Tejas Blues

9 Aug

ZZ TOP

And while we’re on the subject of Austin . . . you ever get to thinking much about 70’s HARD ‘N’ HEAVY BLUES ROCK from TEXAS? I sure as hell do, all the freakin’ time. So I’ve come up with what were, unequivically, the very best 70’s hard ‘n’ heavy blues rock Texans, in reverse order of rockgodliness. Cap a Shiner Bock, turn it the fuck up and GO TO IT:

5. Nitzinger“Boogie Queen” (from the Nitzinger LP, Capitol Records, 1971) This Fort Worth John Nitzinger guy came up writing songs for local boys BLOODROCK before cutting loose on his own. He went mersh straight away, blatantly shooting for the charts – but for a year or so there, hard rock WAS mersh – or so he believed. So here, in between cheesedick pop attempts, he’s singing about cockfights, ticklelicks, & boogie queens while playing a bit of mean bluesy gtr, and he’s ditched the progressive organ stuff that bogged down B’ROCK. You want something more? Well he’s also got a chick drummer, and she ain’t half bad! If only all mersh rock sounded this ROCKIN’!

4. Point Blank“Tattooed Lady” (from their Second Season LP, Arista, 1977) Manager/producer Bill Ham’s forgotten second-stringers who dished a couple solid, hard-as-nails recs in the mid-70’s, before trading it all (the blown amps! The ugly bikers! The groupies with knife scars and missing teeth!) for a wimpy DOOBIE BROS. sound by the end of the decade. But early on, I can almost imagine them giving ZZ TOP a run for it – if only they’d been a bit smarter about their presentation. Their good-ol’-boyisms might grate on you (esp. if you’ve ever had your ass wupped by a bunch of hairy, backwood TX rednecks), but I fucking love it. So does DICK DESTINY, and he oughta know.

3. Johnny Winter“Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” (from the Johnny Winter And LP, Columbia, 1970) You really can’t talk about Texas blues rock without mentioning the whitest mofo of them all. And yeah I admit his records are pretty inconsistent, what with all the “heavy” covers of 50’s R’N’R standards. Me, I tend to throw on the records by his stylistic offspring (like RORY GALLAGHER) more frequently. But hey loose was actually his thing: get loaded and go hog wild, mess be damned. And I think we can all agree that approach has it’s merits. Plus, he always sang desperate, like he meant it. This record – featuring the counterpoint gtr talents of the diminutive RICK DERRINGER – was recorded about 2 seconds before JOHNNY fell completely under the spell of almighty H. He eventually cleaned up, but never really found his way back to his early peak. This early, groovy version cuts the later, 3-ring circus arrangement RICK D. came up with and made a bundle on.

2. ZZ Top“Ten Dollar Man” (from their Tejas LP, London Records, 1976) I once met an Austinite who’d attended ZZ TOP’s “Texas-Size Rompin’ Stompin’ Barndance And Bar-B-Q” concert at UT Austin in ’74 – this hippie got scared so bad by the big bad BOOG (ok so it was probably the dearth of working toilets too), he didn’t go to another RNR show for a decade. Oh fuck yeah!

The first 6 ZZ TOP albums are damn near flawless. To take something so simple like Texas boogie, and shape it/knead it/accessorize it and fucking REINVENT IT in the countless ways they did, spoke of something akin to natural born genius. They had taste (Billy only drives the finest hotrods), they had a wicked sense of humour, and boy did they have BALLS. My favorites from the period are their 1st LP (wherein you can still hear the dregs of their collective 60’s efforts), “Just Got Paid” from Rio Grande Mud (timeless!), and the whole of Tejas (the most diverse of the early records). But I love every moment of that run. What a world we’d live in if hipsters were routinely looking back to study this stuff, instead of NICK DRAKE or whomever. It’s a crime that some of these records STILL haven’t hit CD in their original form. Hot tip: HOLD ON TO YOUR VINYL until their label gets a clue and restores the 70’s drum tracks.

1. Stray Dog“Speak of the Devil” (from their Stray Dog LP, Manticore, 1974) Their early recordings are MANNA FROM HEAVEN. That shit is some of the most ambitious, unrestrained, hip-swivellin’ bluesy hard rock action ever commited to tape. The guiterrorist responsible is W.G. “Snuffy” Walden (he’d go on to play with FREE for a day or two during the Heartbreaker sessions, before going totally hack in the 80’s) and oh man is he ever ON FIRE here. And he sings like some possessed, southern-fried LEE HAZLEWOOD worshiper! Die-hards love this rec so much, there’s like 4 bootleg CDs you can get of extra tracks/alt. mixes/live stuff from this period. Do avoid the second record like the plague . . . but Snuffy deserves a choice seat in heaven for laying this extra large, golden egg. A double-yolker fr sure. More cowbell! More EVERYTHING!

(Oh and honorable mention goes to Johnny’s bro, Edgar. THE EDGAR WINTER GROUP and their They Only Come Out at Night LP is great great great, but perhaps not specifically-blues enough to get on this list. Check it out though, it’s a sweet summertime record.)

Thanks to Pro Keds for the hot, blue, & righteous photo

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4 Responses to “Tejas Blues”

  1. Dave Lang August 11, 2007 at 5:31 am #

    Great thread. I’ve only just recently (like in the last year) gotten into ZZ Top, despite 20 years of hearing Black Flag and the Meat Puppets yammer on about their greatness. Great band (pity about their Republican politics), and Billy Gibbons really knows his music, even mailordering a whole bunch of Australian experimental CDs from my pal Dr. Jim (label: Dr. Jim’s) last year. Can’t remember the full title, but there’s a great Johnny Winters CD on Repertoire called The Blues Experiment or something like that. Rough as guts, you’ll dig it.
    If you want some Lexicon Devil stuff, either contact me direct or try Eclipse Records (www.eclipserecords.com).

  2. mrowster August 11, 2007 at 8:02 am #

    The Progressive Blues Experiment – yes rough is an understatement.

    Thanks for the tip – at this rate, Lexicon Devil’s poised to become the NEARESST LABEL going on the planet.

  3. JW August 11, 2007 at 5:53 pm #

    You are nuts! In a good way, of course.

    I still remember the time you turned me on to the relentless magic of Stray Dog a few years back. That shit is OFF THE HOOK. And I can totally understand why they found a home on ELP’s Manticore label!

    Amen on ZZ Top’s drum tracks, too. That really is weird. Of course, I’ve still hung on to all my early ‘Top!

  4. mrowster August 11, 2007 at 6:11 pm #

    I will always take NUTS as a compliment.

    The recent “expanded & remastered” reissues of Tres Hombres and Fandango are the real deal – they sound soooo good. So when are they gonna do the 1st, 2nd, and 5th recs? ZZ’s website gives no indication that these are even in the works.

    Thank god the STRAY DOG album is available every which way but loose. ANY of em sound killer.

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