“La Grange” (1973)
Written by: Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard Recorded by: ZZ Top
The riff was borrowed, the lyrics were blue, the song was irresistible. Inspired by a whorehouse and named for the town where it was located, “La Grange” turned a Houston boogie band into one of the biggest groups on the planet. Edna’s Fashionable Ranch Boarding House (commonly known as the Chicken Ranch, because the original madam had raised chicks, hoping to disguise it as a poultry farm) had been open since 1905, frequented by politicians, businessmen, and teenage boys, including the future members of ZZ Top. “There was a space set aside in every young Texan’s life to get a fake ID to get into La Grange,” said singer and guitarist Billy Gibbons in 1984. “You’d have to get yourself together to confront the line of girls on the couch, all with their legs crossed in the same direction and swinging their legs to the same beat.” Bassist Dusty Hill later remembered, “You couldn’t cuss in there. You couldn’t drink. It had an air of respectability. Miss Edna wouldn’t stand for no bullshit.”
“La Grange” was released on the album Tres Hombres in July 1973; a month later the Ranch closed, though not because of the song. Acting on a tip from the attorney general’s office, a TV station in Houston had been airing a series of investigative reports on the establishment, which led Governor Dolph Briscoe to order it shut down.
Nearly two decades later, in 1992, ZZ Top did get in some trouble over the song: they were sued by the publisher of “Boogie Chillun,” the John Lee Hooker song whose relentless guitar riff had formed the basis for “La Grange.” But Hooker himself bore no hard feelings. “They’re very good people,” he said at the time. “They’re fans of mine, and I’m a fan of theirs.” A court eventually ruled in favor of the Top, finding Hooker’s song to be in the public domain.