Billy F. Gibbons:
Robert S. Silverstein: RSS
RSS: Hey, Billy.
BFG: There it is...
RSS: Hey you made it from Houston to L.A. overnight. That was pretty
BFG: Yeah. Took the late night flight. Its easier goin west.
(laughter) Pick up a couple of hours.
RSS: Did you get to see the baseball game last night? (ALCS Game 6 -
Red Sox 9, N.Y. Yankees 6)
BFG: The captain of the airplane was giving us the update every inning
RSS: That was a pretty crazy baseball game.
BFG: Pretty crazy stuff.
RSS: Thats New York City for you.
BFG: Id of loved to have been there.
RSS: Hey fly on out tonight (for game 7). Ill drive you there
BFG: Thats exciting, I can dig that.
RSS: All the guys at the magazine are huge Yankees fans.
BFG: Oh, no kidding? Thats wonderful. Cant beat it. Theyre
the guys man. They are historical.
RSS: Yeah, six out the last eight years theyre in the World Series.
BFG: Isnt it something? The just play and play and play.
RSS: Yeah and Bernie Williams just came out with a new album about three
BFG: Someone told me about that!
RSS: Hes really good. Paul McCartney signed him to a publishing
deal and Paul also wrote some liner notes for the CD.
BFG:Wow, Ive not checked it out just yet. Where did we leave off?
RSS: I know you just finished the Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers
tour with Ted Nugent and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. What was it like
touring Europe this past summer and the band played a show in Helsini
with The Rolling Stones?
BFG: Oh man! (laughter) Always a great hang with those guys. They do
it right. Exclamation point!
RSS: Youve toured with The Stones before.
BFG: Yeah, we worked with them since 72, so weve had an
enjoyable friendship for a number of years. Theyre still our favorites,
man. They know how to do it. I think what turns us on is the fact that
they really enjoy doing it. They play it because they feel it.
RSS: Back in the 60s were you a Beatles or a Stones fan? You could
be both but some people were like definite Stones fans.
BFG: Probably a little of both. We played more like the Stones but actually
we recorded some Beatles songs. Before ZZ Top formed, The Moving Sidewalks...that
was the outfit that I was with prior to starting up the ZZ guys. And
we did I Want To Hold Your Hand, kind of Jimi Hendrix style.
(laughter) I should send you a copy of that. Ive got that one
RSS: Are you going back out on tour. You didnt play New York City
this last time around?
BFG: Were actually scheduled to depart in ten days. We go to Mexico.
Were going first to Mexico City, Monterey, Guadalajara. Then we
go to South America and then we come back to California at the latter
part of the month. Then it gets a little crazy toward the end of the
RSS: Where do you like to play in New York? Do you have a preference?
Do you like Madison Sq. Garden or the smaller theaters like the Beacon
BFG: The Garden is always a groove. And then around the corner from
David Lettermans place.
BFG: Yeah, Roseland. Great room. Little smaller, but what a sound! Just
a great sound. Its got the richness and warmth from all the years
and years of...wood...just curing.
RSS: I heard ZZ Top was nominated for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
BFG: Yeah, I heard that.
RSS: Is that something youre excited about?
BFG: Itd be kinda cool.
RSS: I know last year they inducted Elvis Costello and The Police. This
years its Traffic and ZZ, who I thought would have gone in before
those other guys. Is that a political thing?
BFG: Possibly so. Weve been working for thirty years and wed
really not had an opportunity to really think about it. Its a
good thing. Each year the whole process kind of revitalizes what we
do and enjoy. And it doesnt really matter who goes in or how they
get in or anything like that. Its more about just the energy that
keeps what we enjoy alive.
RSS: Itd be great to see Keith Richards speak when youre
BFG: Yeah! Bring on the Keith man! He calls me the Gibbons boy. I call
him the Keith Man he calls me the Gibbons boy!
RSS: What do you think about Keith Richards guitar playing? It
must have been pretty influential back in the 60s.
BFG: Oh definitely! I was fortunate enough to present a custom made
guitar for both Keith and Ron Wood. There were some prototype, metal
bodied instruments in the Fender custom shop which they kindly loaned
to me for creating these extra special pieces for both Keith and Ron
Wood. Now they play em, they call them the Satisfaction
Combination. They close the show with these two crazy guitars
that I gave them. And I tell you what, they sound terrific. Theyre
loud. Really packin a punch.
RSS: Okay, getting back to Mescalero, theres a cover of
Tramp, the proto-rap R&B classic, that was also a hit
duet for Otis Redding and Carla Thomas in 1967. I interviewed Steve
Cropper for the July issue of the magazine and he had some good things
to say about you.
RSS: How big an influence was Cropper and Booker T. on ZZ Top?
BFG: Yeah, I would say that one of the biggest influences has to be
Steve Cropper. He invented the soul guitar. Even today,
theres no doubt that his presence is being felt and reinterpreted.
In fact, (laughter) this is crazy...Ive actually got his original
Telecaster from like 1968 or something. Scratched in the back of the
paint job is his Memphis address, 1207 Althea (laughter), Memphis Tennessee.
1967.Thats one I wont give up.
RSS: Steve Cropper is an amazing player.
BFG: Oh, the best.
RSS: Why did you pick the Stax song Tramp to cover on Mescalero?
You do a fantastic job on that song.
BFG: Thank you so much. I was in California and I was driving down
the 405 and there was a blues radio program which I think is prominently
featured each weekend. And they broadcast the Lowell Fulsom version
of Tramp from 1954 or 1955. Not real sure of the exact year
of issue but it was a composition between, I think it was Lowell Fulsom
and Jimmy McCracklin. I said, my God, how long has it been since
youve heard this thing? And my buddy looked at me and said,
been too long...he said, you better go do it.
So one afternoon during the sessions we said, lets try this
thing. So, that we did.
RSS: Its not a novelty or something but the song Crunchy
from the new album is really hysterical.
BFG: Oh! (laughter)
RSS: That gets back to what I read about the album earlier someone called
it trilingual because you have your guitar speaking a language all its
own, you have the ZZ-esque lyrics and the music and everything kind
BFG: Oh yeah, I made a phone call to one of our African art dealers.
A friend of mine that, hes from Africa and his business is the
importation of African artifacts when he can find them. And we had this
music track... The last year it became so hot in Texas that a friend
of mine said where was I, I said I was in California, and they said,
dont bother coming back to Texas because its a historical
heatwave. That its not been this hot for over a hundred years,
or for eighty years since theyve been taking measurements on the
temperature. I said, what are you talking about? He
said, well to give you an example, I got out of my car, I walked
across the yard and everything is crunchy. I said, what
are you talkin about?!. He said, everything is crunchy.
The grass is burned brown, the trees.... He said, everything
is crunchy. He said, its that hot, I said, oh,
my God. So, we had this music track, so I called this African
buddy of mine and I said, how do you say the word crunchy in your
native language? And he said, crunchy? I dont know
what that means... (laughter) I said, do you know the sound
of eating Fritos corn chips? And he said...yes. And
I said, thats what Im attempting to get out of your
language, crunchy. He says, why you eating this kind of
food (laughter). So fortunately I had recorded the phone conversation
and what you hear on the record is the actual phone exchange between
me and the guy.
RSS: Who says the word vemmigen?
BFG: In fact, he was talking to his son in Mandingo and he said, what
does this mean, crunchy? He says how do you say this in English
and while his son was trying to figure it out he said, oh by the
way I got alot of nice stuff coming in on Delta Airlines. (laughter)
Can you meet me down there in Texas? Oh, man! These guys... theyre
just...unending. But, we got a good song out of it! I cant complain.
RSS: And the song Dusted would make a great commercial for
EZ Wider rolling paper.
BFG: Oh, yeah. Why not? (laughter) I dont think Im even
going to comment any further on that!
RSS: At the end of the the last song, the last note of Liquor
it sounds like you guys broke the sound barrier or something.
BFG: Oh, yeah, it gets insane. The engineer...I said, Ive
got an idea. I said, Can we do this? and they said
no, its not been done. And I said, thats
a good reason. I said, were gonna do it. And
so there you have it (laughter).
RSS: And that hidden track on Mescalero. ZZs version of
As Time Goes By. Theres some great steel playing on
that song. Whos that other guitarist playing on that with you?
BFG: The initial D. Steel Dugmore. And he and I traded off
licks and he was assigned to handle the complicated parts. (laughter)
Ill tell you brother, that is a rough song. It is complex. Those
chord changes are...It takes ZZ Top out of the three chord guise into
legit-land. It was fun because it was so challenging.
RSS: I think your version is the best version I ever heard of it.
BFG: Yeah. I like what Frank did on the drum thing. And Dusty keeps
it simple...thats just his deal. But overall, its a bluesy
approach to a classic. I like it.
RSS: I know youve spoken about this before, but which guitarists
really inspired you to want to play?
BFG: Id probably say Lightnin Hopkins...Well we mentioned
Jimmy Reed earlier. Those were probably the two most prominent influences
RSS: Speaking of blues guitar giants, your first band Moving Sidewalks
got to tour supporting Jimi Hendrix in 1968. And Hendrix even spoke
about you on the Tonight Show with Carson.
BFG: Oh, yeah. Jimi invented things that were not intended for guitar.
RSS: Do you remember playing with him?
BFG: Oh yeah, he had a bunch of old Fender guitars he gave me. He gave
me a Stratocaster and said, here...and taught me how to
move the toggle switch between the positions to get that out of phase
thing going. Thats before the five position. It was a three click.
But he discovered the five click. In fact, he told the Fender factory...he
said, why dont you make a switch that...they, well,
it doesnt work that way. (laughter) He said, well,
Im making it work that way! (laughter) Yeah, it was bizarre.
RSS: I was reading where you were talking about George Harrison before.
How do you think he changed the whole thing?
BFG: Yeah. He was a remarkable respondent to George Martin, the producer.
Because the trademark for, Id say the 60s sound, really
came from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. They were truly the bonafide...they
were just so dedicated to the whole scene and what they brought to the
world was this unusual performance practice. Yeah, its really
RSS: Did you ever get to meet George Harrison?
BFG: Oh, yeah. We were pals for a while. A good guy, man. I kind of
miss him. I guess all of us do.
RSS: Are you still big on cars. Larry at TCG wanted to know about your
BFG: Oh yeah. In fact, because Pearly Gates is the cornerstone guitar
for ZZ Top, which came from 1959, weve been looking through the
books at the automobiles of that era. And (laughter) the year 1959 is
got to be the craziest, it was probably the coolest period for guitars
and automobiles. 59. Yeah, the 59 Cadillac, the 59
El Camino and the Impala. It goes on and on. Never ending.
RSS: Did you really play at George W. Bushs inauguration?
BFG: We really didnt...we were just in town at the same time.
I guess it turned out to be a fun night. Ill put it this way,
alot of folks came to know ZZ Top, that they had never known before
RSS: Okay one last thing....2003 is The Year Of The Blues.
RSS: What do you think of all this attention to the blues, because ZZ
Top has always supported the blues. You were even given a piece of wood
from Muddy Waters shack in Clarksdale and made a guitar from it and
called the guitar Muddywood. Do you still use the Muddywood
BFG: Oh yeah. I would recommend rewinding the calendar from this point
forward back to 1973, 63, 53, 43,even 33. Lets
go all the way back. Theres something embraceable about this engaging
art form that is just globally magnetic...
Thanks to Billy F. Gibbons and ZZ Top @
www.zztop.com - Bob Small - Bob Merlis @ www.bobmerlis.com
- Kevin Kennedy @ Warner Strategic Marketing and Larry Acunto @ 20th
Century Guitar magazine www.tcguitar.com