“Who said anything about staying sane? We just do the best to assemble crazy fun out there.”
That was the truly candid response from ZZ Top bandleader Billy Gibbons after being asked how he, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard have managed to handle rigorous touring, songwriting and keeping it collectively cool on the road together since 1970.
ZZ Top has been serving heaping helpings of blues-infused rock n’ roll for half a century, but its members are far too humble to brag. From such immeasurable success, the biggest “Little Ol’ Band from Texas” is at it again.
“We really didn’t take it all in [or] think much about what might lie ahead during our first, say, 47 or 48 years,” said Gibbons. “But this 50th[-anniversary] thing has our attention.”
The lifecycle of ZZ Top is something to behold— the same three hombres have been punching audience’s guts with three chords and the truth for decades. Few Rock & Roll Hall of Famers share that heritage. To date, the Houston-based trio has produced 11 gold, seven platinum and three multi-platinum albums.
On Wednesday, Aug. 1, ZZ Top will belt out its hits once more, this time at Outlaw Field in the Idaho Botanical Garden. And it turns out the band has a longstanding history in Boise.
“It’s almost like a hometown gig for us,” said Gibbons. “Nearly every axe we sling came off the production line and [was] hot-rodded by luthiers extraordinaire, John and Jake Bolin at Bolin Guitars in Boise. You could say that the sonic-sounding goodness heard from us onstage originated in Boise.”
Gibbons was influenced by several classic blues masters, and his father was an orchestra conductor and concert pianist.
“The first for-real blues cat I ever saw—talk about starting from the top—was B.B. King,” said Gibbons. “My dad, himself a true entertainer, saw to it that we attended a B.B. King recording session in Houston. I was maybe 7 or 8, and when I saw and heard what came off B.B.’s guitar, I knew, ‘That’s for me!’ We became lifelong friends.”
As for the 21st-century music scene, Gibbons and the band still takes notice of talented contemporary acts and recognizes an ever-changing record business.
“There’s some great stuff out there,” said Gibbons. “We’re digging LA punk rockers Surprise Vacation, and we’re also fans of Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears from Austin. The business end has certainly changed, but appealing sounds continue to evolve and devolve. … It’s really more about sonic notes rather than banknotes. Deliver and play what you want to hear and when others dig it, you’re on your way.”
Earlier this year, ZZ Top teamed up with another rock legend, John Fogerty, on some recording sessions and a spring/summer tour dubbed Blues and Bayous.
“We bumped into each other a few years back, and the minute this encounter unfolded, the idea of a ZZ/Fogerty tour took hold,” said Gibbons. “… The inevitability was a given, and suddenly, the strategic-though-funky alliance came together.”
ZZ Top is far from hanging up its axes. The trio is in the studio once again, working on an impending new album.
“The title says it all: The Big Bad Blues,” said Gibbons. “I mean, lemme lay it out: “The…Big…Bad…Blues.”
When it comes to performing live, ZZ Top pulls from an overflowing bag of goodness.
“There’s the perennial favorite, Rhythmeen, the obtuse El Loco and the last-in-the-bin La Futura. But the ‘always’ answer has to be Tres Hombres,” said Gibbons. “It starts off with the accidental medley of ‘Waitin’ For The Bus’ banging abruptly into ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’—although the collision was not intended to be joined at the hip, so to speak, a lucky slip at the mastering lab placed the non-existent space between the two into the ethos. It still has a satisfying sudden shift and we still play ’em end-to-end about every night. That album contains another recurring fave and reference to that little ol’ Texas town we call ‘La Grange’ and, of course ‘Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers.'”
Gibbons said the members of ZZ Top know how to “flip that switch” when they walk on stage in order to do what they were born to do.
“We travel in separate motor coaches, which is like being in private houses [and] which presents a somewhat calming effect,” said Gibbons. “But when we get to doing what we like to do…more equals better.”
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