Thursday, March 18, 2010

pre-ZZ Top

I’ve been checking out some vintage ZZ Top lately; I mean, the real early stuff – "ZZ Top’s First Album" (’70), "Rio Grande Mud" (’72) and "Tejas" ('76). This is some of the tastiest blues-rock you’ll probably come across; don’t confuse it with the 80’s sound the band perfected with 1983’s “Eliminator.”

As the band celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, listening to this early material has made me curious about the era, including pre-ZZ stuff.

ZZ formed in late ’69 around guitarist Billy Gibbons, who had regional success in Texas with the Moving Sidewalks, whose final lineup was the original ZZ – with Lanier Greig on bass and Dan Mitchell on drums. ZZ’s first single, “Salt Lick” b/w “Miller’s Farm” was released on manager Bill Ham’s own label, before Greig was fired and replaced by Bill Ethridge. Gibbons then invited drummer Frank Beard of the Texas band American Blues to join him, and Beard brought bandmate Dusty Hill into the ZZ fold.

Trivia: “Salt Lick” and “Miller’s Farm” appeared on 2003’s “Chrome, Smoke & BBQ: The ZZ Top Box”

ZZ Top - Chrome, Smoke & BBQ: The ZZ Top Box (Box Set) [Remastered] - Salt LickZZ Top - Chrome, Smoke & BBQ: The ZZ Top Box (Box Set) [Remastered] - Salt Lick

ZZ Top - Chrome, Smoke & BBQ: The ZZ Top Box (Box Set) [Remastered] - Miller's FarmZZ Top - Chrome, Smoke & BBQ: The ZZ Top Box (Box Set) [Remastered] - Miller's Farm

Gibbons history is tres cool: the Moving Sidewalks released a series of singles and one album (“Flash,”in 1968), while opening Texas dates for both The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi was so taken with Gibbons’ talent, that he not only taught him a bunch of things, he even gave Billy a pink Strat as a momento. Gibbons’ profile was given a boost when Jimi named him as “America’s best young guitar player” during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Jimi Hendrix with The Moving Sidewalks, Houston, 1967
(Gibbons is 2nd from right in white shirt)

Trivia: legend has it that Gibbons met future ZZ Top manager Bill Ham backstage while partying as a fan at a Doors show in Houston in 1967.

Written by Gibbons, the Sidewalks had a local hit in Houston with “99th Floor,” which was #1 for six weeks.

The Moving Sidewalks - Platoon - 99th FloorThe Moving Sidewalks - Platoon - 99th Floor

The Moving Sidewalks – 99th Floor (1967)

"Pluto-Sept 31st" has a Hendrix vibe to it and is very representative of the era.

The Moving Sidewalks – Pluto–Sept 31st (1968)

I’ve been searching for audio or video clips on Dusty’s and Frank’s American Blues band; despite the fact they released two albums, I haven’t located anything...just yet.

Speaking of which...I have noticed that it’s pretty hard to find any video (or pictures, for that matter) of ZZ Top before the beards arrived in the late 70s; as it turned out, my hunch was correct: legend has it that the band refused to do any tv appearances through the 70s – ironic, given the band’s success with videos in the 80s.

Here’s a rare clip of the band live on their famous ‘76-‘77 Worldwide Texas Tour; with a stage in the shape of Texas, the show included cactus, live cattle, buffalo and snakes, among other things.

ZZ Top - Rio Grande Mud - ChevroletZZ Top - Rio Grande Mud - Chevrolet

ZZ Top – Chevrolet
Largo, Maryland - Nov 11, 1976