ZZ Top Guitarist Billy Gibbons Has The Key To Happiness

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Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.

Billy Gibbons just keeps f*cking going. It’s been nearly 50 years since he began playing as part of the iconic Texas blues-rock power trio ZZ Top, alongside bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard and despite all the accolades, the millions of records sold across the world, the massive hot rod collection, the money, the fame, the adulation, the signature BBQ sauce, the man still has a drive to perform and record new music that remains as powerful today as it’s ever been.

This summer, ZZ Top will hit the road once again, playing some of North America’s finest outdoor venues for a truly tantalizing double-bill dubbed the ‘Blues And Bayou’ tour along with Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty for an evening of high-octane blues-rock, unlike anything you’re liable to experience in 2018. But that’s not all. In addition to an intense touring schedule, Gibbons is already plotting another solo album with his band The BFGs while planning a return to his blues-rock roots for the long-awaited follow-up to ZZ Top’s last release La Futura. His schedule overfloweth.

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Gibbons to ask about all the different balls he manages to keep up in the air, where he wants to take his music next, and find out, once and for all, what is his special, secret to happiness.

What are some of your biggest blues inspirations and how do they continue to inform the music you create?

It all started with Elvis when I saw him back when I was around five or six years old. That made a huge impression. And then, some years later, thanks to my Dad’s association with Bill Holford over at ACA Recording Studio in Houston, I got to attend a B.B. King recording session. That sealed the deal! Listening to Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Lightnin’ Hopkins showed me the path I needed to take.

What makes Texas Blues different from any other kind of blues?

Well, this band seems to suspect Texas blues has, perhaps, a more aggressive feel than Mississippi Delta Blues. It’s not crazy, per se but seems like a throwback to the outlaw days when Texas became the badlands toward the border. It could truly be said, however, Texas blues joined the giant aggregation across the board with the many stunningly talented individuals creating sounds that changed the world.

If you could only ever drive one hot rod for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?

That’s almost impossible to answer but you said “drive,” meaning “go” as well as “show” so I’d have to pick the upcoming creation nearing it’s debut from the illustrious shop in California under the direction of our obsessively intense expert of all things hot rod, Mr. Jimmy Shine. ‘The BFG ‘Whiskey Runner’ is coming’ on strong just like we like! It’s a radical, genderless, Bonneville-styled chopped ’34 Ford three window coupe and is a beast to feel it on a drive. It’s in the fine tradition, back to the very basic hot rods of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s so it enters into the scene as a kind of tribute to the start of the movement. Did I mention it hauls pretty good, too?

How did you first discover John Fogerty’s music and what do you think of his place in the American musical canon?

Who on this planet didn’t hear Creedence Clearwater Revival back in the day? They totally dominated the radio and provided, in a way, a soundtrack to our formative years. Of course, John Fogerty wrote and sang the songs and played guitar so his role as the progenitor of their sound is well established. He’s really the result of the synthesis of Buck Owens’ Bakersfield sound and the heavy Chicago blues of Howlin’ Wolf. Doesn’t seem like that would work on paper but on record and in real life, it’s sensational.

What is your favorite CCR song?

“Green River” is a strong contender as John Burk at Concord Records organized a collaboration with “Marisoul,” a sensational gal fronting her group, “ La Santa Cecelia”, from Los Angeles. The Latin treatment to Green River turned out to be downright ominous and has become a YouTube favorite. Gotta check this out. Con Safos!

How is the follow-up to La Futura coming along?

Well, the Concord release of the first BFG solo record, Perfectamundo entered the picture following La Futura with some interesting and somewhat unexpected creations. Aimed as a tribute to Havana’s undeniable effect on sounds of all sorts, the success of the disc found us accepting the invitation to travel into the exotic surroundings of Cuba with a very interesting gathering of talent from Houston, Los Angeles, Austin, Venezuela.

Two gals on drums, Sozo and Melanie Delorenzon, the great Hammond B3 specialist from Austin, Mr. Mike Flanigin, Martine GuiGui on Piano, and Alex Guitarzza on Latin precession with Elwood Francis on the DJ tables, engineered through it all by the brainiac of the group, Marcel Fernandez. And, now, Concord allowed us to turn back toward a more blues-oriented thing requesting another BFG solo record which has stimulated ZZ Top’s return to the studio to officiate the creation of a new collection of songs to celebrate the coming anniversary of five decades together as a band. Same three guys, same three chords.

What makes your 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, Pearly Gates such a special musical instrument?

It just doesn’t sound like anything but itself. My guess is that someone at the Gibson factory back in ’59 mixed a little magic mojo powder in with the the wood and the result is something that’s truly magical.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the ZZ Top album Tres Hombres. What do you remember most about creating that album, and what are your feeling about it now?

The tape splice error that forever joined “Waitin’ For The Bus” and “Jesus Left Chicago.” Two songs, not really related were shotgun married and the bliss continues to this day. It was the album that put “La Grange” on the map.

What’s the secret to happiness?

Doing what you feel right doing when you feel like doing it. I’m playing what I want to hear and that’s an extension of that general philosophy.

What are you listening to these days?

Diamante Eléctrico from down Colombia way. Great rockin’ band and I was delighted to have joined them in Bogata just last week. In any language, they rock.

You can check out ZZ Top’s full slate of shows with John Fogerty below.

05/25 — Atlantic City, NJ @ Borgata Spa & Resort – Event Center
05/26 — Holmdel, NJ @ P.N.C. Bank Arts Center
05/27 — Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Arena
05/29 — Vienna, VA @ Wolf Trap
05/30 — Vienna, VA @ Wolf Trap
06/01 — Pensacola, FL @ Pensacola Bay Center
06/02 — Clearwater, FL @ Coachman Park
06/03 — West Palm Beach, FL @ Coral Sky Amphitheater
06/05 — St. Augustine, FL @ St. Augustine Amphitheater
06/06 — Atlanta, GA @ Chastain Park Amphitheatre
06/10 — Oklahoma City, OK @ Zoo Amphitheater
06/12 — Chicago, IL @ Ravinia Festival
06/13 — Noblesville, IN @ Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center
06/14 — Cincinnati, OH @ Riverbend Music Center
06/16 — Southaven, MS @ BankPlus Amphitheater at Snowden Grove
06/17 — Maryland Heights, MO @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheater
06/19 — Youngstown, OH @ Covelli Centre
06/20 — Wantagh, NY @ Northwell Heath at Jones Beach Theater
06/22- – Gilford, NH @ Bank of NH Pavillion
06/23 – Canandaigua, NY @ Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center
06/24 – Camden, NJ @ BB&T Pavilion
06/26 – Mt. Pleasant, MI @ Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort
06/27 – Detroit, MI @ DTE @ Energy Music Theatre
06/29 – Welch, MN @ Treasure Island Resort & Casino