“That Little Ol’ Band From Texas” has been at it for well over a half-century, delivering rock, blues, and boogie on the road and in the studio to millions of devoted fans. With iconography as distinctive as their sound, ZZ Top is virtually synonymous with beards, hotrod cars, spinning guitars, and that magic keychain, all of which transcend geography and language.
It was in Houston, in the waning days of 1969, that ZZ Top coalesced from the core of two rival bands, Billy Gibbons’ Moving Sidewalks and Frank Beard and Dusty Hill’s American Blues. Their third album, 1973’s Tres Hombres, catapulted them to national attention with the hit La Grange, still one of the band’s signature pieces today. Eliminator, their 1983 album was something of a paradigm shift for ZZ Top. Their roots-blues skew was intact but added to the mix were tech-age trappings that soon found a visual outlet with such tracks as Sharp Dressed Man and Legs on the nascent MTV. It was one of the music industry’s first albums to have been certified diamond, with US domestic sales exceeding 10 million.
As a touring entity, they’ve been without peer over the past five decades, having performed before millions of fans on four continents, and have been the subject of their own Grammy-nominated documentary, titled That Little Ol’ Band From Texas. The band’s lineup of the bearded Gibbons and Hill and Beard, who ironically is clean shaven, remained intact for more than 50 years until Dusty’s passing. When Dusty temporarily departed the tour in the summer of 2021, it was a given that Elwood would be the perfect choice to stand in for Dusty until he could return. But Dusty’s return was not to be, and Elwood continues to handle the bass duties for the band now and into the future.
The elements that keep ZZ Top fresh, enduring, and above the transitory fray can be summed up in the three words of the band’s internal mantra: tone, taste, and tenacity. As genuine roots musicians, they have few peers. Their influences are both the originators of the form—Muddy Waters, B.B. King, et al.—as well as the British blues rockers and Jimi Hendrix, who emerged the generation before ZZ’s ascendance.
On his latest album, Black Sheep, Austin Meade delivers songs and stories that, like the young singer/guitarist himself, are contradictory yet cohesive. His influences—musical and otherwise—are as varied and rich as the small-town Texas soil that nurtured his talent. Thanks to his metal and classic-rock loving dad, Meade got to see bands like Judas Priest and worshipped Whitesnake. In junior high he related to the intense emo-rock of Paramore and Fall Out Boy, and the power of songwriters like John Mayer. Yet, thanks to plainspoken but deep heartland songwriters like Tom Petty, and cutting his teeth touring in the Texas and Oklahoma Red Dirt scene, Meade’s music overflows with wide-open soulfulness. Meade’s carefully crafted songs manage to be profound and provocative, sonically suited for both dive bars and arenas. From the seismic guitars and painfully honest lyrics, it is clear Meade’s ambitions and dreams are weighty.