Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Billy Gibbons Interview: “We Fired Up the Tempo, Cranked Up the Volume, and Let It Rip ... Hard!"

By Ray Shasho

Billy Gibbons/ ZZ Top Interview:

Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top have essentially pioneered its own musical genre since the release of their first studio album in 1971. The band fused hard rock, blues, and Texas boogie into their own unique sound, style, and live performance. The hard rockin’ power trio of Billy Gibbons (guitars, vocals), Dusty Hill (bassist and vocalist) and Frank Beard (drums) has energetically and persistently entertained audiences worldwide for over forty years.  

ZZ Top will be bringing their Texas-style rock & blues boogie to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on December 27th and to the Hard Rock Live in Orlando on December 29th. Tickets for the Clearwater show are available at www.rutheckerdhall.com or by calling 727-791-7400 for more information. Tickets for the Orlando show are available at www.hardrock.com or call 407-351-(LIVE) 5483.    

In 2012, after a nine year hiatus from the recording studio, ZZ Top released their fifteenth studio album entitled La Futura. The album spotlights many of the attributes that has distinguished the band as rock music legends. Tracks like “Chartreuse,” “Have a Little Mercy” and “Big Shiny Nine” reminisce to the Top’s heyday while igniting habitual hot and saucy Texas boogie intoxication. “Heartache in Blue” is my favorite track on the album, an exceptional blend of the blues highlighting Gibbons impressive guitar licks with virtuoso harpist JamesHarman. The track “Flyin High” was actually requested by longtime ZZ Top fan and NASA astronaut Mike Fossum. It was played in space on-board the Soyuz spacecraft during its launch to the International Space Station.
The Best Buy version of the CD includes two bonus tracks … “Threshold of a Breakdown” and “Drive by Lover” another personal favorite and skillfully choired by bassist Dusty Hill.
 La Futura is an exhilarating Texas boogie & blues pilgrimage … ZZ Top style! 

I gave La Futura (4) Stars. 

BILLY GIBBONS was born and raised in Houston, Texas.  Billy received his first electric guitar after his thirteenth birthday. Some of his early influences included electric blues musician and songwriter Jimmy Reed.
While attending Warner Brothers’ art school in Hollywood, California, Gibbons played with various bands. At 18, he formed the psychedelic blues-rock group, The Moving Sidewalks, inspired by fellow musician and friend Rory Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators. The band recorded one album entitled Flash (1968).The Moving Sidewalks were …Billy Gibbons, Tom Moore, Don Summers and Dan Mitchell.
Gibbons became a prominent songwriter with his penned releases “99th Floor” and “Need Me.”  The band performed with The Doors and with Jimi Hendrix during his first American tour. Gibbons also formed a special friendship with Hendrix. Hendrix mentioned Billy on The Dick Cavett Show by stating that Gibbons would be the next big thing as a guitarist. Hendrix gave the up and coming guitarist a pink Stratocaster.

ZZ TOP was formed in Houston, Texas in 1969. After various lineup changes, the classic line-up of Gibbons, Hill and Beard signed with London Records and recorded their debut self-titled album in 1971. Early on, Gibbons became the bands principal songwriter. The group also began a long and rewarding relationship with manager/producer Bill Ham. In 1972, the band followed up in the studio with Rio Grande Mud.
The release of their third studio album entitled Tres Hombres (1973) would define ZZ Top’s perennial sound and style while launching the band into rock stardom, performing at large arenas and stadiums. Tres Hombres (Top 10 album) was a brilliant rock & blues statement.  The album spawned the bands signature tune “La Grange” (#41 Billboard Hot 100), a song about a bordello near La Grange, Texas. Other notable tracks were “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” and “Waitin’ for the Bus.”

In 1975, ZZ Top released Fandango! (Top 10 album) Half of the tracks were recorded live in concert and the other half were new studio released songs. ZZ Top was now a top headlining concert attraction selling-out arenas worldwide. The Fandango tour consisted of three legs and 55 shows. It began in March of 1975 and ended February of 1976. Various supporting acts during the tour included KISS, Status Quo, Peter Frampton, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Aerosmith and Blue Ӧyster Cult to name a few. Fandango spawned the hit single “Tush” (#20 Billboard Hot 100).

Tejas (Spanish for Texas) was released in 1976. The band signed with Warner Brothers Records in 1979 and released their sixth studio album entitled Degüello. The album generated two hit singles … “I Thank You” (#34 hit single) and “Cheap Sunglasses” (#89 hit single). Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill also grew their chest length beards during this period.  In 1981, they released El Loco while spawning the singles … “Tube Snake Boogie,” (#4 hit) “Leila” and “Pearl Necklace” (#28 hit).

In 1983, ZZ Top released Eliminator reaching the Top 10 in the album charts. The album scored five hit singles … “Gimme All Your Lovin’” (#37 Billboard Hot 100), “Got Me Under Pressure,” “Sharp Dressed Man” (#56 hit), “TV Dinners” (#38 hit) and “Legs”( #8 Billboard Hot 100). The “Legs” video won the 1984 MTV Video Music Award for Best Group Video. The Eliminator album became ZZ Top’s most commercially successful album to date with sales over 10 million copies.

ZZ Top released their ninth studio album entitled Afterburner in 1985. The album became their highest charting album at #8 in the U.S. The album generated the hit singles … “Sleeping Bag” (#8 Billboard Hot 100), (#1 Mainstream Rock Tracks),“Velcro Fly” (#35 Billboard Hot 100), “Stages” (#21 hit) and “Rough Boy” (#22 hit).

In 1990, ZZ Top released Recycler. It was their final album with Warner Brothers Records. The track “Doubleback” was featured in the film Back to the Future Part III. The single “My Head’s in Mississippi” reached #1 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart.
In 1994, the band signed with RCA Records and released their 11th studio album entitled Antenna.  The single “Pincushion”reached #1 the Mainstream Rock Tracks charts. Billy Gibbons co-produced with Bill Ham on the album.

Subsequent releasesRhythmeen (1996), XXX (1999), Mescalero (2003) and La Futura (2012).
Rhythmeen was the last album to feature Bill Ham as producer. Rick Rubin shared duties as producer with Billy Gibbons on La Futura in 2012.

In 2004, ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards. ZZ Top has generated 11 gold records, 7 platinum, 13-multi-platinum records, while selling over 25-million units.

The band continues to tour relentlessly and still packs the house worldwide.  

I had the rare opportunity to ask Billy about ZZ Top’s current tour, the band’s latest studio release, his relationship with Jimi Hendrix, my infamous “Field of Dreams” wish question, and much-much more.

Here’s my recent interview with legendary guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, car customizer and founder of classic rock legends ZZ Top …BILLY GIBBONS.

Ray Shasho:  Hello Billy! ZZ Top will be performing at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on December 27th and the Tampa Bay area is especially looking forward to that show. The band will also be in Orlando at Hard Rock Live on the 29th. Where and how will you be celebrating Christmas in 2013?
Billy Gibbons: With Miz Gilligan in Florida, well in advance of December Twenty-Five, in order to get warm, sample the seafood, hit the gaming tables, seek out Mexican cuisine, go to Versailles for Cuban fare, charter an afternoon for salt water fishing, take in a night at the dog track, take in a ball game, take in something frosty around South Beach…basically chillin' before taking the stage with my pals.  An elegant simple scheduling.”
Ray Shasho: “I saw the band perform for the first time around 1973 at the Baltimore Civic Center … ZZ Top opened for Earth, Wind and Fire and Uriah Heep. I knew the band was going places after that performance; I never witnessed a power trio with so much energy and raw power.
Billy Gibbons: That's about as on target as I've ever heard and right to the point as we, the band, were aimed at free drinks and getting on the gals.  And to accomplish the task, we fired up the tempo, cranked up the volume, and let it rip. Hard! And it definitely set the tone for what was to come and what remains as the driving force, even now.”
Ray Shasho: Why do you think the trio has worked so successfully over the years, especially with all the bizarre changes in the music industry?
Billy Gibbons: Amidst the rampant gallop of attempting to maintain pace with an increasing speed of change, working within the trio as a base is just like a pyramid…the 3 sides stand stridently around the constantly shifting sands.  I say, “Three is for me!””
Ray Shasho: One of my favorite ZZ Top tunes is “Jesus Just Left Chicago” just an incredible hard-driving blues classic …What is the origin behind that classic blues/rock song?
Billy Gibbons: “Jesus Just Left Chicago” is certainly an obtuse mental visual, particularly placing a fixed location, moving forward from, and going to.  The surreal combination of Jesus, Chicago, and New Orleans, is a bizarre mix of righteousness, and soulful sin. It's a blend of bluesy elements stirring up some salient points to ponder.”
Ray Shasho: I chatted with Norman Greenbaum about “Spirit in the Sky” and the similarities to Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again,” yet they’re also very different in their own ways … Was the “La Grange” riff based on John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillun”?  
Billy Gibbons: “The “La Grange” riff is another interpretation of one of the cornerstone staples of that splendid American art form, the blues.  There are many ways to chop it, we just got really lucky and landed something with resonance that lasts and lasts.” 
Ray Shasho: Billy, here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview. If you had a ‘Field of Dreams’ wish, like the movie, to play, sing or collaborate with anyone from the past or present, who would that be? (You can name more than one person)
Billy Gibbons: “Ry Cooder. The expressions from that Rylander-man are many and I know there's somewhere he'd go and that sooner or later, I would fit in. Ry's range is that wide.  I'll call 'im directly and get the ball rolling.”
Ray Shasho: The Moving Sidewalks was a cool psychedelic blues band. The band opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and you developed a special friendship with Hendrix.
Billy Gibbons: “Yes, and it's fair to tag Jimi Hendrix and The Experience with threads that tie into psychedelic blues quite handily.  Jimi was always generous in sharing his curiosity about how certain sounds could be created from an imaginary idea. We spent many hours comparing pragmatic ways to bring those vaporous thoughts into tangible, electric form.  When Jimi had no guidebook, he invented one.”
Ray Shasho: Did Hendrix actually give you a pink Stratocaster?
Billy Gibbons: “It's the one seen in the famed photo with The Moving Sidewalks.”
Ray Shasho: Your latest studio release “La Futura” has gotten rave reviews and the track “Flyin’ High” was even requested by astronaut Mike Fossum during a launch to the International Space Station.
Billy Gibbons: “Wow.  Who'da thought writing the track with my pal, Austin Hanks, would take off from our studio shack in L A and land a seat in outer space…?!?  We just wanted to create a good Southern rock song.  Now it's a stratospheric number.”
Ray Shasho: After a nine year hiatus from recording, what made this album such a success?
Billy Gibbons: “Good material as they say… And the richness of Rick Rubin standing alongside us and turning us into more of what we already were.  More ZZ with a defiant touch of our raucous and raunchy beginnings.” 
Ray Shasho: What was it like working with Rick Rubin?
Billy Gibbons: “Super sounds in the studio, interspersed with surfin' safaris at Zuma Beach.”
Ray Shasho: Billy, what factors make a great producer?
Billy Gibbons: “Patience.  We learned it early on.  The studio sessions for "La Futura" left no doubt about Rick's ability to be in no hurry.  The result is the luxury of the band playing a composed piece in many different ways and going with the flow.  It takes time, of course, yet that again is the value of maintaining a measure of patience to get there.”
Ray Shasho: Who are some of the producers that you’ve admired over the years?
Billy Gibbons: “The staff specialists from Ardent Studios in Memphis, particularly Joe Hardy who has steadfastly guided us through many exotic sonic landscapes with an ever escalating expression.  G.L. "G-Mane" Moon in Houston is always lending his talented techniques with us to bust a move to a higher groove as well.”
Ray Shasho: Billy, anything you’d like to promote?
Billy Gibbons: “Hot sauce and barbecue sauce.  There's never enough…!”
Ray Shasho: I heard you’re quite a chef … what’s your specialty?
Billy Gibbons:Mexican cuisine. Guacamole, certainly, which is a staple compliment to the vast variations found in the many different regions of the country. Fiery spices make for fierce foods and that, my friend, is a good thing…!”
Ray Shasho: Billy, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule today. More importantly for all the incredible ZZ Top music you’ve given us and continue to bring into the future. We’ll see you in Florida December 27th and 29th.
Billy Gibbons: “Thanks Ray, we’ll see you then!”

Purchase ZZ Top’s most recent release entitled La Futura at amazon.com
Visit the ZZ Top official website at www.zztop.com
ZZ Top on tour www.zztop.com/events
ZZ Top on Facebook
ZZ Top Myspace
ZZ Top on Twitter

Very special thanks to Bob Merlis

Contact classic rock music journalist Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com

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