When I moved to Dallas in 1977, new friends talked fondly about Texas bands from the '60s that many knew about but few had heard in years. The top three were the 13th Floor Elevators, Mouse and the Traps, and the Moving Sidewalks. When I began working record fairs, I could find vinyl recordings from the first two bands at collector's prices, but never anything from the Sidewalks.
As a result, for decades I wasn't alone in believing the Sidewalks were merely an apprentice band for Billy Gibbons before he hooked up with Dusty Hill and Frank Beard to form ZZ Top. While there have been previous reissues of the Sidewalks on CD, The Complete Collection was my first experience with the band. In the main, it still seems to me the Moving Sidewalks were an apprentice band for Gibbons before he became part of that "Little Ol' Band from Texas."
Back in 1968, the Houston-based Sidewalks were Gibbons (guitars, harmonica, vocals), Tom Moore (keyboards), Don Summers (bass), and Dan Mitchell (drums). (Along with Lanier Greig on keyboards, Mitchell was in the original 1969 lineup of ZZ Top.) In 1968, the Sidewalks released the 10-song Flash, featuring seven compositions written or co-written by Gibbons. While it has been frequently billed as psychedelic/blues rock, Flash has far more in common with the garage/punk rock of the period, as in the music of the Blues Magoos and Sky Saxon's Seeds. The main difference is that the Sidewalks' first album debuted two years after such bands had already crested on the charts.
The first of the two discs in The Complete Collection is Flash, and it's easy to see one reason the Sidewalks never really broke out. There's no hit single on it. True enough, there are many bits of psychedelia as with "Pluto - Sept 21st," which is pure Hendrix with strong borrowings from "Fire." While Hendrix himself praised Gibbons' guitar playing and even taught him how to play "Foxy Lady," the Hendrix cop should be forgiven.
"Eclipse" is a sound collage with Gibbons and producer Steve Ames editing tape bits to create what was called in the day a "freak out." But you're going to have to look hard to find the seeds of Gibbon's ZZ Top work. Only once on Flash do we get a try at the real Texas blues. The seven-minute song "Joe Blues," credited to all the band members, is played well enough with some good harmonica from Gibbons. However, the vocals showcase a singer a bit young to sound very convincing. It's amazing to realize in only a few short years, Gibbons would be cranking out raunchy, rough, and growling lyrics like no one else.