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Memories of ZZ Top’s impact shared, including how Groves helped pave way to success

The recent passing of ZZ Top member Dusty Hill has brought up memories for those who saw the band perform locally in the early days.

Many of the memories date back more than 50 years to what was then a spot for teens to watch bands perform live in Groves called the Towne House.

First, some history

It’s been well chronicled how local radio personality Al Caldwell helped “That Lil Ol’ Band from Texas” get airplay, which led to a show at a Knights of Columbus Hall in Beaumont.

Tom Neal, director of the Museum of the Gulf Coast, said the band was in Houston and wanted to have its music on a Houston radio station but when asked if they had ever been on the radio, they answered no.

The person at the radio station reportedly denied their request.

Al Caldwell of KLVI helped the band secure the KC gig.

In those early days the musical trio played locally.

Ron Arceneaux, a local businessman, was a teen back then and would ride his bike to the venue located at what once was Piggly Wiggly at 3663 Main Avenue in Groves.

He remembered hearing them play regional hit “Shaking Your Tree,” among other songs.

“They had a kind of country-rock type of sound,” Arceneaux said. “Once their first album came out and they started making it, the crowds got very, very large. He can recall actually sitting on stage up against Dusty Hill’s bass speakers.

He said the last time he remembers them performing at the Towne House was in the early 1970s, but that wasn’t the last time he saw them.

“It was always a pleasure to see the guys and every chance I had I would get a VIP ticket,” he said. “I saw them twice at Ford Park. The most recent one was at the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles about three years ago followed by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.”

Fans comment

Port Arthur native Michael Montie, who now lives in Magnolia, remembers meeting Hill after a local concert.

“I was standing right up front when they played the last song and when they finished Dusty Hill came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for supporting the band,” Montie said. “I believe he was thanking everyone who supported them early on. I just happened to be there at one of their last small concerts.

“As I have told many people, I always admired them for honoring the events that they already had booked. Dusty and crew have always been a class act.”

Natalie Picazo saw the band in the early days as well and cherishes a concert poster she got in high school while working at Parkdale Mall.

“I worked at the magic shop and the record store was in the mall. They asked us to put up the poster to promote the concert,” she said. “It’s one if my most prized possessions because it’s before the beards. ZZ Top is a Texas icon. They were a big part of my musical influence back in the day. Dusty’s passing is a great loss for the music world and a great loss for Texas.”

Tribute in Groves, exhibit at MOGC

Groves leaders first decided to honor the band’s ties to the city around 2009 or 2010, Groves City Manager D.E. Sosa said previously.

The city contacted ZZ top’s management company and received permission to add their logo to a water tower on Cleveland Avenue, “recognizing the city’s association with the band goes back to 1970.”

Everything was a go, but during the planning stages, the city was dealing with hurricane aftermath and the project was placed on the back burner.

The city eventually got back to the project, which was unveiled in 2016 with the words “Groves Texas. ZZ Top. The Towne House 1970.”

The Groves Chamber of Commerce also commemorated the local tie to the band with t-shirts featuring the ZZ Top logo on the front and a design showing the three band members on the head of a guitar with the words — “The Beginning. Towne House. Groves, Texas 1970” and “Groves, TX… We Get Things Started.”

Today

Tom Neal sat in front of a large screen in the museum’s Music Hall of Fame this week and went through the band’s videos.

Neal noted how the bearded Hill and guitarist Billy Gibbons performed their synchronized moves and the furry of spinning guitars from the Legs video.

Neal also noted how many musical legends are connected to the area as can be seen at the museum, adding this area really gave them a start.

“This (area) is not a dead end, it’s a launch pad,” he said.

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