Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top bear(d) the blues at Rose

By Matt Clevenger

Things couldn’t be better for ZZ Top, with their first full-length live album set for release this fall and a tour kicking off at Rose Music Center in Huber Heights Tuesday, Aug. 16.

Known for blues and Latin-infused rock mega-hits like “Cheap Sunglasses,” “Tush,” “Pearl Necklace,” and “La Grange,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees will grace the Rose as part of radio station 104.7 WTUE’s 40th birthday celebration.

Formed more than 40 years ago in the Houston, Texas, area, ZZ Top released their first single in 1969, but it wasn’t until the early ’70s that the band’s classic lineup of guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons, bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard (the only one without a beard) materialized. For the record, it was also around this time that the band members first started growing their well-known facial hair.

Behind the scenes, the group has always been the brainchild of guitarist and founding member Gibbons, who also serves as the lead vocalist and main songwriter. The son of an MGM studios orchestra conductor, Gibbons also started the influential psychedelic rock band The Moving Sidewalks, who toured with both Jimi Hendrix and Roky Erickson’s 13th Floor Elevators. Legend has it that Jimi Hendrix even presented Gibbons with one of his signature Stratocaster guitars, as a tribute to his playing talent.

Gibbons’ “little ‘ol band from Texas” is still going strong today, with a total of 15 studio albums under their belts, including four gold albums, three platinum, and two multi-platinum. The group shows no sign of slowing down any time soon, and in addition to touring, this fall they are also preparing to release their first-ever full-length live album, ZZ Top Live: Greatest Hits From Around the World.

Dayton City Paper caught up with Gibbons recently, and the iconic guitarist agreed to answer five questions about ZZ Top, as only he can.

You’re known for your legendary guitar playing. Is it true that you started out as a percussionist, and trained with the great Tito Puente? 

Billy Gibbons: The obsession with guitar began before zero-year-old, and then hands-on really kicked into high gear when an electric guitar (a Gibson Melody Maker) appeared on Christmas Day just after my 13th. As a youngster, there was the predictable teenage share of bashing pots, pans, and trash cans which provoked my set-upon dad, who was a band leader, to get in touch with his friend Tito Puente to organize some more technically proficient percussive proclivities. I made it up to New York and began to learn Latin percussion. Fortunately, the bangin’ ‘n clangin’ continues rockin’ on.

How many guitars are in your collection, and do you have any favorites other than the infamous “Pearly Gates”? Did Jimi Hendrix really pass one of his Stratocasters on to you? 

BG: Have not attempted a census; however, as the saying goes, “One’s too many and a hundred ain’t enough…!” “Pearly Gates” does stand as the benchmark and indeed remains a fave among the lot. Jimi’s famed Fender Strat is one of his always killer-diller six string things. Then again, finding a guitar, just about any guitar, is a bonus.

ZZ-Top formed in 1969 and is still going strong today. What is the secret to the band’s longevity? 

BG: We’ve been having a good time for all this while, which is behind what we enjoy most. We embrace the high road. The fact the band’s an odd (some would say “very”) number helps resolves conflict—there can’t be any tie votes, and factions are limited to two but usually none. It’s still a party and you’re all invited!

What was it like touring with Gregg Allman [Allman recently canceled his tour dates due to health issues]?  

BG: Gregg has been part of our mindset for just about as long as we’ve been out playing and recording. Gregg is, in a way, part of our extended family. Whenever there’s a list, it invariably begins with “Allman” and ends with “ZZ,” so we’re covering a vast swath of the spectrum, alphabetically onwards.

What’s next for you after this tour, are you working on any upcoming albums or projects with ZZ-Top or the BFG’s? Do you plan to do any more TV appearances, like your role on Bones?

BG: Believe it or not, we’re on the cusp of releasing our first full-length live album just after the ZZ appearance at Rose Music Center. The title says it all: ZZ Top Live: Greatest Hits From Around The World, which brings together tracks from performances around the globe. As far reaching as Las Vegas to Paris, Chicago to São Paolo, LA to London, back to Berlin, down to Dallas, over to Houston, Memphis, and Mississippi and, probably, some places I’ve left out. Our long-standing pals, Jeff Beck and bluesman James “Harmonica” Harman guest to highlight those special tracks. We’re thinking about re-assembling The BFG’s for another run so stay tuned (and that, of course, goes for Bones).

ZZ Top hits the stage Tuesday, Aug. 16 at Rose Music Center, 6800 Executive Blvd. in Huber Heights. Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information, please visit zztop.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at MattClevenger@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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