Before MTV, the synthesizers, the cheap sunglasses, the cool car, and the famous long beards, ZZ Top was one blistering Texas blues band. On the earlier albums from the ‘70s, one could hear the chops that would take them beyond the bar circuit although it would be a while before they’d finally hit the arenas in the ‘80s. Yet listening to both those early records, Tres Hombres and Fandango!, both of which were recently reissued, it is kind of refreshing to hear some pure blues rock without the sometimes slick technological trappings of the later recordings.
Tres Hombres (1973) could be considered the group’s breakthrough thanks to “La Grange” a song about the best little whorehouse in Texas called the Chicken Shack (with the immortal “haw, haw, haw” line). The song’s ingredients of blues, rock, and boogie can be found on the album’s other tracks including “Precious and Grace” and the smokin’ “Move Me Down the Line.” The other classic cuts on the album is the riff-heavy “Waitin’ for the Bus” and the portentous “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” The dark-horse winner is one of the group’s rare ballad, “Hot, Blue and Righteous.” Latter-day ZZ Top fans weaned on Eliminator and Afterburner will find something appealing on the record. (Bonus cuts here are live versions of “Waitin’…,” “Jesus…,” and “La Grange”).
Fandango! is basically what ZZ Top fans already know: that the group is a definitely a great live act. Half of the album is a live recording from New Orleans in 1975 and they mainly consist of barnstorming cuts from Backdoor Medley to a blistering take on Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock.” The other half of the album are studio cuts, including the border radio station paen “Heard It on the X,” the introspective “Blue Jean Blues” (with some fine guitar playing by Billy Gibbons), and the famous “Tush,” the guys’ admiration for the female derriere; that galloping rocker has by now probably been played in many a bar and juke joint. (The additional tracks on this reissue are “Heard It…”, “Jailhouse…” and ”Tush.”