Before achieving multi platinum success with that “little ol’ band from Texas” ZZ TOP, a young Billy Gibbons lead a hard charging psychedelic blues rock outfit called THE MOVING SIDEWALKS featuring Dan Mitchell (drums), Don Summers (bass), and Tom Moore (keys).
Rooted in Texas soul and rhythm and blues and influenced by Austin’s 13th Floor Elevators, JIMI HENDRIX, and early California psychedelia, The Moving Sidewalks pushed the sonic envelope and hot rodded the 12 bar blues. They forged a sound as down home and expansive as the Lone Star State itself. In 1967 that sound took them to #1 on local radio with the Brit Invasion sensible garage rock classic, ’99th Floor’ and out on the road as support for Jimi Hendrix, THE DOORS, THE JEFF BECK GROUP with ROD STEWART and more. But The Moving Sidewalks came to a stop in the summer of ’69 when Tom Moore and Don Summers were drafted just before the release of their debut LP Flash, a heady brew of muscular and hallucinatory rock. Billy Gibbons and Dan Mitchell enlisted keyboardist Lanier Grieg and started another band, one that would soon be called ZZ Top. But for more than 45 years The Moving Sidewalks music and their friendship have endured. From hippie jam bands to garage bands you can hear their influence. Now Dan, Tom, Don, and Billy are taking the stage again to celebrate their legacy and the newly released Moving Sidewalks – The Complete Collection by reissue specialists Rockbeat Records.
In support of The Complete Collection, Moving Sidewalks are playing B.B. King’s in New York City on Saturday, March 30th.
Moving Sidewalks – The Complete Collection, just released by reissue specialists Rockbeat Records, chronicles the journey of a young Billy Gibbons through the Houston music scene of the mid-to-late ‘60s on his way to forming the band that would become a rock & roll phenomenon. If you’ve ever yearned to peek beneath the fulsome facial hair of the famous frontman, either literally or figuratively, all you have to do is open up this enticing package. Not only does the photo-laden 54-page booklet offer up images of a clean-shaven, baby-faced Billy in his teens as a member of THE COACHMEN and then the Moving Sidewalks, the two CDs encompass the entirety of both bands’ output.
It becomes obvious pretty quickly that the common thread between this period of Gibbons’ career and his work with ZZ Top is the blues. There’s a distinct blues influence running through the collection, especially when Gibbons is given a bit of extra room to dig into his axe and explore his passion for the licks of Texas legends like LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS, FREDDIE KING, and T-BONE WALKER, as on ‘Joe Blues’. But the twin psychedelic pillars of inspiration that played a part in Gibbons’ musical evolution were The Jimi Hendrix Experience and fellow Texans The 13th Floor Elevators. The influence of both can be easily discerned in the Moving Sidewalks’ short-but-sweet discography, the latter most obviously on ‘Pluto Sept. 31st’, a close cousin of Hendrix’ ‘Fire’
Disc 1 of The Complete Collection contains the Sidewalks’ first and only LP, Flash, which was recorded in 1968 but not released until 1969, by which point the band had already broken up. It’s a heady blend of ELEVATORS-esque, fuzztone-soaked, organ-fueled garage rock (‘Flashback’, ‘You Make Me Shake’), Hendrix-flavored, bluesy psychedelia (‘Scoun Da Be’, ‘Crimson Witch’), and off-the-wall sound collages worthy of FRANK ZAPPA’S MOTHERS OF INVENTION (album-closing tandem tracks ‘Eclipse’ and ‘Reclipse’). Gibbons’ searing, soaring guitar heroics tie it all together admirably. It’s just a shame that the band wasn’t around to reap the benefits of their efforts at the time of the album’s unveiling.
Even more impressive, though, is the second disc, consisting of non-LP singles and unreleased material by both The Coachmen and the Moving Sidewalks. The star of this CD (and of the entire package) is ’99th Floor’, the Sidewalks’ 1967 debut single; it’s a stirring, sizzling slice of garage psych that easily stands alongside the likes of the Elevators’ ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’. The song was something of a regional sensation at the time, kicking off the band’s ultimately ill-starred career with a bang and helping them to nab opening slots for Texas shows by everyone from Mitch Ryder to Hendrix himself. But since the Sidewalks’ career ended up so truncated, the track is an under-appreciated cult-classic item today. And while the other pre-album recordings may not be quite the equal of the aforementioned tune, but they’re certainly in the same ballpark.
Equally striking in an entirely different way is the band’s deconstruction of THE BEATLES’ ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. The Moving Sidewalks slow the song down and turn it into a stomping, storming, psychedelic monster, quite akin to the early output of pioneering New York outfit Vanilla Fudge. Add in a handful of previously unreleased demos by The Coachmen, including a few early attempts at ’99th Floor’ that show the teen Gibbons and company to have been more than a bit precocious, and you’ve got a pretty damn impressive showing for a band whose entire recording career only encompassed about a year and a half.