Photo by Andrew Stuart
With his signature bead and African headgear Billy F Gibbons is instantly recognizable. He’s best known as the centerpiece and one third of ZZ Top, the band that came together in 1969 and has stayed part of the American musical landscape ever since, the longest running major rock band still composed of its original members. Billy and bandmates, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, most appropriately, by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, a longtime friend of Billy’s.
A legendary master of the six-string, Gibbons is widely regarded as one of America’s finest guitarists working in the blues rock idiom. ZZ Top’s sound owes much to his uncanny knack to squeeze unheard of sounds of the electric guitar that resonate with the blues, pop, r&b, country, gospel, western, hillbilly and West African influences that coalesced when rock ‘n roll was born. His almost subconscious awareness of this heritage makes his an approach that is, at once, innovative and authentic. As a vocalist, his down ‘n dirty growl is unmistakable; he sounds ominous and mirthful at the same time as listeners to such hits as “La Grange,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” and “Cheap Sunglasses” can attest.
A legendary master of the six-string, Gibbons is widely regarded as one of America’s finest guitarists working in the blues rock idiom.Before ZZ Top, who would go on to become an acknowledged symbol of the State of Texas, Billy fronted several bands during his formative years growing up in Houston and soon became a local phenomenon. The Moving Sidewalks was his psychedelic pre-ZZ Top group and had occasion to open for Jimi Hendrix who was so taken with young Gibbons’ fretwork that he called it to the attention of Dick Cavett on national TV.
Now, as then, Billy Gibbons is much more than an iconic guitar slinger with a monumental length of chin whiskers. He’s a internationally recognized collector of guitars and cars, a fact chronicled in the best selling book he wrote about his collecting obsessions, Rock + Roll Gearhead which was published by MBI Publishing.
His guitar collection today numbers more than 800 instruments and includes the “Muddywood,” constructed from fallen timbers from Muddy Waters’ childhood home, the famous “Furry One,” as seem the “Legs” video and his most cherished guitar – “Pearly Gates,” a Les Paul Gibson he values above all others.
The cars he’s commissioned over the years have become stars in their own right: Eliminator, CadZZilla, Kopperhead and others have been major attractions on the car show circuit and have been seen in numerous videos. They are works of art, literal museum pieces. In fact, at this writing, Eliminator is on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and CadZZilla, Coupe de Grace, Slampla and HogZZilla are part of the Petersen Automotive Museum’s current Cars & Guitars of Rock ‘n Roll exhibition in Los Angeles for which he served as Creative Consultant. Beyond guitars and cars, Gibbons has a renowned collection of African art and an abiding interest in both the paranormal and cutting edge technology.
Beyond his work with ZZ Top, he’s recorded with such notable artists as B.B. King, Les Paul, Queens of the Stone Age, Nickelback, Kid Rock, Johnny Winter, John Mayall and others.
On November 6, 2015, Concord Records is releasing Perfectamundo, the debut solo album from Gibbons, who is backed by a handpicked group of musicians dubbed The BFG’s. As the title may suggest, the recording takes on a bit of an Afro-Cuban flavor that may come as a surprise to some Gibbons fans and followers. The concept for Perfectamundo, which was produced by Gibbons and Joe Hardy and recorded in Houston, Los Angeles, Austin and Pontevedra, Spain, originated with Gibbons’ invitation to perform at the 2014 Havana Jazz Festival.
A musician’s musician, Billy F Gibbons is a wellspring of what he likes to refer to as the “three T’s”: tone, taste and tenacity. His transcendent creativity in a broad variety of artistic and intellectual endeavors has stood him in good stead over the years underscoring his undisputed status as music’s most highly regarded Renaissance man.