ZZ Top’s gui­tar burner on the blues, stormy weather and miss­ing Mex­ico.

Mojo (UK) - - Contents - Mat Snow

ZZ Top’s am­bas­sador of the blues gets in Con­fi­den­tial mood, talks floods, fun south of the bor­der and the undy­ing joy of Howlin’ Wolf.

PARKED UP on the tour coach at the Chateau Ste. Michelle Win­ery in Wood­inville, Wash­ing­ton, where ZZ Top have a sum­mer date, Billy F Gib­bons is idling be­fore show­time. Sel­dom one to kick back de­spite his easy and un­hur­ried Texan court­li­ness, Billy has recorded two solo al­bums since the last Top opus, 2013’s tremen­dous La Fu­tura. While his Per­fec­ta­mundo de­light­fully per­co­lated blues-rock licks with Afro-Cuban rhythms in 2015, to­day The Big Bad Blues brings it on back to clas­sic cov­ers, in­dus­trial-strength boo­gie grooves and the lope and leer of Billy’s oak-aged voice.

Are there blues singers whose way of han­dling a song in­spires you? Top of the list, Jimmy Reed. I was talk­ing to my gui­tar-sling­ing pal Jim­mie Vaughan, who holds the same ad­mi­ra­tion. Sim­ple as it seems on the sur­face, there is a com­plex­ity he and I find baf­fling, and that’s what keeps it fresh. We can lis­ten to a Jimmy Reed song we’ve heard hun­dreds of times and some­thing will jump out we’ve never heard be­fore.

On your new al­bum there are two songs each from the canons of Muddy Wa­ters and Bo Did­dley. What were they like? They were gen­uine. Muddy Wa­ters trav­elled on tour with ZZ Top in the late ’70s, Bo Did­dley too. I re­mained friends with both those guys un­til the day they died. One of the first gigs ZZ Top did was back­ing up Bo Did­dley. He was a char­ac­ter. Bo Did­dley gave me a cou­ple of those odd­ball guitars that Gretsch made for him in the ’50s. We used one for a cou­ple of so­los on the ZZ Top al­bum Rhyth­meen – plug it in and it was fe­ro­cious, ter­ror­is­ing!

What blues song or song­writer al­ways makes you laugh? Howlin’ Wolf. He was fear­some – and what a sound on those early records.

Ever feel like do­ing a Gib­bons hus­band and wife bluesy duo? Ha ha, yeah man! My lovely sweet­heart Gil­li­gan paid a visit to the stu­dio one af­ter­noon. She was scrib­bling away, and I was sure she was taking notes from the Gucci and Chanel cat­a­logues. She took a break and left her notepad ly­ing about, and I said, “Gee whiz, this looks like po­etry – I think we can make a song.” The engi­neers said, “Take a shot – read from the pa­per and light up the mi­cro­phone then we’ll put it to mu­sic…” They said, “Missin’ your kissin’? You’d bet­ter hope she’s writ­ing about you!”

Then again, it’s two whole al­bums now with­out Dusty and Frank… We have the lux­ury of two record­ing stu­dios in Texas, and while I’m slav­ing away on the solo stuff, they’re mak­ing new ZZ Top starter kits, push­ing the pen­cil in all di­rec­tions. Af­ter all these years to­gether, ei­ther by de­sign or more likely mis­take we stum­ble into an ex­cur­sion into en­joy­ment – we call it go­ing to the Ba­hamas!

Did the Hous­ton floods af­fect you? Re­mark­ably, no. When the storms hit, we were in Cal­i­for­nia and watched it un­fold on the news. I saw mo­tor­boats go­ing down streets I knew. The city was del­uged, un­der siege by the ris­ing wa­ters. Though my neigh­bours to the left and right took on a heap of wa­ter, my condo re­mained high and dry. And our record­ing stu­dio didn’t take a drop. ZZ Top had a show booked in Hous­ton for months, and by the time of the date the wa­ters had re­ceded and we were able to raise $100,000 for a char­ity which got the ball rolling and ral­lied the city.

What do you feel about what’s hap­pen­ing on your bor­der with Mex­ico? We’ve lost a re­ally en­liven­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The days of just go­ing over the border­line are over. I have a lit­tle house on the bor­der and on Fri­day night we’d go over and wouldn’t come back ’til Mon­day. I could rat­tle on for days about those ex­cur­sions. We miss the mu­sic, the food, and hang­ing out with our Span­ish-speak­ing pals across the line. Tell us some­thing you’ve never told an in­ter­viewer be­fore. I’ve got very lit­tle to com­plain about. How­ever, if I could find the guy who in­vented the hands-free wa­ter faucet I’d like to wring his neck. You find your­self wav­ing your hands in thin air wait­ing for the wa­ter to flow. The con­cept is lofty and that would be fine if the damned thing would func­tion. They don’t work!

“In Hous­ton saw mo­tor­boats go­ing down streets I knew.” BILLY F GIB­BONS

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