The meaning behind the name of the group: ZZ Top

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Who the hell is ZZ Top? Who names their child ZZ? What do these Z’s mean?

These are popular and reasonable questions for anyone encountering the popular rock band’s Texas blues sounds for the first time. When a group is named after what looks like the name of a person, then of course it is normal to wonder who this person is.

But ZZ Top isn’t exactly a man’s (or woman’s) name. However, it may have happened as if it did.

That history, along with a bit about the band’s origins, is what we dive into today. So, without further ado, let’s get to the history, origins and meaning of the band’s name: ZZ Top.

The beginnings of the group

Guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter William Gibbons founded ZZ Top in late 1969. The Houston, Texas-born guitarist soon invited vocalist and bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank “Rube” Beard to join. him in the effort.

Together, the three musicians released the band’s debut album, the aptly titled, ZZ Top’s debut album—in 1971. The group rose to fame a few years later in 1973 with their album Very Men. Notable songs include “La Grange”, which was written about a well-known and beloved brothel in Texas.

Jimi Hendrix and moving walkways

Before Gibbons brought in Hill and Beard (an ironic last name given ZZ Top’s affiliation with chest-length pearls belonging to Hill and Gibbons), the guitarist brought in bassist Lanier Greig and drummer Dan Mitchell.

Even before that, however, Gibbons had studied bands and the music industry. At 18, he formed the group Moving Sidewalks. This group produced the hit single “99th Floore” and led to Gibbons befriending legend Jimi Hendrix.

Moving Sidewalks even opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience during Hendrix’s first US tour as a headliner. Gibbons said during live performances that Hendrix even taught him to play guitar when Gibbons was “about 17” in Dallas, Texas.

Guitar hero and The name

Along with Hendrix, Gibbons loved a number of talented guitarists. He had also noticed that several of those who had achieved notoriety used names with two initials. Especially BB King and ZZ Hill. So, Gibbons thought, might as well do the same for his new band.

Gibbons himself named the band that would make him famous. At first, he combined the two names of his heroes and came up with: ZZ King. But he realized that the name sounded too much like the original name of the blues player. On reflection, Gibbons decided that a “king goes to the top”. Thus, he finally lands on ZZ Top. The rest is history.

The group’s heritage

Today, ZZ Top is considered one of blues-rock’s leading bands. 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 so remarkable if it weren’t for their memorable name? Who to say. But ZZ Top definitely sticks in your brain like a Gibbons guitar hit, doesn’t it?

Photo by Frank Hoensch/Redfern

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