This is a nice one. This article reveals where the inspiration for some of the moves that they later filmed for several of their most popular songs/videos came from. I like these tidbits of information that you sometimes find when you dig in a bands history. The journalist didn`t like this Texan band, but I dig them. In many ways they have had the same trajectory in their career that Heart had. First they did their own thing, then they had some years with a more “commercial” sound bringing them fame and money along with the hits. Later they went back to their roots and have stayed there since.
Traumatic Texans` culture explained
Everything`s big in Texas. ZZ Top are very big in Texas. ZZ Top are also very loud in Texas – naturally. Later this year they`re going to be very loud in Britain. Stann Findelle reports.
From the very first time Z.Z. Top played the Whiskey, in 1971, to their delusionary tour commencing this summer during which the average house size will hold 50,000 foaming fandangoers, their music has probably been one of rock`s loudest snores – snoozin`, boozin`, and three guys who seemed to know one whole chord apiece.
Their sound has carried the blushing young listener clear over the pain threshold without the slightest mercy or remorse. So what did we ever do to deserve these gutter punkos in pointy boots and matching heads?
Some rockers call their guitars axes. It`s rumoured that Billy Gibbons manhandles a rewired axe handle used by Lester Maddox to keep darkies out of his restaurant. But, heckfire, thousands of people are showing up for this music. They can`t all be relatives of the roadies. Backstage, after a typical hard-core, three-encore blitz of the forum (just a little ol` place at 18,000) the band seemed less hostile than expected, wiping their brows clean with some coldcuts. There are no drugs in sight. And not a disparaging word to be heard save for the usual anxiety of the management who believes Z.Z. are consistently getting the cold shoulder and the hard backhand from the press.
“We`re not at all concerned with bad press,” reports bassist Dusty Hill. “If we were, there wouldn`t be time for anything else. All we`re interested in is the people,” immediately dismissing yours truly as some kind of cro-magnon species.
Drummer Frank Beard chimes in: “We just want to play. Period.”
Well, enough neanderthals shelled out in excess of 10 million for concert tickets last year (according to Performance box office charts) and their albums have sold more than three million units, so they`re playing all right. And somehow, the critical barbs don`t feel so pointed when you`re insulated with that kind of dough.
To be equitable, we dissected the group`s alleged lyrics to discover what quantities of healthy creative tissue might reside within what looked to the casual critic to be a monstrous musical tumour. Thus the consultation with Mr. Stephen Peeples, a Tex-Mex suitcase-in-his-hand researcher who dove right into the spleen of Texas, Houston, where Z.Z. hides away from prying eyes.
He found that while the “music is blatantly derivative, the lyrics are 95% original, and written about off-the-wall experiences of their wide open environs.”
This was quite a shock for me, as I`ve never been able to comprehend a single word below all the static electricity the Toppers generate on stage. Seems most of it has to do with women, wine, women, gambling, women, growing up in Texas, women, whorehouses and oh yeah, women.
Mr. Peeples believes that Texas` 60`s psyche subculture played an overtly outrageous counterpart to the Berkeley manifestations. Lead singer Billy Gibbons had a psychedelic raunch and roll band called Moving Sidewalks during this period in Houston, while Beard and Hill assaulted Dallas bars in a similar group.
Gibbons started Z.Z. in 1969 and replaced his former two supporters with Hill and Beard.
One of their culturally inspired tunes is “La Grange,” a tale about a Chicken Ranch brothel in south-eastern – yew guessed it – Texas. Lenny Bruce used to do a satire about a man being caught by his wife making love to a chicken. But this wasn`t nearly as subtle.
Gibbons growls the nasal passages at the beginning of this “classic”:
“Rumour was spreadin`
in that Texas town
`bout the shack outside La
(you know what I`m talkin`
just let me know
if ya wanna go
to the home out on the range
– they gotta lotta nice
Gibbons` lyrical beating around the bush must seem all too quaint to those of us accustomed to more overt flesh peddling. However, when the virgin ears of a Houston reporter caught the drift (in spite of the minor chord noise) of “La Grange,” he tried to get the tune banned and the place closed.
He failed on both counts. It seemed “La Grange” was too much of an institution in Texas, second only to the Alamo in visitors per annum.
Beard recalls: “It was the Waldorf of whorehouses. The customers weren`t allowed to cuss or look drunk. When a boy gets to a certain age, he becomes a man there. You gotta be 21 to get in. There was an old coloured woman to check your fake I.D. at the door.”
“There`d be a line o` girls sittin` on a couch and they`d all have their legs crossed the same way,” Beard continued, implying that he and his friends all had their eyes crossed the same way simultaneously. “They`d be swingin` their legs together in time, like clockwork, and the customers would be sitting on another couch across from them like shy guys waiting at a high school dance to cross the floor to the lovelies.
“Everyone knew about La Grange,” Beard leered. “A sheriff later broke a few of the prude reporter`s ribs.”
More healthy disrespect for the journalistic profession, I note.
And now more Texas sociology:
“In those days, if you weren`t on a de-virginisation flight, an alternative activity among Houston`s teen-age men was a pilgrimage to the street to vie with your buddies as to who could pull off the most “insane stunt.”
Gibbons wrote “Master of Sparks” about one of these confrontations.
“There was this old black man named Slim who worked on one of the big farms outside of the town. He was an expert welder, and he made us a cage on wheels with a bucket seat in it. We loaded it on an old pick-up truck and drove it with a kid strapped in it at 59 miles per hour or more.”
I`m beginning to realise where Z.Z.`s music is really coming from.
Here`s Z.Z. discussing some of their attempts at jazz:
“We spent three days trying to work the riff into every tune we do but it just wouldn`t fit.”
Gibbons offered “Dusty and I are working on some different vocal directions, like some fifths in our harmonies.”
The members feel they`re living in the “shadow of their reputation.”
“We haven`t played Europe yet. They`re not familiar with our concert style. We might feel a little more free. Not that we`re not free in the States. It`s just we won`t be facing the same kind of prejudice when we play Europe this year.”
I give the tasteful people of Europe about three minutes to develop their prejudice. For me Z.Z. Top still spells, a big zzzzzzzzzzzzz. Still, they`ve got a lotta fans… specially in Texas.
King of cassettes in the mid-70s.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Michael Chapman, Roger McGuinn, The Beatles, Ted Nugent, Bob Marley, Sly and the Family Stone, Eric Burdon Band, Genesis, Streetwalkers.
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