March 6, 2020 ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas (Documentary Review)
Music may be an auditory experience, yet a strong visual look can go a long way for a musician. It can even make them iconic- Axl Rose is the bandana man in Guns N’ Roses, KISS’ Gene Simmons is ‘The Demon’, and ZZ Top are the Band of Beards. Lead Guitarist Billy Gibbons and Bassist Dusty Hill have had them for so long it seems like they had them forever. Even the sole beard-less member of the band still counts because it is in his name- Frank Beard.
But like most bands, ZZ Top did not come fully formed. They had to begin somewhere, and that is where the new documentary ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas comes in to inform fans and newbies alike just how it all started.
Available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital platforms as of Friday, February 28, 2020 onward through Eagle Rock Entertainment, the film is directed by Sam Dunn (Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey 2005, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage 2010) and traces ZZ Top’s history from their humble bar gig beginnings to their status as international superstars. There are interviews with the band members, alongside talks with high-profile fans like Queens of the Stone Age Frontman Josh Homme and Actor Billy Bob Thornton. That is not to mention rare archival footage of early ZZ Top, and cuts of the band’s performance at Gruene Hall in Texas.
Those who opt for the DVD and Blu-Ray editions will get live performance segments from the Gruene Hall show and Ham Estate Archives as extras. So, there is plenty on offer. But is it worth all the lovin’?
The documentary does have some nice visuals, which even work in some aerial shots and neat closeups that do not detract from the info being relayed. Even the archival stills and news clippings get some pizzazz added to them, making certain figures stick out like they were stands, or switching between foreground and background focus. These are just little details, but these visual tricks help it stand out from more typical documentaries. There are even a few animated interludes!
Still, those act as the dressing. But the meat & potatoes- the actual interviews and biography, etc- come off well too. Gibbons, Hill & Beard make for charming figures in their own laconic way. They are neither monotone nor manic- they just relate each stage of their musical career and bring them to life as a result. Whether they are telling the viewer about the highs- like their opening for the Rolling Stones- or the lows- like Beard’s struggles with drugs- they make for fascinating listening.
Not that the other interviewees are slouches by comparison, as the likes of Homme, Thornton, Robin Brians of Robin Hood Studios, etc, offer some interesting tidbits of their own along the way. Like how Gibbons It just helps that, even if the documentary was just raw interviews with the band alone, it would still be a pretty good show.
The music helps tell the story too, as each track shows Top’s shifts in sound- running like a gradient from blues to rock, ’60s Psychedelia giving way to 70’s Metal onward. It makes for nice, fascinating listening for newbies and veterans alike. Whether it will change the minds of anyone who has already heard Top’s Greatest Hits is another matter. But the earthy, raw sounds certainly show how and why the band caught on.
It has certainly aged better than their earlier ‘Texas Pride’ look, which makes them look less like sharp-dressed men and more like Kenny Rogers aficionados. Thank goodness for the Band of Beards look. That said, more dedicated fans might feel a little deflated that the documentary does not cover much past the MTV era & Eliminator. Things get a little more summarized past that point. So, it is less warts-&-all than warts-&-most, yet it still manages to end on a positive note.
So, where does ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas stand? The documentary has great visuals, interesting interviews, and goes a grand job telling the stories behind the band. That is not to mention it runs at a good pace too- neither too brisk nor too slow. It is a sweet treat for fans, though general rock fans- or even people just slightly into the genre- should get plenty of bang for their buck. Thus, CrypticRock gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars.