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Published: 2013/07/10
by Brian Robbins

Six Strings (Of Words) From ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons

When you hear the evolution of ZZ Top over their first seven albums in this manner, the three-album run of Eliminator, Afterburner, and Recycler feel like logical chapters that were meant to follow. Even the iconic Top tunes of that period – such as “Sharp Dressed Man”, “Legs”, “Velcro Fly”, “Sleeping Bag”, and “Gimme All Your Lovin” – tip the hat to the blues at some point; and the band meant it when they sang “My Head’s In Mississippi” on Recycler. They’d come a long ways, but they never lost their way … and there’s a big difference.

Thus ZZ Top: The Complete Studio Albums (1970-1990) tells a story as well as any tome could hope to. It’s all here; it’s all real; and you can dance to it. What more could you ask for?

I was snapped out of my late-night reflections by my contact calling to let me know we had a signal: Reverend Bill was standing by to answer a few questions. (And yes, boys and girls – literary license aside, the following really and truly is an e-mail exchange with Billy Gibbons.)

BR: Reverend Bill, I appreciate you taking the time to tap out some thoughts for all the boys and girls at home in land. E-mail interviews can be kind of impersonal – could you please just lay some words of wisdom on us so that we all know it’s you?

Well, fair enough…! The most plausible evidence is backing up and getting down to our infamous approach, and that, as far as we’ve been able to determine, is get on it, stay on it and rock on; it’s blues you can use.

Ahh … right on, Reverend. Now, if you look in your rearview mirror, you can probably see the lights of Tennessee, which is still shaking from ZZ Top’s set at Bonnaroo. You’ve played a lot of concerts in a lot of different settings all over the world – anything special about the Bonnaroo experience?

That annual awesome throng of revelers are famed worldwide as very enthusiastic and ready to get down and get with it. The ZZ TOP slot took the deck fairly late, near the midnight hour, so inhibitions were mostly nonexistent. The “room,” with audience and band, began sizzling “in the moment” and that wicked “moment” lasted for something like two hours. No two ways, it was a good ‘un and it was more than worth burnin’ midnight oil for.

The post-Roo word on the street at this hour is that in a Hendrix cover band shoot-out, you guys would smoke that cat from Liverpool. I mean, he’s pretty good, but …

We both got to know the real Jimi in our time and Paul has the distinction of suggesting that he be booked at the Monterey Pop Festival. And, let’s not forget that Jimi covered “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” about 10 minutes after it was released.

On the other hand, we went on the road with The Experience and got to spend some quality “down time” with Jimi and the fellas. I believe Jimi qualifies as a long-living shaman. All of us who spank the plank for a living owe Jimi Hendrix a debt of gratitude.

Tell you what, let’s forget about being competitive and be compatible … Paul’s welcome anywhere to step in as the “4th ZZ Top” anytime he likes.

Well put, Reverend – hands across the water, indeed. I’ve been spinning your new 10-disc box set The Complete Studio Albums (1970-1990) and can honestly say it’s an impressive piece of work – a cool example of a band evolving without losing sight of who they are and where they came from. If I’d just stepped off the spaceship (and hadn’t seen you guys up here in Bangor, ME pretty near 40 years ago) how would you describe ZZ Top’s music to me?

Loud blues, rock that rolls.

I hear you! Now, I promised myself that I wouldn’t waste our precious moments talking geetars with you, but I have to ask at least one question. Just about every picker has a story of the “one that got away” – some weirdass axe from their past that they pawned or had stolen or lost in a card game. Do you have one that got away … or do you have ‘em all on the wall?

Ironically “the one that got away” is the first one. The Gibson Melody Maker that my parents put under the Christmas tree just a few days after I turned 13. I gave it to the brother of a girlfriend some time later and, at the time, thought nothing of it. There is a surprising turn of events with that humble exchange because the guy who got it still has it. And was kind enough to loan it for a West Hollywood jam session on Sunset Boulevard just last year. How does that song go? “Reunited and it feels so good…”

Ah, cool – blessings on that generous soul. Again, thank you for taking the time to play Q&A with us, Bill – I know you’re over on the other side of the pond as we type. It seems like you all are still enjoying the hell out of what you do; what’s the key to that?

We get to go out and play what we like LOUD with people we like, who like us in some likable places night after night. That’s some serious fine times for layin’ it out on the deck. No reservations, keeping the good groove grindin’...! Yes sir. That be ZZ…! That be me. B F G

And then there was silence over the airwaves. The Reverend had banged another gear, kicked the afterburners in, and the chopped-and-channeled coupe fishtailed into the mystic.


Brian Robbins lays it out on the deck over at

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