Taking Texas to the People

So much of what happened in the 70s, what we did, what we bought, what we loved, what seemed like a good idea, now looks like stuff rational people would have kept themselves from doing/buying/loving. It’s as though we were compelled, by the positions of the planets in the zodiac or by radiation creeping though the ozone layer that we were depleting with hair spray and deodorant, to do weird things. One of the weirdest was ZZ Top’s Worldwide Texas Tour.

The tour’s official name was “The Worldwide Texas Tour: Taking Texas to the People.” It was in support of the album Fandango, which had produced the hit single “Tush” in 1975. It traveled with 75 tons of equipment—the stage alone weighed 35 tons. The backdrop was shaped like Texas and could change in appearance depending on how it was lit. But what those who were there remember the most about the Worldwide Texas Tour was the live animals. The show traveled with a menagerie of indigenous Texas wildlife, including a longhorn steer, a buffalo, rattlesnakes, vultures, and even tarantulas, all of which were displayed onstage. The show employed a veterinarian and animal expert to look after the critters. Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, an occasional opening act on the tour, is said to have complained about stepping in manure backstage.

The tour began on May 29, 1976, in Winston-Salem North Carolina, on an all-day bill with Point Blank, Elvin Bishop, and Lynryd Skynyrd. ZZ Top played several big all-day bills that summer, in Atlanta in June, Memphis on the Fourth of July, and in California that August. Blue Öyster Cult was a frequent opening act, although Ted Nugent and REO Speedwagon were on a handful of shows also.

Aerosmith was on the bill at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh on June 12, 1976, a show that became an epic debacle and nearly a disaster. The show wasn’t scheduled to start until 4:30, but people arrived early, many carrying kegs of beer on their shoulders. In addition to alcohol, drugs, nudity, public sex, and gate-crashing were part of the pre-show entertainment. Paid attendance was 54,000, but estimates placed the total number of fans on hand at around 70,000. The stadium was vandalized, and restrooms were quickly declared unisex. Media reports said that a bottle-throwing melee during the show resulted in 250 injuries; a couple hundred fans rushed the cops after they arrested a man for drug possession. A fan swimming in a river near the stadium drowned.

At the time, Aerosmith was not necessarily a good fit for the ZZ Top crowd, who came to hear Southern boogie. And during Aerosmith’s set, a ZZ Top fan somehow got into a restricted area and cut the power to the stage, resulting in a silence that was quickly filled by cheering ZZ Top fans who wanted to see their heroes.

Ticket price for the Pittsburgh show, which also featured Point Blank and ran about eight hours: $8.75.

The Worldwide Texas Tour was on the road through the end of November, except for a three-week break in early September. In February 1977, the band went out again. By this time, they had released the album Tejas. The itinerary for the second leg was less intense and broken up by long stretches of downtime, finally ending in December. The band, exhausted by it all, wouldn’t release another album until 1979.

Here’s a clip of “Chevrolet” from a show in Maryland during November 1976. The quality is poor, but it’s nevertheless a look at the legendary Worldwide Texas Tour.

(Expanded from my WNEW.com archives.)

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