7/17/17: ZZ Top “La Grange”

The iconic riff from ZZ Top’s “La Grange” can be heard in plenty of movies and TV shows, in WWE entrances and advertisements for Wrangler jeans. It’s one of the best-known songs the tres hombres from Texas ever made, and its subject is just as racy as you’d expect after listening to pretty much any of ZZ Top’s albums: a brothel.

The “Chicken Ranch” was an illegal, but tolerated, brothel just outside of La Grange that operated in the same place for over six decades, from 1905 until 1973. “Miss Jessie” Williams bought 10 acres of land just outside city limits and turned a perfectly normal Texas farmhouse into a fourteen-roomed bordello. The name of the establishment came around during the Great Depression, when Miss Jessie instituted the “poultry standard”: that a chicken would also be accepted as the price of admission in lieu of money. Eggs and extra chickens were sold during those hard times, and the Chicken Ranch became an actual ranch as well as a euphemism.

Weekly supplies for the Ranch were purchased at in rotation at local stores to spread the wealth among local businesses equally, considerable amounts of money were contributed to charitable causes and civic improvements in La Grange, and quality of medical care in the town increased due to both a large donation towards a new hospital and extra income for the local clinic – every working girl was required by Miss Jessie to get a weekly checkup.

The Chicken Ranch closed after an “exposé” (it’s tough to call it an “exposé” when most everybody knew about the cathouse) prompted by the Texas Attorney General at the time investigated allegations of organized crime involvement at the Ranch. Though there was absolutely no evidence of organized crime was uncovered, and residents of La Grange actively fought against the closing, the local government had no choice but to shut down the Chicken Ranch once the open secret became public news-making knowledge.

It took ZZ Top 42 years to play “La Grange” in the town the tune was named for, with the performance finally happening at the Fayette County Fair. The highest the song ever got on Billboard’s Top 100 chart was 41, but it helped launch a career that would sell over 50 million albums. Looks like most of us have had “La Grange” as the music in our head at some point or another.

To read and listen to all of Ron’s Music in My Head entries, click here!


The School of Rock Chapel Hill is a music school for kids of all ages located in the 501 Diner location on Fordham Blvd in front of Eastgate Crossing.

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