Liner notes to American Blues Do Their Thing reissue by Brian Hogg

(kindly transcribed by John Melbourne)

Within this sleeve is the second album by American Blues, just one of a succession of groups to emerge out of Texas during the 1960s. Although they were never acclaimed in the same way as, say, the 13th Floor Elevators, interest in their career has grown as two of their members found later success as part of ZZ Top. This success however, has tended to obscure American Blues' own music, much of which was excellent, something this timely release should redress.
The American Blues were based in Dallas, home of teen legends such as the Five Americans and Kenny and the Kasuals, and other garageland contemporaries such as the Briks and the Chessmen. The driving force behind the group were two brothers, guitarist Rocky Hill and bassist Dusty. They'd been working together in several bands since the early 1960s, two of which included the Starliners and the Deadbeats. It was with another band, however, the Warlocks, that the brothers began to make some kind of impact, playing in and around the city's dance circuit.
The Warlocks' reputation grew sufficiently enough to take them into a recording deal, although the exact dates, like much of ZZ's history, is shrouded in a little mystery. Some sources give 1968 as the year their two singles were cut, while David Shutt's definitive discography of Texas music, Journey To Tyme quotes them as being from 1966. Whatever the truth, the first, If You Really Want Me To Stay/Good Time Trippin', appeared on the ARA label, while the second Splash Day/Life's A Misery, was issued on Paradise. Both were fairly successful in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but neither made much impression outside the Warlocks' home region.
The Warlocks also made one further appearance on vinyl, backing another local singer, Lady Wilde. Once again the exact date is unclear, although the fact that the single Another You/Poor Kid was released by ARA, suggests that it was made close to the time of the Warlocks' debut. Another You could date from 1965; quotes that the group backed Lady Wilde live on material such as Ferry Cross The Mersey would suggest it to be earlier than late.
Just what is clear however, is that a new drummer came into the Warlocks early in 1968. Frank Beard had played in several groups including the Hustlers and the Cellar Dwellers, the latter of which also cut a single on a Houston outlet. Bad Day/Call, appeared on the Steffek label around 1966, a session which doubtlessly made a change to one of the Cellar Dwellers other avenues of employment, backing a stripper in local dives.
Soon after Beard joined, he, the Hill Brothers and organist Doug Davis decided that the Warlocks needed a newer name and the group evolved into the American Blues. This new identity signalled a new direction and the group's punkish snarl was modified into something altogether more progressive. That duly in place, American Blues then signed up with yet another Dallas independent, Karma, went into the infamous Robin Hood Brian's studio where so many essential Texas records were cut, and emerged with an album and single, a reworking of Tim Hardin's song If I Were A Carpenter. It was produced by Scotty McKay, himself something of a local legend as both a performer and catalyst. McKay's own career, like that of Doug Sahm, spanned several years and styles and his experience doubtlessly played a part in helping American Blues shape their new identity.
Both sides of this debut 45 were included on their first album, Is Here released on Karma in 1968. Patchy rather than self-assured, it caught the group still trying to find itself as it worked its way through several different styles, from heavy-ish rock to Blues and psychedelia. Within several months, however, American Blues had found a more clear-cut style and, more crucially, had been signed to a major label.
UNI, a more hip subsidiary of MCA, had already grabbed Houston favourites Fever Tree, and now took on a representative from Dallas. The two groups could not have been more different, where Fever Tree produced a debut album which included orchestration and a careful production, the American Blues released, Do Their Thing, sounds as if the group merely entered the studio and tried to capture their live sound. The result is a somewhat wayward production, which fortunately still allows the material to shine through.
Firstly, anyone looking for ZZ Top will be disappointed, as only Comin' Back Home gives any indications of the kind of sound Beard and Dusty Hill would later play, and even there its somewhat tenuous. No, the enclosed album owes more to San Francisco than TV dinners, where a basic Blues/rock structure is washed over in psychedelia, and titles such as Chocolate Ego and Nightmare Of A Wise Man surely give it away. The original album's liner notes, which suggest reading between the colours add to its cosmic aura, although it should be stressed that Do Their Thing is firmly Texan, and a solid structure underpins a real inventiveness, which in turn is crammed with strange tunes, songs which after a few plays do remain firmly memorable. The highlights are probably the albums opening cut You Were So Close To Me, the marvellous Just Plain Jane and the inventive Softly To The Sun, but it's all good, topped off by some fine individual musicianship. Their love of different music styles still comes through, but here its slotted into the songs, rather than be an end in itself.
Sadly, Do Their Thing made no real impression and American Blues were quietly dropped by UNI. They struggled on, but with any real impetus gone, group members began to look elsewhere. Frank Beard was the first to be tempted away when he joined a new group just starting out of Houston. That group was of course, ZZ Top, which had evolved out of another favourite, the superb Moving Sidewalks, Guitarist Billy Gibbons and drummer Dan Mitchell had moved on from there into the Top, while Billy Ethridge was the latest bassist. Ethridge was a friend of Frank Beard, and it was he who suggested that Beard should come in, in Place of Mitchell. However Ethridge himself was soon squeezed out and this time it was Beard who did the recommending, and had his ex-American Blues partner Dusty Hill brought in alongside himself and Gibbons. The rest, as they say is history, with the ZZ's now comfortably working in the astrodome circuit. Include here is just a snatch of their beginnings, but one that remains worthwhile on its merits alone.

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