ZZ Top, the “Little Ol’ Band from Texas,” has become an iconic name in rock and blues, renowned for their signature sound, bearded frontmen, and captivating stage presence. The band was formed in 1969, and over five decades later, they continue to tour and perform, maintaining their position as one of the longest-running major rock bands with the original lineup largely intact until the recent passing of Dusty Hill in 2021.
Formation and Early Years
The story of ZZ Top starts in Houston, Texas, where guitarist Billy Gibbons met drummer Frank Beard through a band called the American Blues. Initially performing as a trio with organist Lanier Greig, the band released its first single, “Salt Lick,” but it wasn’t until the arrival of bassist Dusty Hill that the classic ZZ Top lineup was solidified. Hill replaced Greig in 1970 and brought an earthy bass style and vocals that complemented Gibbons’ own. The band’s early sound was rooted in blues but had hints of the rock and boogie style that would define them in later years.
Commercial Success and Mainstream Recognition
ZZ Top’s breakthrough came in 1973 with their third album, “Tres Hombres,” featuring the hit “La Grange,” which was inspired by John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen.” The album brought the band mainstream recognition and was followed by a string of successful albums and singles, including “Fandango!” (1975), featuring the classic “Tush,” and “Degüello” (1979), which included hits like “Cheap Sunglasses” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide.” The 1980s saw ZZ Top embracing new technologies, with the release of “Eliminator” (1983) that featured synthesizers and drum machines. Hits like “Gimme All Your Lovin'” and “Sharp Dressed Man” catapulted them into international stardom.
Endurance and Legacy
Despite changes in musical tastes and the advent of new genres, ZZ Top has endured. Their straightforward blues-rock sound, combined with a tongue-in-cheek humor and style, made them a staple in American rock culture. They have sold millions of albums worldwide, have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and have continued to tour extensively. The trio remained unchanged until 2021 when Dusty Hill passed away. Elwood Francis, a longtime guitar tech for the band, was chosen as Hill’s successor, making it clear that the ZZ Top legacy is far from over.
Billy Gibbons, born December 16, 1949, in Houston, Texas, is the guitarist and lead vocalist for ZZ Top. He was a founding member of the band when it was formed in 1969 and has remained with the band ever since. Gibbons has been a key contributor to all of the band’s albums, from their 1971 debut “ZZ Top’s First Album” to their latest release as of my last update. Known for his distinctive guitar style and vocals, he has contributed to iconic songs like “La Grange,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” Outside of ZZ Top, Gibbons has a solo career, releasing albums like “Perfectamundo” in 2015 and “The Big Bad Blues” in 2018. He has also made numerous guest appearances on other artists’ recordings and has acted in a few television shows and movies.
Lanier Greig, born in Houston, Texas, was an early member of ZZ Top, joining the band in late 1969. Greig was a keyboardist and bassist and played on ZZ Top’s first single, “Salt Lick,” which was released in 1969. However, his tenure with the band was brief, and he left in early 1970, before the recording of the band’s first full-length album. After leaving ZZ Top, Greig was involved in various other musical projects, although none reached the level of commercial success that ZZ Top did. He passed away in February 2013.
Billy Ethridge, like Greig, was another early member of ZZ Top, although his tenure was even more brief. Ethridge played bass guitar and joined the band briefly in 1970 but did not contribute to any of the band’s studio albums. He left the band the same year he joined, making his time with ZZ Top short-lived. Details about his career post-ZZ Top are not widely documented, but he didn’t achieve the same level of mainstream success that the band did. It’s worth noting that Ethridge’s time with the band was transitional, and he was replaced by Dusty Hill, who became a long-standing member of ZZ Top until his death in 2021.
Dusty Hill, born Joseph Michael Hill on May 19, 1949, in Dallas, Texas, was the bassist and secondary vocalist for ZZ Top. Hill joined ZZ Top in 1970, replacing Billy Ethridge, and became an essential part of the band’s iconic trio alongside Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard. Hill played on all of ZZ Top’s albums from their second album, “Rio Grande Mud” (1972), up until his last performances. Notable songs featuring Hill’s contributions include “Tush,” “Legs,” and “Cheap Sunglasses.” Apart from his work with ZZ Top, Hill also appeared on several tracks of other artists but remained mostly focused on the band. Hill passed away on July 28, 2021, marking the end of an era for ZZ Top.
Elwood Francis is a relatively new addition to ZZ Top, taking on the role of bassist following the passing of Dusty Hill in 2021. Not much is publicly known about Francis’ life before ZZ Top, but he had been a guitar tech for the band for several years before stepping into the role of bassist. His role is to honor Hill’s legacy while providing the low end for ZZ Top’s ongoing performances.
Dan Mitchell was never a member of ZZ Top but has an interesting connection to the band. Mitchell played drums on “Salt Lick,” ZZ Top’s debut single released in 1969. His contribution to ZZ Top is brief but noteworthy for being a part of the band’s early history.
Born June 11, 1949, in Frankston, Texas, Frank Beard is the drummer for ZZ Top and the only member of the original lineup who doesn’t sport a long beard. Beard joined ZZ Top at its inception in 1969 and has been a constant member ever since. Known for his steady and straightforward drumming style, Beard has contributed to all of the band’s albums and is an integral part of ZZ Top’s sound. Songs like “La Grange” and “Sharp Dressed Man” feature his solid rhythmic backbone. Outside of ZZ Top, Beard has kept a relatively low profile, focusing primarily on his work with the band.
Complete List Of ZZ Top Band Members article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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