When Blues Singer Z.Z. Hill signed with the southern soul label Malaco in 1980, he also stepped into the role of a modern (back then) savior of the blues. Since blues supposedly no longer sold, everyone was shocked in 1982 when Hill's second album, “Down Home Blues,” sold 500,000 copies. It was the most successful blues album ever, revealing a core audience for quality blues records, revitalizing the appeal. It also became an anthem for R&B singers struggling against disco and the emergence of rap. The Blues was coming back from back down South, where it all started.
Born in Naples, Texas, Arzell Hill spent much of his childhood singing in the church. After deciding he would be a performer, Arzell became Z. Z. for recording purposes. Several artists influenced him, his favorite being the late Sam Cooke. Z. Z. started his singing career with a group by the name of The Spiritual Five.
Prior to this group, he had never performed or sang with a band. With the assistance of his brother, Matt Hill, Z. Z. left his truck driving job and went to California to "give it a shot" as advised by the late Otis Redding. His first original tune was You Were Wrong which was produced by his brother.
Z. Z. recorded for Atlantic, Kent and Columbia Records, as well as several family (Hill) labels. He worked steadily, but didn't get the recognition he so very much deserved. Lack of promotion and poor attendance for his shows contributed to the slow period in his career. A willing to be patient and to persevere through the hard times proved to positively turn his career around.
After more than twenty years in the music business, Z. Z. found his niche with Malaco Records in 1982. His success with the “Down Home Blues” album led him to dates with such people as B. B. King and Bobby Bland. "Down Home Blues" became a viable link to southern tradition for many people who left the south to venture out into other parts of the U. S. It earned him a place in Blues history.
Hill received the "Blues Vocalist of the Year Award" in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1984, from The Blues Foundation. The Awards program is an annual event held in the memory of W. C. Handy, one of the founding fathers of the BLUES.