ZZ TOP

ZZ Top star Billy Gib­bons tells Robin Mil­lard that the genre will live on as blues touches hu­man emo­tions at all lev­els

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Though the great Mis­sis­sippi blues­men have passed away, blues mu­sic will sur­vive and thrive be­cause it al­ways grabs the rawest hu­man emo­tions, ZZ Top front­man Billy Gib­bons said. The blues en­cap­su­lates life’s peaks and troughs, said the gi­ant-bearded gui­tarist, who has re­turned to his roots in the mu­si­cal genre with his sec­ond solo al­bum, “The Big Bad Blues”. Af­ter 2015’s Cuban-flavoured solo de­but “Per­fec­ta­mundo”, Gib­bons de­cided to go back to ba­sics.

“This great Amer­i­can art form we now call the blues, it grabs me and it has al­ways grabbed me,” the 68-year-old Texan said.

“There’s some­thing with the hu­man­ness, the nat­u­ral feel­ing. It’s this con­nec­tion with the high­est of highs, the low­est of lows and all points in be­tween. It brings ev­ery­thing to­gether.”

His 11-track al­bum fea­tures eight Gib­bon­spenned orig­i­nals, and cov­ers in­clud­ing Muddy Wa­ters clas­sics “Stand­ing Around Cry­ing” and “Rollin’ and Tum­blin’”.

The death of blues gi­ant B. B. King in 2015 at the age of 89 seemed to mark the pass­ing of a gen­er­a­tion — Wa­ters in­cluded — that grew out of the mu­sic’s home­land in the dirt-poor Mis­sis­sippi Delta plan­ta­tions and took the blues to the world.

In Lon­don to sign al­bums for fans, the US rocker said he was not wor­ried about the blues dy­ing out in the face of the lat­est mu­si­cal styles.

“What is the fu­ture of this thing called the blues? Re­mark­ably, it seems to reap­pear decade af­ter decade,” he said.

“We all have this spirit. We haven’t al­ways found the words to ex­press it, but we have the blues — and that pretty much says it all.

“I don’t see the blues dis­ap­pear­ing any time soon.”

He said the blues had branched out from its three-chord ori­gins into all sorts of “lofty realms”, but how­ever far it gets stretched, “it all comes back to square one: sim­plic­ity fol­lowed by com­plex­ity and so­phis­ti­ca­tion. It’s re­ally a fas­ci­nat­ing art form.

“We never know who’s go­ing to be the next ex­po­nent,” he said.

“Sooner or later, we’re go­ing to find a blues­man in this 11th hour that re­ally loats the boat.”

In­stantly recog­nis­able in their trade­mark long beards, dark shades and hats, ZZ Top have been ply­ing their Texas-toned blues rock for nearly ive decades.

Gib­bons said that in be­tween mak­ing records, the trio would head down to the home­land of the blues and in­fuse the spirit into the soul.

“When we could es­cape from the stu­dio, many times we would trip down through the Mis­sis­sippi Delta, par­tic­u­larly Clarks­dale,” he said.

“There is deinitely the feel­ing that the blues still wig­gles up from the very ground.

“There’s an im­me­di­ate con­nec­tion with where this all started.”

Gib­bons and his solo back­ing band are tour­ing the al­bum through North Amer­ica from Oc­to­ber 13 to Novem­ber 18.

The tour is fol­lowed by cel­e­bra­tions mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of ZZ Top — a re­mark­able achieve­ment for an un­chang­ing line-up.

“Same three guys play­ing the same three chords. It’s all good,” said Gib­bons.

The rock­ers are play­ing a res­i­dency at The Vene­tian ho­tel in Las Ve­gas from Jan­uary 18 to Fe­bru­ary 2.

Gib­bons and ZZ Top’s bass player Dusty Hill’s fa­mous beards are surely the in­est rock and roll has ever pro­duced.

“The beard — it goes where I go,” said Gib­bons. “It leaves us ask­ing the ques­tion: what about that guy be­hind the drums? The man with no beard named Frank Beard. Go ig­ure.”

Mem­bers of the US band ZZ Top, Dusty Hill (left) and Billy Gib­bons

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