in for B.B. King. The band was then and forever had their name.
ZZ Top performed on a Texas-themed stage
We’ve already mentioned that ZZ Top loves their home state of Texas, but you may not have really gotten the idea. It’s a massive part of their persona. They are Texas rock. In fact, they’re kind of the progenitors of the whole southern rock movement, along with Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers, that gave way to musical ensembles such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Black Stone Cherry. These guys are so Texas they even used to tour on a Texas-themed stage, and it was wild.
As STMU History details, ZZ Top was really breaking into the front row of fame as their fifth album, "Fandango!," was being released, and as a way to promote the album, they set off on the Worldwide Texas Tour. The stage for the tour was basically a wooden cut out of Texas, angled slightly to work the calves and give the audience a chance to see its shape. They lined the stage with cacti and yucca and other Texas plants and hung a hand-painted backdrop of the Texas landscape behind the band. To ZZ Top it off, they brought live animals on the tour to help really set the scene. A hulking live buffalo, vultures, armadillo, and honest-to-goodness rattlesnakes.
The animals would occasionally cause problems for the crew, including that one time they got loose, but the worst part was probably having more than six semi-trailers filled with animals and gear to lug around.
The band went on a transformative hiatus
Throughout the band’s first five albums, they’d been rolling nonstop. When the Worldwide Texas Tour began, things got even more stressful. They blew through nearly 100 shows in a year and a half, according to STMU History. The band was getting burnt out, and it really didn’t help that the band had a road manager who was so good at his job. He was strict when it came to schedules and kept everything moving as it should, but with the high volume of work the guys in ZZ Top were expected to do, they could only take so much.
When drummer Frank Beard spoke with the Boston Globe in 1980 (found via Ultimate Classic Rock), he told the publication that they were the types of wild guys who did what they wanted whenever they wanted, but for the past six years, they’d been herded this way and that by their management. It was taxing. So they stopped recording in 1977 and stopped touring shortly after, according to Texas Monthly, returning in 1979 with the release of "Degüello," but they didn’t come back the same.
When the band returned from hiatus, they were different. They were still the band from Texas, just not the "little ol’ band from Texas" as they were often called. They had their beards, their style, and a new way of embodying their bluesy rock feel into something suitable for the soon-to-emerge MTV. They were truly rock stars now.
ZZ Top is the longest running band without member changes
The most recent lineup for ZZ Top includes Billy Gibbons on guitar and vocals, Dusty Hill on bass and vocals, and the mustache-wearing Frank (ironically) Beard wailing away on the drums, but this wasn’t how it started out. As Ultimate Classic Rock notes, Gibbons was the only original member of the band ZZ Top that grew out of the remnants of his former band, Moving Sidewalks. The Sidewalks were dismantled when two of the bandmates were drafted into the Army in 1969. The only member left besides Gibbons was drummer Dan Mitchell. The two weren’t finished with music, so they got together with Lanier Greig on bass and produced the first single, "Salt Lick/Millers Farm," for what had now become ZZ Top.
The band quickly switched out Greig for Billy Ethridge and Mitchell for Frank Beard, and within the year they were offered a record contract, but Ethridge split. Beard then conscripted the help of his bassist from a former band, bringing Dusty Hill into the mix. The band’s lineup was forever set.
According to Discover Music, ZZ Top had finished their turnovers in 1970, and they’ve kept the same members since then. With over 50 years under the trio’s belt and an unbreakable chemistry between them, ZZ Top has become the longest-running band in the popular music world with an unchanged lineup.
Dusty Hill worked at an airline
By the time the band finished their Worldwide Texas Tour, ZZ Top had a serious claim to rock and roll fame. They were now popular, known across the country when their music had previously been confined to the borders of their home state for the most part, but the constant work that came with that fame wasn’t always ideal. Hence their hiatus. And, during their time away from music, in the short 1977 to 1979 stint the band took for a rest break, bassist Dusty Hill took on a gig that some might see as "unexpected."
Hill says (via Ultimate Guitar) that he and the band needed to take a step back not just from performing and touring, but from the entire rock and roll life in general. They’d seen too many musicians try to take on too much in their early years and burn out for good, and ZZ Top was striving for longevity. So, what did Hill do with his time away? He worked at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. An old friend of his had been working there, and the job was just what Hill needed. The life-long musician explains that he’d been on the road playing music since he was a young teenager and he needed to "get grounded." For once in a very long time, he wanted to "just feel normal." The blue-collar work at the airport provided that for him.
Billy Gibbons was a character on Bones
Frontman and guitarist of ZZ Top Billy Gibbons has one of those personalities that is larger than life. He’s gritty, filled with rugged Texas charm, well-spoken in a way many might believe doesn’t fit his image, and one of the biggest jokers in the history of rock and roll. All of these qualities together make him a perfect addition to an onscreen production, and Fox Broadcasting Company took advantage of that when they cast him as a character in the hit show "Bones."
Gibbons plays Angela’s father on the show, and his character goes unnamed. There’s a reason for this. As show creator Hart Hanson told the Chicago Tribune, Gibbons was playing a different version of himself. The whole time you watch him on screen, you have a hard time figuring out if he’s meant to be a character or simply Gibbons, and his "character" was designed that way. Of course, this added sense of mystery has created more questions for fans. Many wondered if Gibbons was actually Angela actor Michaela Conlin’s father here in the real world. He’s not, but even some of his personal friends thought he was, and in true Gibbons style, he refused to correct them because he thought it was funnier that way.
ZZ Top played at George W. Bush’s inauguration ball
Following a grueling recount during the 2000 election between Democrat and former vice president Al Gore and former governor of Texas George W. Bush, the Texan native was awarded the victory, becoming the 43rd president of the United States. Bush attained a second big win when he was reelected in the 2004 presidential race. As with any big win, and winning the presidency twice in a row is on the top of them, Bush needed a proper party. After all, the Presidential Inaugural Ball is a time-honored tradition.
The ball is usually a black or white tie affair — you know, fancy stuff — but George W. is Texan through and through, so his party needed a touch of "grit" as well. Who do you think he invited to the ball? According to Blabbermouth, the two-time president elected to have Ted Nugent and none other than ZZ Top headline the affair. Before the thing even kicked off, Nugent told the press it was "gonna be mayhem," which sounds a little unorthodox for a presidential ball, but Bush wasn’t complaining.
Nugent ended up canceling, MRT notes, but the Top boys showed up. This wasn’t their first Bush rodeo. Following Bush’s first presidential victory in 2000, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (via Lawrence), ZZ Top played at the campaign’s pre-inauguration party in Washington, D.C. Maybe they felt they owed the new president a favor for some reason…
There’s a ZZ Top Day in Texas
Not only does ZZ Top love Texas, but former governor of Texas George W. Bush loves ZZ Top. You’d think that with them playing at two different parties between both of Bush’s presidential elections, but the first of those performances were set in stone since 1997.
According to Lonestar 92.5, while Bush was still the acting governor of the state, he declared a state holiday on May 15th: ZZ Top Day, but the holiday has actually been around a lot longer than that. In 1986, as the Sun Sentinel notes, the Texas House of Representatives declared the band "official Texas Heroes" in a unanimous decision. They also declared ZZ Top Day for the first time, though back then, it was August 27th. The reasoning behind the decision to put these bearded boys (and Beard) on a pedestal alongside state heroes such as Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, and Jim Bowie is all about their contribution to the musical heritage of the state. Of course, these declarations took place while ZZ Top was in town to play three shows in Houston, so there’s a good chance this was as much a publicity stunt as a serious honor. But hey, the Top has two holidays in their home state, and that’s pretty cool.
Billy Gibbons is a published author
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons is a seriously multitalented individual. Besides both singing in his low, gravelly voice and shredding like a beast on the guitar, he’s also a published writer. This really isn’t a surprise if you ever heard him speak or seen any of the written responses he’s sent into publications. Gibbons has a way with words.
His first and only book, as Forbes describes, seems more like a subtle brag than anything else. Apparently, Gibbons is as knowledgeable about cars as he is about music equipment, both of which are equally portrayed subjects in "Billy F Gibbons: Rock + Roll Gearhead" published in 2005. The book looks at guitar and car designs throughout the ’50s and ’60s, linking their progression together. The book has three sections. Cars and guitars make up two of them, and the third is all autobiographical, written in the entertaining and creative voice Gibbons uses while speaking at shows or in interviews.
Dusty Hill passed away in 2021
Over the past 20 years or so, ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill has had at least a couple of serious ailments, and two of them seemed to coincide with European tours. The first and more serious of them, as Chron explains, was when the musician was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2000, causing ZZ Top to postpone their tour. Then, in 2011, Hill suffered an acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor that grows in the inner ear and affects hearing. This again led to the cancellation of a European tour.
It was easy then to think Hill might be falling apart as time went on, and unfortunately, that seems to have been the case. During the afternoon of July 28, 2021, the official ZZ Top Facebook page delivered some heartbreaking news. Dusty Hill, beloved bassist and southern rock phenom, had passed away in his sleep earlier that morning. The band’s message spoke about how much Gibbons and Beard, along with "legions of ZZ Top fans" would miss him, and surely they will. But the great thing about musicians leaving their work behind is that for a few moments, you can hear their vocals and bass riffs and feel as if they never left.