Thursday 24 August 2017

Sharp dressed men with riffs to match

Playing an eagerly awaited 3Arena show on July 28, ZZ Top have been rocking the world for nearly five decades

BOOGIETASTIC: ZZ Top guitarists Billy Gibbons, right, and Dusty Hill
BOOGIETASTIC: ZZ Top guitarists Billy Gibbons, right, and Dusty Hill
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

ZZ Top's hirsute divine being of boogie himself Billy Gibbons took a break from an interview with The New Yorker in 2005 to make a phone call. At the end of it, the journalist inquired who he was talking to.

The answer said as much about Billy Gibbons as it did about the salty, captivating music he has made for almost five decades with his little ol' band from Texas.

"Who was that?" Billy replied: "Elwood Francis, our guitar technician. Took a brief absence from the tour in order to escort his wife to China, where they successfully adopted a baby girl named Joshi. In his absence, his post was attended by a talented technician named Sammy Sanchez, who introduced me to a guitar called the Turbo Diddly, which is made from an old wooden cigar box. It has what you call a resonator, and it sounds like a bad recording from 1949. The guy who makes it, Kurt Schoen, is a pilot for UPS."

Jimi Hendrix once described Gibbons as America's best guitar player, but he didn't grow up around down-and-dirty rock 'n' roll. His father, Frederick Royal Gibbons, was a classically trained orchestra conductor, concert pianist and film score arranger who had moved from his hometown New York in the 1930s to Texas where for a time he conducted the Houston Philharmonic.

Billy, born in Houston on December 16, 1949, went on to become the backbone of one of the world's most hardcore trios.

He, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard (the one in ZZ Top without a beard) have been together since 1969. The Oscar Wilde of hard boogie blues says that if he wasn't in the present job other careers that he might have pursued include: "A haberdasher, painter, cartoonist, short-order cook. Or maybe a pharmacist."

Haberdashery's loss was boogietastic R&B's gain, etc.

He described their signature sound as "like four flat tyres on a muddy road". Those four flat tyres on a muddy Texas back-road has been recognised on everything from La Grange, Tush, and Jesus Just Left Chicago to tracks like Legs, Sharp Dressed Man and Gimme All Your Lovin' that turned ZZ Top into a household name (and sold them millions upon millions of CDs) with their mastery of pre-politically correct innuendo and double meanings.

Prior to hitching his sonic star to Hill and Beard, in 1966 Billy formed a psychedelic combo called The Moving Sidewalks who supported the aforesaid Jim Hendrix on tour in 1968.

"When we were supporting Jimi, I was sitting in my hotel room one night and practised a little. Then this dude stuck his head through the door - it was Jimi Hendrix!" Billy recalled. "I felt paralysed and speechless. He grabbed my guitar, laid down on the floor, looked at the ceiling and played some unbelievable licks. Afterwards he showed me some tricks. I learned a lot from him."

Billy continued: "There's another night I will never forget. After a show somewhere we were so full of adrenalin still that no one could sleep. Back then, there was no curfew at the venues, which meant you could stay as long as you wanted. It must've been 3am, Jimi's Marshall stacks were still up on stage, when one of his roadies brought huge sheets of paper, buckets of fluorescent colour and two cleaning mops.

"The paper was hung as a backdrop, the cleaning mops were stuck on to two guitars. Jimi plugged in and went into a furious sound and feedback assault. Again and again he dipped his guitar in the fluorescent colour and ecstatically smeared it on the paper. He told me to try it too, and that's what I did. We played until we were dizzy. That was all so bizarre, and you could feel the energy. Needless to say we didn't get any more sleep that night."

Doubtless no one will get any sleep either when ZZ Top play Dublin on July 28.

Sunday Independent

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