John Wheatcroft dances the Fandango with ‘un solo hombre’ who knows more that a thing or two about the blues - the wonderful Billy F Gibbons!
John Wheatcroft gets dirty with the style of ZZ’s irrepressible axeman Billy Gibbons.
we’ve hardly seen his face, buried as it is beneath the obligatory hat, sunglasses and super-long beard.
It must have something to do with his wonderful tone, his exemplary command of time, groove and swing and his infectious vocal growl - not to mention all those hook-laden rock and boogie blues songs that he and his band have written.
Billy paid his dues treading the boards in his hometown of Houston, Texas. He met his future manager, Bill Mack Ham, backstage at a Doors concert way back in 1967. Gibbons’ band at the time, The Moving Sidewalks, had a local hit with the song 99th Floor. They opened on The Doors’ Texas tour, and after doing the same for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Sidewalks broke up and Gibbons and Ham contracted to form a new band. After recruiting Dusty Hill on bass and Frank Beard on Drums, ZZ Top was formed in 1969, and they’re still going strong, well over four decades later!
The band first came to prominence with their third album, Tres Hombres, which contained the classic song La Grange, about the bordello that’s the subject of the musical The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. However, they’re now best known for a series of groundbreaking videos aired on MTV during the mid 80s. Their first, Gimme All Your Lovin’, set the style for follow-ups Legs and Sharp-Dressed Man. The addition of videos took the band’s image, mystique and popularity to an all-time high and in 2004 ZZ Top were inducted into The Rock ’N’ Roll Hall Of Fame.
Rather than attempt to condense nearly a half-century of guitar playing experience into two choruses of a blues, we’ve decided to restrict our gaze here to a pair of fantastic ZZ Top albums from the band’s early period that capture Billy’s playing at peak form: Tres Hombres from 1973 and its stunning ’75 follow-up, Fandango. Each phrase in our 24-bar study can be found within these tracks. Billy’s style is remarkably accessible, so if you’re new to picking out licks from recordings, if you’re armed with a reasonable knowledge of the Pentatonic shapes and with a fundamental grasp of technique, I’d urge you to dive in with these albums and start figuring stuff out for yourself. I’m sure that’s
We tend to pay a lot of attention to tone. I think that obscene tones are quite acceptable Billy Gibbons
how Billy learnt, along with going to gigs, listening, refining, getting some things wrong but making it work somehow. Learning is important too. It’s all a question of balance, application, refinement, taste and so on, along with maintaining enthusiasm and dedication.
You might wish to consider investing in some some software to allow you to reduce the tempo of a track while leaving the pitch unaltered, such as Transcribe or RiffMaster Pro. While Gibbons’ playing is harmonically and melodically straightforward and direct, the complexity is in the subtlety of his delivery, his rhythmic command and his expressive articulation. These are hugely important considerations for a musician in any style; there are loads of things to learn here so be sure to pay attention to detail and you’ll go far. As always, enjoy!
Billy F Gibbons: master of guitar understatement