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!

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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

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