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ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons balances solo career with keeping blues rock alive

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ZZ Top guitarist/ vocalist Billy F Gibbons’s initials should stand for  Busy Freaking Guy.
 In addition to being one third of iconic Texas blues rock  trio ZZ Top, who visit the Enmax Centre, March 31, he went to Havana and released his new solo CD “Perfectamundo” with his solo band the BFGs,  back in October. Over  their  40 plus year career,  the blues rock veterans have consistently transcended the trends constantly released new music while relentlessly spreadinZZ Top play the Enmax Centre, March 31. Photo submittedg the gospel of the blues around the world.
Gibbons is a busy man, so while I couldn’t actually  talk to him, he was gracious enough to answer a few questions via e-mail about the solo album, collaborations, influences, ZZ Top’s legacy and how they have outlasted many a musical trend. Here is the unedited transcript of the interview.

1. Havana and Cuba really inspired your new  solo CD. What was the biggest influence? Will you be playing some of the solo material in Lethbridge with ZZ Top. Will the Cuban influence find it’s way into new ZZ Top music? Why did you add a hip hop influence to some of it? Will you do another solo CD. Why do one now? Is ZZ Top making new music now?

Billy Gibbons — “The Perfectamundo recordings were undertaken with a sonic aim that would be appropriate to our potential participation in the Havana Jazz Festival.  We wanted to go there with something that reflected the Afro-Cuban approach and that included a hip-hop flavoring which is very much a part of contemporary Latin music. We made it into Havana at the end of last year and, by that time, the Perfectamundo disc was a reality and we were glad we took the time. We may, in fact, come up with another project for myself and the BFGs but Dusty (Hill), Frank (Beard) and I are always thinking about the next ZZ Top project because, as the title of our last album, La Futura, suggests, we strive to be forward looking. The set list in Lethbridge may hold a surprise or two. ”

2. ZZ Top has outlasted a lot of musical trends. What’s the secret to your longevity? How has your friendship with your bandmates contributed to it? How have you kept the same line up for throughout your career?

Billy Gibbons— “It’s no secret actually — it’s there for everybody who comes to see us. We’re having a good time and continue to keep on keeping on because it’s way too much fun to stop. Maybe the fact that we’re an odd (very) number contributes to the fact that we’ve been able to persevere all this while — there's no tie when it comes to making a decision. We’re fine with that.”

3.  Blues music has gone through phases of popularity and unpopularity. Where do you see blues music’ status in today’s music scene? Can you pinpoint a single musician who was the biggest influence on you? Why? What new blues musicians are you a fan of and why?

Billy Gibbons — “Blues is eternal but shape shifting along the way — it’s vital, living music, not something to be locked up in a display case.  The single (blues) musician who was the biggest influence on me personally was B.B. King because, thanks to my musician dad,  I got to attend a recording session of his when I was a youngster — maybe 8 or 9. That made a monumental impression on me and the die was truly cast.  Of course, there are a great number of there musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed,  Muddy Waters, Albert King who contributed to the consciousness raising that resulting in our pursuing the path we did.  Of the new breed of blues cats, we certainly dig Gary Clark, Jr., Ana Popovic and Jon Cleary’s got that New Orleans thing down in a righteous way.  We collaborated on Sweden’s delightful Louise Hoffsten when she covered Elvis Presley’s “King Creole” not too long ago — we got to play with a great talent and salute Elvis at the same time.  Win/win!”

4. Shemekia Copeland  recorded “Jesus Just Left Chicago” on her new CD. And you’ve worked with people like Warren Haynes and Govt. Mule and Buddy Guy. What do you enjoy the most about such collaborations? Do you do a lot of them? What’s your favourite cover of a ZZ Top song?

Billy Gibbons — “In the case of Shemekia, it was one of those choice moments we knew and admired her dad, the great Texas bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland.  It was flattering that she chose to record “Jesus Left Chicago” so we pitched right in.  It’s an enjoyable challenge to try to add something to what these folks are doing — mind expanding without chemicals.   Almost impossible to say which cover of a ZZ Top song is a favorite but we’d have to say, out of respect for our dear departed friend Lemmy that  Motorhead’s “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” was kinda great.  We also dug Ministry’s take on “Just Got Paid,” not forgetting Joan Jett’s version of “Tush.” ”

5. Tell me about the new ZZ Top documentary. Why now? What are you hoping it will achieve?


Billy Gibbons — “It’s being put together by a great team of “rockmentairans” so we’re thinking our saga is in very capable hands.  It’s happening now because someone thought this was a good time but it could have happened 10 or 20 years ago or 10 or 20 years from now. We’re not hoping to achieve anything much beyond telling our story if anybody’s interested in it.”

6. Have you played Lethbridge before? What memories do you have of Lethbridge?

Billy Gibbons — “I don’t think we have, unless you know otherwise. Certainly the performance date there is something that we’re really looking forward to. ”

7.What will the Lethbridge show be like? You have a lot of songs to choose from, how do you choose what to play?

Billy Gibbons — “It’ll be loud. We have a rough set list in mind but that’s always subject to change since it’s true that we do have quite a lot of material from which to choose.  It’s mostly a seat-the-pants kind of thing so you’ll just have to come and see what we’ll be up to when we rock the Enmax Centre at the end of the month.”
 The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $52-$72. Tim Montana and the Shrednecks open the show at 7:30 p.m.
 A version of this story appears in the  March 23, 2016 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
— by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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Last Updated ( Thursday, 31 March 2016 15:36 )  
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