ZZ Top’s Rocking Style Carried Texas’ Country Roots Deep Into Pop’s Mainstream

ZZ Top are the link to how all of country's roads unified to develop the genre's most lucrative pop sound

ZZ Top is far more than just a band where the guy named Beard is clean-shaven, and the other guys were bizarrely hirsute. As well, they’re more than just a band with seductive music videos. Ultimately, they’re sonically the link between how all of country’s disparate roads unified to develop the genre’s most lucrative pop sound.

In its entirety, the state of Texas is roughly half as big as the Appalachian Mountain area. This should impact any conversation about the essential importance of ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard, and Dusty Hill to expanding country music’s reach deep into the rock and pop worlds. Thinking about the impact of combining Texas, as one state representing roughly half of country music’s ancestral birth region, perfectly frames the possibility of their impact.

ZZ Top’s international star-making turn resulted from the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger being a fan of the Houston country trio’s 1971-released debut, ZZ Top’s First Album. On the record, Gibbons, Beard, and Hill played their cover of the Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” a song that largely pays homage to the bluesy, funky Muscle Shoals, Alabama-style rock and roll boogie that was related to the FAME Studios responsible for Aretha Franklin’s single “Respect,” the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There,” Etta James’ (later Janis Joplin-covered) “Tell Mama,” and Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally.” The New York Times once referred to the Muscle Shoals sound as “indigenous American music, a distinctly Southern amalgamation of rhythm & blues, soul, and country music.”

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