When Back to the Future III hit theaters on May 25, 1990, it brought along an unexpected cameo. There, alongside familiar characters Marty McFly and Doc Brown, were the iconic bearded rockers, ZZ Top.
The film’s plot sent its time-traveling heroes back to the Old West, a time period which fit ZZ Top a little too perfectly. An awkward moment greeted the rock stars when they showed up on set, as the crew didn’t recognize who they were.
Director Robert Zemeckis was already a fan of the band and had enlisted ZZ Top to record a song for the film. Still, it took some extra lobbying to earn the group some screen time.
“They were doing all-night shooting,” bassist Dusty Hill recalled in a conversation with UCR’s Matt Wardlaw, “and I remember that I made sure I was sitting over there by Robert Zemeckis, the director. I kept saying, ‘You know, it looks like we belong in this movie! I mean, you don’t hardly even need to use makeup on us!'”
Zemeckis was sure to give the group ample attention, highlighting the trio during a town dance.
“We didn’t want to just have a classic fiddle band,” the director explained in one of the film’s behind-the-scenes interviews. “We wanted to put a little spin on it.”
“They were great guys,” added the time-traveling trilogy’s star, Michael J. Fox, who was clearly excited by ZZ Top’s involvement. “Beards and everything, as advertised. They showed up in Sonora (California) and came out and did their stuff and in between takes they’d sit and play the blues, the acoustic guitars, like mini jam sessions. It was a lot of fun.”
Though the band was generally a joy on set, they did get into a little bit of trouble, messing around with some of the many gun props and putting the film’s continuity at risk. “You’ve got to cause a little trouble,” laughed Hill, later reflecting on the experience.
In their scene, ZZ Top delivered an acoustic, countrified version of their song “Doubleback.” The harder-rocking, electric version of the track played over the final credits of Back to the Future Part III. The song was not included on the film’s official soundtrack, though it did appear on ZZ Top’s 1990 LP Recycler.
“Doubleback” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, while its video – featuring footage of the band compiled with clips from the movie – earned an MTV VMA nomination for Best Video From a Film.
Watch the Music Video for ZZ Top’s “Doubleback”