Interview Billy By Gerald Weber

With the relaxed, gracious charm of a Southern gentleman; the charisma of an evangelist; the saavy of a Southern politician and the colorfulness of a poet, the Reverend Gibbons speaks the gospel according to Billy. He’s back on the road and coming to a town near you very soon. Billy “F” Gibbons will “thrash de bash” at the Frank Ervin Center in Austin soon, playing his new “Antenna” album with his band, “ZZ Top”. Though probably known as much for being creative as being eccentric (he’s the only person I know that keeps a life size model of “Elvis in a casket” on his studio wall), this Bluesman is as much Texas as Barbecue and Mexican food. The interview unfolds: Reverend Billy “F” Gibbons – the Texas Blues Legend – is back on the road with ZZ TOP’s ANTENNA WORLD TOUR in support of their most recent release of ZZ specialty back to the basics, entitled “Antenna”. ABM: You ready to do this interview? BFG: Shor’’nuff. Let duh story be told. ABM: Please explain how you came from the psychedelic music of the “Moving Sidewalks” to the Blues Rock of which you have been known and respected for the last twenty-five years. BFG: Interesting twists here. To get down to the details, the “Moving Sidewalks” preceded “ZZ Top” and as you know, the sound of the “Sidewalks” was the sound of psychedelia. It is an odd kind of return to roots notion. To think, “Did psychedelic music come first? And if it did, that is an odd place for it to evolve into.” It’s almost like it evolved backwards to the blues, because the psychedelic scene of the 60s was a little of everything. It just depended on which iron you wanted to pull out of the fire first. And yet the “Sidewalks” had even preceded their psychedelic days doing cover turns of James Brown, all of the R&B we could dig up and then came along the psychedelic era. But I may add that the “Sidewalks” were no different than most other groups in looking for a leading direction. We just had the advantage of one particular group, call the “13th Floor Elevators”, as a handy guide-post. Just recently though some of the books that have come out and some of the stories that have made their origins a little clearer, I was reminded that even on tape there are recordings of the “Elevators” existing for their beginning days when they, too, did cover versions of James Brown songs, even Buddy Holly songs, in hyper mode. It is interesting to quote those kind of parallels – from blues to psychedelia and then right back to blues. But you are quite right, ZZ Top has had a rather colorful history, having been able to draw from the “Moving Sidewalks” psychedelic days and blues days. My two partners, Frank Beard – the man with no beard – and Dusty Hill, came from a similar scene that unfolded in Dallas. The “American Blues” was the precursor group that Frank and Dusty were in. The blues come psychedelia come blues again.

That was at Robert E. never really paying much attention beyond that. basses. it was R&B. “Now where did we get influenced in such a way.ABM: Who turned you on the blues originally and who were your earliest influences? BFG: I think that it’s noteworthy at this point. here was this Math teacher calling out for songs to be played that were totally unrehearsed. Lee school in Houston. “Maybe there’s going to be some intermission entertainment or something. we all knew by the age of five that playing this wild music is something we wanted to do. particularly with the release of the record “Antenna”. ABM: What was this story I heard about you singing “Please. Some of the influences that were the most powerful were also the most mysterious. There were stations in Beaumont. if it comes down to pinpointing something mutually agreed upon. There is another example of some odd kind of influences because right in the middle of the set. it was shoved right up against our stage and this math teacher revealed his true calling. For quite some time. and kind of interpreted in such a way that allowed us to send those influences out again. suddenly. numbers wasn’t his real game.B. they were vaguely .” And further back than that is the discussion of just what your question points to. and who were these influences?” ABM: Who were some of the artists you used to listen to on the radio? BFG: Aside from the usual lineup of the predictable blues masters – B. Beyond that. Please. seemed to have a little more handle on the beat and the musical changes. there was a math teacher who was stepping a little more in time with the music. Jimmy Reed. and out of the corner of our eye we saw a piano being wheeled in by the janitor. called attention to. we were playing the radio. again a lot coming through the radio. and sets of drums. So the “Antenna” once again “crackled with delight. King. Howlin’ Wolf.” But no. Please” by James Brown at your high school talent show? Was that just a rumor or did that really happen? BFG: I think we were doing either a prom or a graduation dance and of course the odd element in this particular instance was that at the sidelines we noticed that in addition to the usual faculty members that were trying to keep the peace. Muddy Waters we have found traveling the glob. it seems that Texans have a healthy dose – more than most – and that came in the form of a wide variety of Country and Western performers. etc. it has been said that the title draws its name from the discovery that before we were playing guitars. I distinctly recall hearing WLS out of Chicago as loud as we were hearing stations in Houston. the influences: who were they. drawn from. we can say that it took years to figure out that the influences we had drawn from were being revisited in the form of reissue records. we just seem to have remembered hearing a lick here or a riff there. There was the constant pounding of blues sounds from that part of the chart and the great thing about Texas is we’re right at the vortex of so many broadcasting beams. even Dallas. Specifically. Huh. Only years later did you get curious. The three ZZ Top members can agree on one thing. Nashville and of course the border blasters on the Mexican line that were so loud they were kicking the other stations off. Since we didn’t have a piano player. San Antonio. What was sent in was paid attention to. or cover versions by other artists. we kind of shrugged and said. where did they come from.

That started a march to come one to the next. she drove it around during this audition week and wound up selling the car later to a car collector. but the good news was that prior to all of this search party scene.” having gone unused and was in great shape.” That’s it. “Where did these blues songs come from”. She sent me a sack full of cash that arrived the afternoon after seeing this Les Paul. a girl that we had gone to high school with had been given an opportunity to audition for a movie part out in Hollywood. “Wait a minute. “You put the money in the right place and make sure it’s making divine sounds. in the form of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers LP – featuring Eric Clapton. she called and said. well if “he” is using this guitar. if that thing even gets you there. I mean in the best world of worlds is the one where you can fake it ‘til you make it. I assumed that since the Les Paul was no different than any other instrument with two humbuckers.” No sooner had I tossed her a set of keys. we’ll call it Pearly Gates. At that time. the asking price was a little bit beyond my means.” along with the evens leading up to and the events right after and so forth? BFG: As we described the evolution of previous bands into the lineup of ZZ Top. That started the search. We still didn’t make good grades in Math class.” What’s the story about how you acquired “Pearly Gate. “Listen. surprise!! Not only are they all highly stylized with their mark of personality as sounding board. perhaps that would put us closer on to this heavy sound that we were after.” When she got there. So we hopped over and sure enough there it was. After saying. the Gibson Les Paul Standard that was first offered as a sunburst in 1957. each one sounding different enough to realize. “Pearly Gates. it must be part of the make-up of the sound. The only requirement was that she find her own was to get out there to conduct the screen test. it didn’t help us in that way.” We decided that the car had divine connections so the car became dubbed. She said. That’s when you really learn and have some fun.” I retained a suspicion that I could try out one of these Les Pauls. You couldn’t just go down and pick one up. was long out of production. Not only was the music kind of inspirational. ABM: Well I heard you were rehearsing in 1968 and Eric Clapton was finishing up his last “Cream” tour and stopped by to meet you. Unfortunately.familiar. you really had to do some looking. any humbucking instrument would do! Surprise. consider yourself lucky. a friend of mine called and announced that one of those “old Les Pauls” was lurking about the proverbial “farmer’s closet. (laughing) ABM: Probably the most famous guitar in the world is your 1959 Les Paul Standard that you call “Pearly Gates. I grabbed me a handful of green and went hot-footin’ it back over there and had myself a Les Paul. they’re not all the same. but just to make sure. but the search was on to find one of these crazy humbucking pickup instruments. there was a curiously strong guiding light. “I got out here to Hollywood and I got the part. I volunteered to provide her transportation in the form of a late 30s/early 40s Packard convertible automobile that barely ran anyway and I said. “Where do these sounds start coming from?” The most telling tale was the Gibson Les Paul that Eric was slamming on –photographed and illustrated on the back of the record. What’s the story on this and what were your feelings about this? . One afternoon. ’58 and ’59. but so was the clue that was revealed in the photograph of Clapton illustrated on the back of the record. you start saying.

I seem to remember spending an afternoon with you that was just as vicious. did he play guitar for you then? BFG: Yeah. there was a couple of extra – there was always some equipment laying about. It kind of boosted out feeling toward that which we had suspected. Those that are left still wondering. The other side of the reality is that Texas. You. I mean he was full out ready to slay it all. just reach over and grab a guitar and that’ll keep you company all day and all night.BFG: It was ’68 and he was dressed in black. I used that phrase. “Yeah. some may call it inspiration. That was little known to us and we took it as kind of an interesting first meeting. So that was quite and inspirational meeting and just recently when we were invited to appear with Eric Clapton in England. He was also tied in with the Ames Booking Agency of Houston. There was always something – in fact this is a message to the world. everybody’s looking forward to it. Louisiana. Don’t worry. and then we will be honing down the blade by Dallas around the end of October. of course. and Memphis were so culturally devoid there wasn’t much else to do. it had so much “sides” for so long. We closed each evening with all the musicians playing at the same time. Let me tell you. As . know that tour books are not typically trusted. perhaps a little more manageable. he knew none of the words. It was Robert Duncan who was part owner of the Catacombs night club where we were rehearsing.” ABM: When Clapton stopped by your rehearsal in ’68. Clapton had already skyrocketed to global renown and it felt right to have that kind of – some may call it pressure. When Eric Clapton asked to see the catacombs and what was going on over there. that’s that old Texas slang. The Austin show will be one fine night. it will be one of the last evenings before moving off to Europe for a couple of months. For one thing. Joe Cocker leading the way by singing every song that the band was attempting to provide backing to and. It was a lot of dun to have such a casual introduction. Actually he was in the building with no available light for a while and when we ran through a couple of numbers the club manager strolled up and it was announced that he had been showing Eric around the city. That was the great thing about growing up on the Gulf Coast – music was never too far away from the kitchen. When you’re sitting on a porch. We begin the Texas dates in Lubbock. I mean slay you with them guitars. as a good musician yourself. ABM: When is your “Antenna” tour coming to Austin? BFG: We are coming back to Texas that latter part of October and the first part of November. “What makes Texans enjoy the fame of having this special something?” It’s because there was always a time and a place to include music as part of the routine. I’m going to do the unthinkable and quote a date that is listed in the tour book. this is the same thing times five. After all. Odessa. “it had so much sides”. Clapton and the Bluesbreakers and then later Cream. One night I remember Clapton saying. Mississippi. Of Course. Then there’s Austin on November 4 – The Frank Erwin Center is always a highlight – followed by Houston. he never abandoned or never let up. Robert said the club is being used as a rehearsal facility for the “Moving Sidewalks” and Eric said he wanted to go over there and check it out. Joe Cocker was on the bill.

which meant put a car cover over it. What we managed to scrounge up became really the cornerstone for a back to basics. ladies and gentlemen. ABM: Please tell us a little about how you wrote the songs on your latest album. the advisory warned to Frank. featuring none of that than the Kendrick “Texas Crude” sound still out and about.” is one of the coolest tones I’ve ever heard for guitar. that went to hell when we got to the studio.” BFG: Good question. it’s starting to rain. in Texas the slang word “rig” can mean many things.” As I explained to the unsuspecting other world. “Hey. don’t touch a thing. what were they? BFG: It was a Marshall 100 watt. Model 1959 and Pearly Gates laid the rhythm bed and by this time we had discovered the magic of overdubbing and that allowed us to come back with a 1957 hard-tail Stratocaster that laid the lead track and “Jesus Just Left Chicago. return to the roots effect.” That was fine by me: Lots of fun.” Everything was blowing through the Marshall 100 watt. if more than one guitar or amp was used. re-arranged and re-aimed. We’ve been enjoying a presentation called the ANTENNA WORLD TOUR with a stage like a giant radio.you and I have talked about so many times. “Waiting for the Bus. So put on your seat belts. it’s so fine to have a really great crew of Texas boys ready to have a taste of home once again. You better go out there and cover your rig”. it got all re-vamped. We were playing on amps with no names and guitars with no faces. Do you remember what guitar and amp set up you used for that particular recording? Also. “Antenna. This Texas boy playing in this gang of Texans ain’t forgetting nothing. The lead guitar solo is broken into two guitars. As it had been raining that afternoon. . of course. ABM: I’ve always felt that your guitar part on the “Tres Hombres” album. I believe it was a situation resulting from the equipment truck being waylayed and lost for an extra couple of fays. it’s all gonna be there. “I don’t know what you guys are doing. A few songs enjoyed a little pre-production. ABM: So your write the stuff right there in the studio? BFG: Some of it we had pre-prepared in the rehearsal period and. We are still trying to figure that out among ourselves. There is a wah wah passage that was the 1957 hard-tail Strat played through the wah wah pedal. but officially the first composition was “Cover your Rig. I think Frank had one drum from every manufacturer that had been in business in the 30s and 40s. The good news is the engineer strolled in and heard this cacophonous sound – how about that for a fifty cent word? Anyway he heard this wild goings on in studio “A” and came in and said. You give a Texan two seconds and he’ll turn it into another meaning and that’s where that went. We were there in the studio for an entire two days waiting on the gear to arrive and in desperation we raised the left-over equipment closet at Ardent [Ardent Studios in Memphis].

The first guitar was a Gibson Melody Maker which is still in the hands of a guy from the neighborhood. or buying it back or whatever. if you can’t do it on that. “Man. James Harmon.ABM: When did you first pick up a guitar and from who did you learn? BFG: The first guitar I really picked up was the one that my dad had hid way back behind the Christmas tree. I don’t seem to possess the talent to talk him into giving it back. I was about thirteen and I had hammered on a garbage can lid and everything else you could imagine and made it clear I wanted to play.F. one pickup and a single input amplifier.. In the words of our blues blowing buddy. I wanted to get my hands on that guitar thing. It was the Gibson Melody Maker single cutaway that ran through a Fender Champ and brother if you don’t think you can…. keep trying ‘til you can.” -Gerald Weber Transcribed from source material by A. Unfortunately. cuz that’s all you gonna need. . 10/15/2011 All spelling and grammar (sic). he says.

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