Who the heck is ZZ Top? Who names their child ZZ? What do those Zs stand for?
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These are popular—and reasonable—questions for anyone first encountering the Texas blues sounds of the popular rock band. When a band is named after what sounds like a person’s name, then it’s of course normal to wonder who that person is.
But ZZ Top is not a man’s (or woman’s) name, exactly. Though, it may have come about as if it was.
That story, along with a bit about the band’s origins, is what we’re diving into today. So, without further ado, let’s get to the history, origins, and meaning of the band name: ZZ Top.
The Band’s Early Beginnings
Guitar player, singer and songwriter William Gibbons founded ZZ Top in late 1969. The Houston, Texas-born guitar player quickly invited singer and bass-player Dusty Hill and drummer Frank “Rube” Beard to join him in the endeavor.
Together, the three musicians released the band’s debut album—the aptly titled, ZZ Top’s First Album—in 1971. The group rocketed to stardom a few years later in 1973 with their album Tres Hombres. Standout songs include “La Grange,” which was written about a well-known and beloved brothel in Texas.
Jimi Hendrix and Moving Sidewalks
Before Gibbons brought in Hill and Beard (an ironic last name given ZZ Top’s affiliation with chest-length beads belonging to Hill and Gibbons), the guitar player brought in bassist Lanier Greig and drummer Dan Mitchell.
Even before that, however, Gibbons had been studying bands and the music business. By 18, he formed the group Moving Sidewalks. That band produced the hit single “99th Floore,” and led to Gibbons befriending the legend Jimi Hendrix.
Moving Sidewalks even opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience during Hendrix’s first American tour as a headliner. Gibbons has said during live performances that Hendrix even taught him how to play guitar when Gibbons was “about 17” in Dallas, Texas.
Guitar Heroes and The Name
Along with Hendrix, Gibbons loved a number of talented guitar players. He’d also noticed that several of those who’d attained notoriety used names with two initials. In particular B.B. King and Z.Z. Hill. So, Gibbons thought, he might as well do the same for his new band.
Gibbons named the band that would make him famous, himself. At first, he combined the two names of his heroes and came up with: Z.Z. King. But he realized that the name was too similar to the blues player’s original name. On second thought, Gibbons decided that a “king is going to the top.” So, he landed finally on ZZ Top. The rest is history.
The Band’s Legacy
Today, ZZ Top is considered one of the standout groups of blues-rock. With their giant beards and hit songs, which also include “Tush,” “Legs” and “Sharp Dressed Man,” ZZ Top is recognizable at first sight and first listen. Would they be as notable if it hadn’t been for their memorable name? Who’s to say. But ZZ Top certainly does stick in your brain like a Gibbons guitar lick, doesn’t it?
Photo by Frank Hoensch/Redfern