Chewing The Fat With
Words by Tamma Hicks & Rusty Hicks, STEAM Magazine
No photo credit
What do you ask a super star? That is once you get your voice and brain back to working! I mean I didn’t want to ask the same questions I’d read over and over in Billy Gibbons previous interviews. Like the beards… after 40 years and Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill turning down millions of dollars to shave, I didn’t feel that was news. However, in all the interviews and stories I’d read, the legend of Jimi Hendrix’s pink Strat peaked my interest; which of course led to questions about Billy’s guitar collection, because… Well, it’s Billy Gibbons!
STEAM First, I’d like to congratulate you all on your 45th Anniversary since you, Dusty, and Frank took the stage together as ZZ Top. Many bands have come and gone and re-emerged while you have been a constant; what do you credit for the longevity? And what keeps you together/going?
BG We’ve been asked many times and have become quite introspective about it. Why do we, in fact, continue to do what we do? The answer to that is we like doing it and continue to get to do it. The fact that we’re an odd (very) number means there can’t be any tie votes so things are downright definitive on all things decisive.
STEAM Woodstock, and the movement it is credited with creating, was held in 1969 just as you were forming this group. Did you contemplate going and performing as either this group or the Moving Sidewalks? Did the movement influence you or ZZ Top’s sound? If so, how?
BG Woodstock preceded our ZZ Top gathering just after playing with the Moving Sidewalks. However, Woodstock was the apogee of ‘60s rock and came to represent a way for many — long before a social media phenomena — to lock into what was happening. Jimi Hendrix was there and then there was everyone else.
STEAM I have read many articles about you and Jimi Hendrix, including one where you talked about dipping mops that were attached to your guitars in florescent paint and painting in a club after hours, but not one confirms whether or not you got his pink Strat. I also read that you have a hard time getting rid of guitars and even have your first set-up being held by a friend. In December we featured two custom guitar builders as our creative artists. How many guitars are in your collection? Do you have Jimi Hendrix’s pink Strat? Which is your favorite custom built guitar and what makes it special to you?
BG Yes, it’s really difficult considering even parting with a guitar, even temporarily — There's a significant investment of time acquiring them so we’ve never seen the point of disposing them.. once they’re part of our “guitarsenal” they’re in for the long haul. That Strat is among the “extra special” examples. It's now a bit uncertain how many there are in total but it’s more than a few and certainly ain't enough…! Our favorite is still Pearly Gates, the ’59 Les Paul standard that’s been our go-to axe forever. It’s the rare one that's seems to have what we really dig.
STEAM Anytime ZZ Top is mentioned we all have our favorite song(s) or album that pop into our heads. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “Sharp Dressed Man” played in a bar. My favorite song is “Stages”. Do you have one that you particularly enjoy or that has a special meaning to you?
BG That’s a tough one — like asking parents to choose a favorite child but we’re really partial to the medley of “Waitin’ For The Bus/Jesus Left Chicago.” They’re always run together just like they were at the start of the "Tres Hombres” album so you get two for the price of none. We’re still diggin’ “I Gotsta Get Paid” from the “La Futura” sessions. It wasn’t easy adapting a hard core rap song to become a guitar-oriented rocker but, after many years, it worked out better than we might have even envisioned.
STEAM You are headed to Cuba in June for a Jazz Summit and are currently working on a Latin influenced album; are you planning to take this group on tour when you’re finished?
BG Yes, it’s a side project with a twisted line-up that'll be way, way different. A bonafide Afro-Cuban addition to what ZZ Top does and at the same time, a recognizable, elemental essence of the band.
STEAM What’s your opinion on the ruling in the Pharrell Williams/Robin Thicke (Blurred Lines) vs Marvin Gay (Got to Give It Up) lawsuit? Do you think this will open the door to making lawsuits easier? Do you think this will hinder the creative process?
BG At this juncture, to answer that question would require either a legal partner or fortune teller to lend a simple guesstimate.
STEAM I read a couple different versions on how you came up with ZZ Top; the most popular is that it originated from rolling papers. Did you think that the legalization of marijuana would happen in your lifetime?
BG Well, put it this way, AA Bottom didn’t have quite the same ring to it as ZZ Top does. Are you saying that weed was illegal at one time? News to me!
STEAM If there was anyone you could have a conversation with (deceased or living) who would it be and what would you talk about?
BG Gotta be Jimi Hendrix again. I really miss him and I’d like to be able to pick up where we left off. We’d talk about the blues, guitars, cars and who knows what else. It really wouldn’t matter as long as we could chew the fat.