Best-known for their oversized beards, sleazy guitar riffs and those iconic 80s music videos, ZZ Top were once just a little ol’ band from Texas carving out a name for themselves on the national circuit. Their aptly named debut, ZZ Top’s First Album, established their unimpeachable blues-rock credentials, but it wasn’t until their breakthrough third record, 1973’s Tres Hombres, that the trio began to hint at the stadium-filling juggernaut they would be come. It’s follow-up, Fandango!, a half-live, half-studio release, provides evidence not only of some of those early legend-building performances, but of ZZ Top’s first true leap towards classic-rock immportality.
Listen to Fandango! here.
“A hurricane took the roof off our heads!”
Deep into the tour for Tres Hombres, ZZ Top’s manager and producer, Bill Ham, pushed for a follow-up record that would keep momentum going. The demands of touring had, however, limited the band’s songwriting opportunities. With only a handful of new tracks under their belts, Ham came up with a creative solution: the hybrid Fandango!, which took up the torch from Tres Hombres while showing two sides of the Lone Star State threesome.
Released on 18 April 1975, the first half of the album dives into ZZ Top’s roots with a snapshot from a 1974 set from The Warehouse, New Orleans. Having played host to bands like Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac plus Jim Morrison’s final live appearance with The Doors, the 30,000 square foot music venue on Tchoupitoulas Street had seen more than its share of rock’n’roll history by the time ZZ Top took the stage. Though the building was demolished in 1989, the group’s appearance – which took place, fittingly, during Mardi Gras – was auspicious.
“A hurricane had come through New Orleans and took the roof off our heads,” ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons recalled. “We knew we had found the right place to play!”
Bassist Dusty Hill was more succinct in his assessment: “We thought we did it!”
ZZ Top didn’t blow the roof off the sucker, but they did show up in true-grit form. Fandango! opens with a high-octane rendition of an original number, Thunderbird, before slipping into a guttural reinterpretation of Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock. As if suddenly being taken hold by a drug trip, the live set then flies off the rails with Backdoor Medley, a nine-minute workout that includes a song apiece from blues legends Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker – Mellow Down Easy and Long Distance Lover, respectively. The former is anything but mellow: as drummer Frank Beard tests the limits of his kick pedal, Hill slips into a hazy, trance-like ramble before handing it back to Gibbons for Long Distance Lover.