One of the most baffling pieces of classic rock trivia is how early incarnations of the Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead, and ZZ Top were all named The Warlocks. That’s where Banger Films’ ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas begins, alongside Billy Gibbons’ first band The Moving Sidewalks, whose name and sound were direct responses to the 13th Floor Elevators. This pre-ZZ Top era, long celebrated by garage-rock freaks, is discussed in great detail via archival photos and Hendrix tour tales.
From there, the film follows the band’s pre-bearded trajectory, revealing their embrace of gimmicks from day one. ZZ Top’s 1976 Worldwide Texas Tour included live buzzards, buffalo, and longhorn steer on a stage in the shape of their home state. Yet the rise of MTV became the trio’s ticket to international stardom thanks to their fuzzy guitar spinning videos for “Legs” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’” (directed by Randy Newman’s brother Tim).
If criticisms can be lobbed at That Little Ol’ Band From Texas, the film clearly suffers from a case of hagiography. The band members’ stories are the stuff of tour bus lore, yet feel like they’ve been rehearsed and retold countless times. Drummer Frank Beard’s drug addiction struggles could have provided an emotional centrepiece, but almost everything that could be deemed controversial is delved into with the depth of a two-inch puddle. For true music nerds, meanwhile, there’s not even a mention of the mysterious period when members of ZZ Top toured as The Zombies, or a moment devoted to their true masterpiece, “Burger Man.”