The same unstoppable groove at the pulsating heart of James Cotton's houserocker Boogie Thing drives ZZ Top's relentless La Grange, an ode to a particularly memorable whorehouse situated not all that far from Houston. It was the Texas trio's first real hit single in 1974, rising to #41 on the London label and going a long way toward defining their boogie-based sound in years to come.
Vocalist/guitarist Billy Gibbons (born in Houston on December 16, 1949), vocalist/bassist Joe Michael ‘Dusty' Hill (born in Dallas on May 19, 1949), and drummer Frank Beard (born in Frankston, Texas on June 11, 1949) played their first gig as ZZ Top at a Knights of Columbus Hall in Beaumont in February of 1970. All three brought plenty of previous experience to their newly minted rock trio.
Gibbons had been in several Houston bands while in high school before forming the psychedelically inclined Moving Sidewalks in 1967 and scoring a local hit with 99th Floor. Hill and Beard had played together in American Blues. Gibbons and Beard had already hooked up in Houston when they auditioned Hill for the open bass chair. The way the threesome seamlessly locked together that day ensured they'd be playing together for a very long time to come.
With fellow Texan Bill Ham their manager, ZZ Top cut its debut single in late '69 at Robin Hood Brians' studio in Tyler, Texas coupling Salt Lick and Miller's Farm. It initially slipped out on Ham's Scat logo before their manager made a deal with London to release the 45 nationally the next year. Brians' facility was the recording site for ZZ Top's debut album in 1970, and they encored with ‘Rio Grande Mud' in 1972. But it was their third London long-player ‘Tres Hombres' that really stoked the fire for ZZ Top as it went gold. They'd posted a minor hit single in '72 with Francene (one side of the single was sung in English; the other held a version rendered in Spanish), but this set contained La Grange. Beard's clickety-clack drums, Gibbons' incisive axe, and Hill's booming bass stripped John Lee Hooker's endless boogie down to its bare bones and permeated it in Lone Star swagger.
There was no stopping ZZ Top from here on. Their '75 set ‘Fandango!' went gold, as did ‘Tejas' in 1977. After a recording hiatus that saw their ‘Best Of' LP on London go platinum, ZZ Top resurfaced on Warner Bros., Gibbons and Hill now sporting long beards that came to define the trio's image. They embarked on a non-stop series of platinum albums on Warners that stretched into the mid-1990s, their signature boogie blues-rock attack serving them extraordinarily well.