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conducted by Robert Silverstein for 
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Loaded & Truckin'...

a conversation with

BILLY F. GIBBONS

 

 

Part 2
continued from previous page

Billy F. Gibbons: BFG
Robert S. Silverstein: RSS



BFG: Robert-san.

RSS: Hey, Billy.

BFG: There it is...

RSS: Hey you made it from Houston to L.A. overnight. That was pretty cool.

BFG: Yeah. Took the late night flight. It’s 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 or so.

RSS: That was a pretty crazy baseball game.

BFG: Pretty crazy stuff.

RSS: That’s New York City for you.

BFG: I’d of loved to have been there.

RSS: Hey fly on out tonight (for game 7). I’ll drive you there myself.

BFG: That’s exciting, I can dig that.

RSS: All the guys at the magazine are huge Yankees fans.

BFG: Oh, no kidding? That’s wonderful. Can’t beat it. They’re the guys man. They are historical.

RSS: Yeah, six out the last eight years they’re in the World Series.

BFG: Isn’t it something? The just play and play and play.

RSS: Yeah and Bernie Williams just came out with a new album about three months ago.

BFG: Someone told me about that!

RSS: He’s really good. Paul McCartney signed him to a publishing deal and Paul also wrote some liner notes for the CD.

BFG:Wow, I’ve 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: You’ve toured with The Stones before.

BFG: Yeah, we worked with them since ‘72, so we’ve had an enjoyable friendship for a number of years. They’re 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. I’ve got that one somewhere.

RSS: Are you going back out on tour. You didn’t play New York City this last time around?

BFG: We’re actually scheduled to depart in ten days. We go to Mexico. We’re 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 year.

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 Theater?

BFG: The Garden is always a groove. And then around the corner from David Letterman’s place.

RSS: Roseland?

BFG: Yeah, Roseland. Great room. Little smaller, but what a sound! Just a great sound. It’s 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 this year.

BFG: Yeah, I heard that.

RSS: Is that something you’re excited about?

BFG: It’d be kinda cool.

RSS: I know last year they inducted Elvis Costello and The Police. This years it’s Traffic and ZZ, who I thought would have gone in before those other guys. Is that a political thing?

BFG: Possibly so. We’ve been working for thirty years and we’d really not had an opportunity to really think about it. It’s a good thing. Each year the whole process kind of revitalizes what we do and enjoy. And it doesn’t really matter who goes in or how they get in or anything like that. It’s more about just the energy that keeps what we enjoy alive.

RSS: It’d be great to see Keith Richards speak when you’re finally inducted.

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. They’re loud. Really packin’ a punch.

RSS: Okay, getting back to Mescalero, there’s 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.

BFG: Wow.

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, there’s no doubt that his presence is being felt and reinterpreted. In fact, (laughter) this is crazy...I’ve 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.That’s one I won’t 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 you’ve 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, ‘let’s try this thing.’ So, that we did.

RSS: It’s 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 it’s own, you have the ZZ-esque lyrics and the music and everything kind of combines.

BFG: Oh yeah, I made a phone call to one of our African art dealers. A friend of mine that, he’s 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, ‘don’t bother coming back to Texas because it’s a historical heatwave. That it’s not been this hot for over a hundred years, or for eighty years since they’ve 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, ‘it’s 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 don’t know what that means...’ (laughter) I said, ‘do you know the sound of eating Fritos corn chips?’ And he said...’yes’. And I said, ‘that’s what I’m 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... they’re just...unending. But, we got a good song out of it! I can’t complain.

RSS: And the song “Dusted” would make a great commercial for EZ Wider rolling paper.

BFG: Oh, yeah. Why not? (laughter) I don’t think I’m 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, ‘I’ve got an idea.’ I said, ‘Can we do this?’ and they said ‘no, it’s not been done.’ And I said, ‘that’s a good reason.’ I said, ‘we’re gonna do it.’ And so there you have it (laughter).

RSS: And that hidden track on Mescalero. ZZ’s version of “As Time Goes By”. There’s some great steel playing on that song. Who’s 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) I’ll 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...that’s just his deal. But overall, it’s a bluesy approach to a classic. I like it.

RSS: I know you’ve spoken about this before, but which guitarists really inspired you to want to play?

BFG: I’d probably say Lightnin’ Hopkins...Well we mentioned Jimmy Reed earlier. Those were probably the two most prominent influences for playing.

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. (laughter)

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. That’s 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 don’t you make a switch that’...they, ‘well, it doesn’t work that way.’ (laughter) He said, ‘well, I’m 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, I’d 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, it’s really great.

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 vintage cars.

BFG: Oh yeah. In fact, because Pearly Gates is the cornerstone guitar for ZZ Top, which came from 1959, we’ve 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. Bush’s inauguration?

BFG: We really didn’t...we were just in town at the same time. I guess it turned out to be a fun night. I’ll put it this way, alot of folks came to know ZZ Top, that they had never known before (laughter).

RSS: Okay one last thing....2003 is The Year Of The Blues.

BFG: Yeah!

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 guitar?

BFG: Oh yeah. I would recommend rewinding the calendar from this point forward back to 1973, ‘63, ‘53, ‘43,even ‘33. Let’s go all the way back. There’s 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

 

 

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