Apr 012020

Ever have one of those moments when you reflect and say to yourself, “It’s time I try being a better person; it’s time I give [insert thing you’ve never liked] a chance”? I had one of those moment last week, when I decided to give ZZ Top a chance.

Social distancing has opened my mind and heart to all sorts of things I’d normally not watch on Netflix, like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Lab series. How much more annoying could a ZZ Top documentary, That Little Ol’ Band From Texas, be than a 6-part series featuring Paltrow and her fellow vocal fry lackeys self-obsessing over touchy-feely subjects that first came into being to make us better people spiritually, not worse?

To my surprise and delight, to my edification as an evolved, better person, the ZZ Top documentary was not bad at all. I realized at least 5 things from watching this program:

  1. The members of ZZ Top are way more articulate and engaging than I was expecting.
  2. Billy Gibbons is and always has been much thinner than I realized. (What is with the insertion of the middle initial F, though?)
  3. The band spend most of its career looking like regular, cowboy dudes, which was a much less annoying Look than their bearded, sharp-dressed man shtick of the MTV age. I barely paid any attention to ZZ Top in their first 10 years, but had I, I would have been much less put off by simply looking at them. Hearing those old songs again, I still don’t get much pleasure out of them, but their instrument tones are sweet. Their surge in popularity thanks to the MTV hits explains so much of what I don’t like about that band. Had it not been for that evolution in their career, I could have happily ignored them through the glory years of RTH and saved Townsman hrrundivbakshi much heartache.
  4. I still don’t care for Prince.
  5. Beside some footage of vultures sitting back by drummer Frank Beard, which we’d uncovered years ago in our Bullshit On series regarding the alleged tour featuring livestock, there’s nothing more to prove that bison and bucking broncos and whatnot actually shared the stage with the band. Come on, an entire segment of the doc highlights this part of the band’s mythology, including an interview with a rodeo clown who was supposedly hired to wrangle the animals, and we don’t even get a still image of a bison sharing a mic with Dusty Hill? I smell a page taken from the playbook of that Scorsese doc on Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review.
Aug 302013

Driving home from dinner with my wife and oldest son the other night our local Oldies station played a fantastic run of (albeitly cheesy) mid-’70s songs that my wife and I probably too enthusiastically pointed out to our son captured the time when we were the age of his younger brother, who was not with us on this drive. I can’t remember the killer run of hits, but it kicked off with “Young Americans” and included “We’re an American Band” and “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”

“What a titan John Lennon was,” I marveled in my head, privately, “to be able to inject such a suspect disco-boogie romp with so much energy and cool!” I felt a tear building in my left eye as that song faded while memories of that era continued to blare, as I anticipated what the DJ computer would spin next…

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Aug 102013

Group shot of World Texas Tour road crew.

Group shot of World Texas Tour road crew.

You may recall a series of Bullshit On threads doubting tales of ZZ Top touring with longhorn steer, bison, vultures, goats, barnyard cats, and rattlesnakes onstage. The continuing quest to validate ZZ Top’s purported onstage livestock display for its 1976 Worldwide Texas Tour has taken a baby step forward with the following photo, provided by Townsman jungleland2. Let’s see who’s willing to shoot down the veracity of the flying bison pictured behind the band! Undeniable evidence…after the jump!

May 042012

It’s not often we get to see Robert Fripp laugh, is it? I forgot King Crimson played on the failed early challenger to Saturday Night LiveFridays. Clearly, Fripp had a good time that night.

Collective critical wisdom probably considers Robert Fripp to be an “influential” musician, much like it does his old partner in crime, Brian Eno. However, unlike the body of work Eno produced, I’m not sure Fripp’s work as a guitarist, composer, producer, conceptualist, and iconoclast actually influenced many musicians. Who else plays in that weird scale that’s so distinctive of Fripp’s work? Who else uses Frippertronics? What other rock guitarists play seated on a stool? Eno inspired a generation of non-musicians to produce music, and he actually helped change the way we hear music. Fripp’s body of work suggests a musician needs to spend a lot of time practicing. Baby, that ain’t rock ‘n roll!

I’m not criticizing Fripp, mind you. I like his body of work. I like that one circular scale he plays repeatedly—and the other one, involving 2 notes that don’t quite go together yet move up the neck in some weird harmony. I love those soaring, melodic solos he occasionally plays on Eno records and The Roches’ “Hammond Song.” I consider Fripp to be an inspiring musician but not an influential one, if that makes sense. Along the same lines, I call bullshit on most folks who claim Captain Beefheart as an “influence.” His music is inspiring, but how can one be influenced by Beefheart without aping him? “Yeah, man, I like to stick daggers in the blues and sing ‘out there’ lyrics!” With rare exceptions (eg, Pere Ubu, early PJ Harvey), that is Beefheart more than it is influenced by Beefheart. I think he’s too idiosyncratic to be that useful an influence.

If you can get on board with this concept, are there other musicians you can think of who may be so idiosyncratic that they do not leave much room for influence, in terms of “building off” their work?

Mar 132012

Recently we received the following offlist message in regard to our long-running investigation into the validity of ZZ Top‘s supposed Worldwide Texas Tour. Although not directly confirmed, this third-hand account, verified by our anonymous reporter, may lend some credence to claims of this suspect tour, which no one seems to have captured by a clear photograph or snippet of film.

Dear Mr. Mod,

While hanging out with our daughters at the playground today with my friend Charlie and I started talking about music, as we usually do, in this case large arena shows. I mentioned that I’d never been to rock show in a venue which seated more than 2500 or so people and he said that was the case for him as well, at least in the last thirty or so years. In his youth however, in Des Moines, he used to go to all the big rock shows at Veterans Auditorium, the largest venue in Des Moines. He listed several bands he saw and then, to my surprise, said, “I never saw ZZ Top, but I remember my friend Jay going and telling me that they brought a longhorn steer out on to the stage, and I was pissed because I thought that would have been cool to see.” I did a double take, and then asked him to repeat what he had said, and he confirmed that in the mid-to-late-1970s, a friend of his said he saw ZZ Top perform with a longhorn steer on stage.

Now I’m not sure where the ZZ Top cattle on stage debate was last left, but as a historian, I find this pretty compelling evidence, considering Charlie hasn’t spoken to the person who told him this story in over thirty years.

For what it’s worth,

[name withheld]

Jan 192012

Breaking news, courtesy of Townsman diskojoe (and his friend), who writes:

A friend of mine sent me the following link to an interview of ZZ Top by Andy Kershaw of the BBC in 1987 & there’s something interesting @ the 4:50-5:00 mark when the drummer, the beardless one named Beard was asked why they didn’t tour outside the US:


Prior to that.

Perhaps the first RTH post directly on the subject.

Oct 052011

Will Your Mystery Date Be a Dream or a Dud?

Sure, this week’s Mystery Date was an easy one: that was Stiff Little Fingers, doing the folk song “Love of the Common People,” from their 1982 initial farewell album, Here Now… Many of you guessed this if you stuck around long enough for singer Jake Burns to fall into his typical “Joe Strummer on steroids” delivery. I am only disappointed that Townsman mwall didn’t chime in on this date. For a guy with strong, spartan tastes in music, he’s always surprised me by his top-to-bottom love for the band’s debut, Inflammable Material, an album I’ve always wanted to like more than I ever can beyond the amazing “Suspect Device” and “Alternative Ulster.” I was curious to hear his take on this recording—and maybe even acknowledge that I’d long ago seen beyond the facade of this band and peered into the mediocrity of their proto-Green Day track. “Brother,” I hoped he’d say, “I’ve got to give it to you for calling bullshit on these guys for all those years.”

I remember Townsman andyr or chickenfrank owning this album way back when and me thinking it was a “pretty good change of pace” for the band, the same way I thought The Ramones‘ poppy Pleasant Dreams was a welcome and long-overdue offspeed pitch to their limited repertoire. Over the years I rarely listened to their copy of that album again, but I continued to tell myself they had something extra in their tiny creative satchel. The other day I revisited this album, and boy was it lame. It sounded like they started listening to all the subpar Jam albums from the end of their run and trying to ape Weller’s moves rather than The Clash‘s.

There was no way they could have kept up with aping Clash records after Give ‘Em Enough Rope, so poor-man’s Jam was probably a reasonable career option. However, all the things that always bugged me about most of their first two albums—the blatant political pose, the complete lack of originality and/or humor, and especially the sense that “Shoot, given a manager and a producer my high school band could have made a record as mediocre as Nobody’s Heroes!”—remained. In retrospect, it’s no Pleasant Dreams.

I have another song from this album that I’d like to share with you, but it’s on my work computer at the moment. I’m too tired (and a little bummed, thanks to my Phillies losing tonight) to fire up that computer, and I’m off to a work trip to NYC all day tomorrow followed by an evening up there with Bryan Ferry, so the horn-driven, late-period “soulful” Jam-style number will have to wait. Meanwhile, enjoy the following live performance of another track from that album.

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