ZZ Top formed in 1969, and the town of La Grange was first established in 1837. Despite the fact that, between the two of them, there is more than 200 years of history—and that their history was fully intertwined after Billy Gibbons and his bearded bros recorded their signature song “La Grange” 42 years ago—the twain have never met: somehow, ZZ Top has never played a show in the Fayette County seat.
But those who’ve waited four-plus decades to hear that driving guitar riff and Gibbons’s infamous “a haw haw haw haw” while literally in La Grange will finally have an opportunity in September, when the band headlines the Fayette County Fair. As the Houston Chronicle notes:
To the best of anybody’s recollection in the city of La Grange or in ZZ Top’s camp, this is the first time that the band will play the namesake town of their signature song….
The capacity of the venue that the trio will play is said to be right under 20,000 so you should have room to breathe.
This has been a year of historic Texas musical events that have been four or more decades in the making. Back in April, the legendary psych-rock band the 13th Floor Elevators reunited in Austin for their first show since the sixties, but ZZ Top took the Austin band’s fuzzed-out aesthetic, and took it well beyond the cult world of damaged psychedelics. ZZ Top is one of a small group to have a certified-diamond album (1983’s Eliminator sold more than 10,000,000 copies), which means that the band bringing “La Grange” to La Grange is a significant moment.
The song itself, of course, isn’t necessarily the most flattering tune a municipality could hope for. While it’s undeniably a classic, the song refers to the “Chicken Ranch” brothel outside of town—also the subject of the play and film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas—and Gibbons’s sleazeball come-ons (“I hear it’s tight / most every night”) evoke a mood that you might not, say, put on a watertower.
But that hasn’t stopped “La Grange” from becoming an indisputable classic: Rolling Stone declared it among the top 100 guitar songs of all time, and the number of movies that have drawn from the song’s evocative mood is long. When Bruce Willis needs to let the Greenpeace protesters know what he thinks of them in Armageddon, the cocksureness and attitude the film intends to convey is captured by Gibbons’s guitar, and when Johnny Knoxville and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson need to show off some attitude in Walking Tall, they find it in the song’s boogie rhythm. In a movie, that rhythm means that somebody is gonna do something reckless, arrogant, and awesome.
And the influence exists outside of Rolling Stone and Hollywood. You can hear covers of the song from the politically charged Mexican rap/rock band Molotov, or from Hank Williams Jr., or from the hippie mainstays Phish, or from early-eighties hardcore legends DOA. That riff is one of the best ever recorded, and few things are more fun to do with a microphone in front of your face than to mimic Gibbons’s guttural “A haw haw haw haw.”
So when ZZ Top heads out to La Grange in September, it’ll be a cool moment. At the very least, when that riff starts playing, 20,000 people will probably be considering doing something irresponsible, and that’s the whole point of rock and roll.
(Photograph by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)