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Billy Gibbons: Don't Mess With Texas

ZZ Top mainman Billy Gibbons has taken some time off to indulge in his love of Cuban and Latin music with his new band The BFG’s. He tells us of beards, blues and picking up chicks…

Today ZZ Top’s gleaming tour bus is parked up in an especially picturesque spot on the outskirts of the old Colorado mining town of Telluride, population less than three thousand.

Sited at the head of a verdant Rocky Mountains canyon and bordered on three sides by sheer, iron-grey cliff walls, Telluride is evocative of rugged frontiersmen and gold rushes. Tomorrow evening the self-styled ‘little ol’ band from Texas’ will headline Telluride’s annual Blues And Brews Festival, their latest engagement on a three-month-long swing around North America also known as the Grooves & Gravy Tour. 

For the past two days, storms and high winds have buffeted the Midwestern heartlands, forcing the trio to cancel a scheduled outdoor show in Boise, Idaho. Gibbons was particularly put out by this, since he was also meant to take delivery of a batch of new guitars from his man in Boise. On this late-summer afternoon, though, the clear mountain air is still and benign, there’s a milky sun high up in the pale blue sky, and Gibbons, a spry 65, is otherwise at peace with the world. He enjoys indulging his passion for travel on the road, and has done so now for going on 50 years as a professional musician. 

The son of a concert pianist, Gibbons started out fronting the Moving Sidewalks, a trippy, psychedelic-blues quartet he formed at 18 in his native Houston, Texas and who opened up for both Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. Hendrix was moved to proclaim him America’s greatest living guitarist. Gibbons pitched up next in ZZ Top, debuting the line-up of the band that still endures – with bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard – at the Knights Of Columbus Hall in Beaumont, Texas on February 10, 1970. From then until now, they’ve ticked over like a finely tuned engine, fuelled by a rich soup of high-octane boogie and soulful Texan blues, and oiled by Gibbons’s ringing, stinging guitar. As a band they are also, of course, synonymous with chest-length beards, their tongue-in-cheek videos and with each other. Gibbons has guested with everyone from BB King to Queens Of The Stone Age and Al Jourgensen’s Revolting Cocks, but he, Hill and Beard have stuck so close as to appear grafted together.

Late last year, though, Gibbons was invited out to Havana, Cuba to perform – without Hill and Beard – at the city’s well-established jazz festival. In the event, the date proved to be unworkable for him, but it was nonetheless the catalyst for his first solo album. Credited to Billy Gibbons and a four-piece backing band called The BFG’s, and recorded in Houston, Austin, Los Angeles and Spain, the resulting Perfectamundo sounds, rather fetchingly, like a mambo ZZ Top. Introducing Latin American percussion and brass inflections to his more familiar 12-bar gumbo has, it transpires, put a spring in Gibbons’s step. 

“Why now?” he muses in his Texan burr, when asked what took him so long to step outside the ZZ Top tent. “Well, that is a good question, and I’m still trying to figure the answer out.” 

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