The Classic Rock Opinion: ZZ Top At Donington
Classic Rock Editor At Large Geoff Barton recalls the time he discovered ZZ Top, how wrong the press can be when tipping new bands, and how he wants to let snakes loose for the Little Ol’ Band From Texas at Donington this summer.
I remember the time I discovered ZZ Top – and it was all thanks to fellow Classic Rock writer Peter Makowski.
Peter reviewed the band’s 1973 album Tres Hombres in Sounds – the late, lamented music weekly – and I recall his concluding remark vividly: ‘When ZZ Top finally come over to play the UK they will tear this country apart!’
Sheesh. It was a no-brainer, really. The Bearded Ones From The Lone Star State duly arrived on these shores… and Makowski’s patented ‘tearing apart’ phenomenon commenced with immediate effect.
It was one of those occasions when a rock journo gets it right on the button. Peter’s praise of ZZ was wholeheartedly deserved – and the band, to their credit, responded in spades.
But for every example of the next big thing turning out to be exactly that, an equal proportion of high hopes have plummeted into obscurity.
It just so happens that I have a copy of a Sounds about my person that originally came out in early January 1976. The various scribes were asked to identify the bands they thought were going to make a major breakthrough that year – with predictably erratic results.
Let’s look at some of those who Sounds ‘picked to click’ way back then:
* Sailor: ‘Their nickelodeon-based sound is unique.’
* Roogalator: ‘Only a total break-up can prevent Roogalator from being the most exciting band in Britain.’
* John Bennett Band: ‘The most unexpected pleasure of last year was to walk into the Hope & Anchor and find 10 horns riffing and wailing away over a tight, hard-driving rhythm section.’
* Chris Spedding: ‘With the surprise success of last summer’s ‘Motorbikin’’, 1976 promises to be the year when Chris finally does step into the spotlight he’s been itching after for so long.’
* Stretch: ‘Ol’ Elmer Gantry’s growling vocals and young Kirby’s menacingly tough guitar suggest they may become quite monstrous.’
But it wasn’t all bad news. Major things were also promised for Motörhead, Rush, Patti Smith, The Tubes, The Runaways – and, wouldn’t you know it, those ZZ Top chaps again.
So, it’s time for predictions again.
First off, will the band’s forthcomg, Rick Rubin-produced album be any good? Well, Metallica’s Death Magnetic aside, there’s an argument for saying that Rubin as a knob-twiddler might just have lost his mojo.
On the other hand, Rubin is a famed ‘hands-off’ producer, so if ZZ are left to their own devices, anything could happen. Let’s be generous and give this one a cautious thumbs-up.
Second, will the Top we see this summer at Download tear the place apart just like they usedta, or will it all just amount to a slight ruffling of Billy Gibbons’s and Dusty Hill’s generous bristles?
My hope is that ZZ’s infamous electronic accoutrements fail to make it through customs and they are forced to deliver a raw blues set in the manner of their early albums. I hope the stage is shaped like Texas and Download promoter Andy Copping rides on to introduce the band while riding a buffalo. I hope several bags of rattlesnakes are let loose among the Download crowd for an added spike of excitement.
But above all – after a day of standing in a field – I hope I can still feel my legs and know how to use them.
A Southern Comfort with that pie, sir?
Yes pardner, that’ll go down nicely at Download 2009.