“Gimme all your lovin’, all your hugs and kisses too. Gimme all your lovin’. Don’t let up until we’re through.” This is the hard-rocking, distinctive boogie-down chorus of ZZ Top’s classic, “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” It was my first foray into the band’s awesome music. The year was 1983. MTV had every kid’s eyes and ears glued to the television. The band looked and sounded completely different. They played fuzzy guitars, wore sunglasses and cowboy hats. Their front man and bass player had long, Rip Van Winkle beards. ZZ Top was a mysterious band. The new documentary, ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas, sheds light on the mystery. It is a must see for their fans, and anyone who appreciates blues-driven rock and roll. They had a completely different image and fifteen years of history before music video stardom.
ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas tells the band’s story through interviews, archival footage, and animated recreations. It also intercuts the scenes with the band jamming. They show their musical progression over time. We first meet bassist Dusty Hill. He talks about his upbringing in early 1960’s Dallas; playing in local bands with his brother. He met drummer Frank Beard on the circuit. Both men had an instant liking to each other’s style and musical tastes. Frank was invited to play with the Hill brothers.
Billy Gibbons had already found success as a musician. He was widely admired in Houston for his tremendous guitar skill and vocal prowess. His band, The Moving Sidewalks, had scored a hit single. It’s astonishing to learn that Billy opened up for Jimi Hendrix on one of his first tours. The Moving Sidewalks would shed a few members and become the first incarnation of ZZ Top. Billy Gibbons explains how he thought of the name. The black blues musicians of the fifties and sixties had a considerable influence on the band.
ZZ Top owes their fame to the people who helped them during the formative days. The band gives a majority of the credit to their manager. Bill Ham had just started managing musical acts, but was no novice to the industry. He’d released several singles in a fledgling career, and learned a great deal about building a fan base. When Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard finally got together, they knew they had something special. Bill Ham recognized their talent. He brought them to record at Robin Hood Studios, where their unique sound was developed.
The band earned their stripes by touring constantly. They even played a show with just one person in the audience; who would become a lifelong fan. The band members had a deep camaraderie from the beginning. They shared a love for blues, their Texas upbringing, and performing live. Frank Beard speaks openly about his drug addiction. ZZ Top was finally making rock star money. It led to a downward spiral for the percussionist. Beard’s decision to enter rehab and focus on his health was a turning point for the band.
ZZ Top’s hiatus in the late seventies was fascinating. They’d already achieved a huge following with their Texas themed tours. The band traveled with a circus of animals and a rodeo clown. The interviews about the separation provide great insight into their personalities. I was quite surprised by what Dusty Hill did in the downtime. When ZZ Top re-emerged, they were ready for major changes. The willingness to update their sound and image was the key to longevity. The beards, synthesizers, and choreographed stage moves were born. Billy Bob Thornton, a longtime friend of the band and huge fan, discusses how different they were. By the time MTV was launched, Bill Ham was ready to craft another image upgrade.
ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas is directed by Sam Dunn, who also made the fantastic Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. His point of view is reverence for the music and players. Frank Beard’s drug use and dissolution of his marriage is as personal as it gets. Dunn doesn’t pack the doc with salacious rock star details. He focuses on how ZZ Top got started, their influences, and the path to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
ZZ Top charted their own course. They stayed true to their Texas roots, never leaving for the music capitals of California and New York. We get real insights into the dynamics between Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard. They liked each other from the start, and have carried that friendship for fifty rocking years. The soundtrack is also packed with blues classics and the band’s greatest hits. Sam Dunn has crafted another excellent music doc. ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas is produced by Banger Films and Eagle Rock Entertainment with distribution by Abramorama.
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