Meet the coolest king of rock ‘n’ roll
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.