This song is about a whorehouse. Many people in Texas knew about it, but when the song was released it drew so much attention to the illegal activities going on there that they had to cease operations.
"The Chicken Ranch," or Miss Edna's Boarding House in La Grange, was probably the oldest establishment in Texas, catering the the oldest profession. It was closed down by a zealous TV reporter from Houston, who couldn't find enough vice and corruption to report in Houston. He challenged the governor on the issue of why it continued to operate in fairly plain sight. The governor had no choice but to order the sheriff to close it.
Miss Edna's girls had weekly visits from the local doctors, so they were "clean." The girls spent their money in La Grange and when a new hospital was needed, Miss Edna gave the first and largest donation. The reporter remained on the air crusading against such hideous crimes such as slime in the ice machines of restaurants.
Most of the building still stands, only a room was moved to Dallas for a nightclub. A "Ten to get in" was the price. It is doubtful that The Top ever patronized it, but if they did it was when they were young, as there was a strict dress code for patrons. (thanks, Gary - La Grange, TX)
The place in this song is the subject of the movie The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, staring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. It was eventually made into an off-Broadway play. In a 1985 interview with Spin magazine, ZZ Top bass player Dusty Hill explained: "Did you ever see the movie, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas? That's what it's about. I went there when I was 13. A lot of boys in Texas, when it's time to be a guy, went there and had it done. Fathers took their sons there. You couldn't cuss in there. You couldn't drink. I had an air of respectability. Miss Edna wouldn't stand for no bulls--t. That's the woman that ran the place, and you know she didn't look like Dolly Parton, either. I'll tell you, she was a mean-looking woman. But oil field workers and senators would both be there. The place had been open for over a hundred years, and then this a--hole decides he's going to do an exposé and close it. And he stirred up so much s--t that it had to close. La Grange is a little bitty town, and little towns in Texas are real conservative. But they fought against it. They didn't want it closed, because it was like a landmark. It was on a little ranch outside of town, the Chicken Ranch. Anyway, we wrote this song and put it out, and it was out maybe three months before they closed it. It pissed me off. It was a whorehouse, but anything that lasts a hundred years, there's got to be a reason."
La Grange is a real town in Texas. Coca-Cola had a bottling plant there.
The music is based on a John Lee Hooker song called "Boogie Chillen
." Hooker died in 2001 at age 83.
In 1992, Bernard Besman, who owned the copyright to "Boogie Chillen," claimed he had just recently heard the song and sued ZZ Top. After years of litigation, a court ruled that "Boogie Chillen" was in the public domain and ZZ Top was not liable.
This was ZZ Top's biggest hit at the time. They were big in Texas, but it would be a few years before they became nationally known.
The song is based around variations of a single chord. (thanks, James - Tracy, CA)