Meet the coolest king of rock ‘n’ roll

The Star Early Edition - - TONIGHT MUSIC - THERESE OWEN

ZZ Top’s Billy Gib­bons has to be one of the cutest rock stars ever. He is in the coun­try as part of the Kings of Chaos tour which takes place this week­end at the Su­per­bowl at Sun City be­fore mov­ing to the Grand West Arena in Cape Town on Tues­day.

ZZ Top have been to­gether for 40 years play­ing their un­com­pro­mis­ing rock ’n’ roll. They are also one of the few bands to have re­mained un­changed for all that time – Dusty Hill on bass and vo­cals, Frank Beard on drums and Gib­bons on lead gui­tar.

They toured South Africa in 1996 when they were booked to play two shows and ended up play­ing six. Gib­bons de­scribes it as “one of the most mov­ing lifechang­ing events.”

Sit­ting in the ster­ile in­ter­view room at Pri­me­dia after the Kings of Chaos press con­cert, Gib­bons cuts a strik­ing fig­ure. He is slightly built and awk­ward in his move­ments. He’s wear­ing a green woollen hat, tight black jeans held up by sus­penders and a black jacket. As I sit down he does the un­ex­pected – he takes off his sun glasses. His pale blue eyes have a sweet look in them and even match his fa­mous long red beard.

My open­ing ques­tion goes back to his first South African tour. His voice is grav­elly but soft, his re­sponses are mea­sured and in be­tween he asks ques­tions. There is no rock star bravado with this gen­tle man.

“We were wrap­ping up the Euro­pean tour in the south of France and re­ceived a call from At­tie, is it At­tie van Yik?” At­tie van Wyk, yes.

“He in­vited us to play and at the time we knew noth­ing about South Africa.

“The turn­ing mo­ment was when I man­aged to per­suade our pro­duc­tion man­ager to put our ZZ Top gear onto a boat in­stead of fly­ing it out. As we watched the ship leave the har­bour with our equip­ment he said to me that it’s go­ing to take five months to reach the US and we did it be­cause we just wanted to stay in South Africa, which was true. I ended up stay­ing here for five months.

“I found a nice lit­tle apart­ment and one day th­ese peo­ple recog­nised me and asked where I was stay­ing. I replied that I was stay­ing in a nice lit­tle apart­ment in a place called Hill­brow and there was se­cu­rity on ev­ery cor­ner.”

Billy Gib­bons! In Hill­brow? Was it cool be­cause no one recog­nised him, I ask. Gib­bons starts gig­gling and strokes his fa­mous long beard: “They thought I’d lost my mind, but I am weirder than they thought.” Dur­ing his trav­els around South Africa he also found him­self in Swazi­land for the Reed Dance where he ended up meet­ing Mswati III, King of Swazi­land.

“The Reed Dance is where all the avail­able women pa­rade for him and he gets to pick one as a wife,” smiles Gib­bons.

“We were ap­proached by armed guys and they said to me that the king had taken an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for my hat and he wanted to see me. When we got to the bor­der, the check­point was a big log. We went inside and waited for 40 min­utes and fi­nally heard laugh­ter and re­alised that the bor­der of­fi­cials were en­joy­ing some Swazi gold at the back. So we just re­moved the log and drove in.”

Did he go to Sun City? He puts his hand in his pocket and whips out two red dice and rolls them on the ta­ble: “I love the roll of the dice. I’m al­ways try­ing to beat the odds.”

As the in­ter­view comes to an end, he stands up, puts his arm around me and nods to Tonight pho­tog­ra­pher, An­toine de Ras, to take a pic­ture. I melt inside. This gui­tar legend, who is in one of the great­est bands of all time, just of­fered his pres­ence in a photo with me. It was just too, too ab­so­lutely too lovely for words.


DOWN-TO-EARTH GUY: ZZ Top’s Billy Gib­bons.

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