Directed by Sam Dunn
Banger Films have never released a dud, have they? Their latest documentary, ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas is another well made, entertaining film to add to your collection.
And it’s about time, isn’t it? 50 years? And not just that, but the same three guys for 50 years solid! The only thing that changed were the grooming habits. Frank Beard tried to grow one but just couldn’t pull it off. I think it’s better that way. Two guys with beards plus a moustache guy in the back on the drums. Although it was completely accidentally, it’s so genius it seems planned. The beard tale, and many more like it, make up the backbone of this film.
As it turns out, there isn’t a lot of craziness and drama in the official ZZ Top story. We never learn much about their personal lives outside the band. Beard is quite “frank” about his past drug situations, but Aerosmith they were not. This movie is actually mostly about the music. Imagine that! About the influences — both blues and rock. About opening for the big boys like the Stones. About Texas.
Texas plays a huge role in this film, and in ZZ Top. That unique blend of forces that spawned ZZ Top came together in Houston. But then they got too big to be just a Houston band. Things were about to happen. Their sound is half nurture, and half nature. Yes, Texas (the nurturer) had its influence on the three, but so did their sheer talent and chemistry (the nature). Hill and Beard talk of playing together for the first time, and it was obviously just meant to be. As much as ZZ Top rocked, their down-home country image certainly confused people in the early days.
What really comes across is the music. Via the old recordings, and brand new footage of the boys playing in the studio, you can hear just how little they have lost over 50 years. What a tight, yet thick sound. Overdubs were a part of the ZZ Top studio sound early on (though not without some doing). Of course, we know that ZZ Top made a massive sonic change in the 80s with Eliminator. This is briefly discussed, as is the MTV revolution and just how ZZ Top came to dominate in that era. Unfortunately that is where the film ends. Potentially you could have added another hour just talking about the seven albums that followed Eliminator, some of which were pretty big. Or another hour getting to know the three guys a little better. That Little Ol’ Band from Texas goes no deeper than just the bare surface when it comes to the guys and their interpersonal relationships. Surely in 50 years there must have been some drama. You won’t find much of it in this film. Clearly, that’s the way ZZ Top want it. Maintain the mystique. Never reveal too much. Hone the mythology.
As with any music documentary, other stars must be interviewed in order to gush and add context and detailed observations. These include Josh Homme (what isn’t he in?), Steve Miller, Billy Bob Thornton (?) and Dan Auerbach. But you’ll also hear from Tim Newman (director of those classic videos and brother of Randy Newman), and Robin Hood Brians, a studio owner who helped shape their early sound.
Any Banger film is going to be a quality product going in. It’s not so much “will it be good?” It’s more “what nits will I pick?” Because any serious fan will have some with any rock film. I have very few to pick with this film. Just that I wish it was an hour longer.