An Interview With ZZ Top's Reverend Billy Gibbons
For over 40 years ZZ Top has been defining their version of Texas rock and have always done it in an unmistakable way, with a tone that is as signature as the long beards and sunglasses. Having produced 15 albums, tons of hits and circled the globe many times over rocking out concert halls, ZZ Top has earned their place in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Not only has ZZ Top managed to stay together while many rock bands from the era have broken apart, but Billy, Frank and Dusty continue to crank out great music and tour like a Texas tornado.
Are there still great pawn shop guitars out there to be found? Or has eBay impinged upon the culture of the pawn shop guitar or pedal find?
“Oh, yes…! There are those rare occasions when the odd, the unusual, and the exotic manage to surface. There’s a real pawn shop in Akron from the 50s that simply closed down with locked doors awaiting to someday reopen. Through the darkened window, some choice specialties await.”
Of the many things you’re famous for, one of them is your way with the pinch harmonic. When did you first discover this technique? Was it a happy accident? A lesson passed down from another guitarist?
“Listening and watching steel guitarists at work. The use of harmonic picking has been played and recorded for seemingly forever. I’ve simply modified the technique to allow it to work with a plectrum.”
Your tone has long been defined as a true Texas rock sound – what gear do you use to get that tone?
“Well, it’s no secret that the earliest defined sound with the band arrived with the acquisition of the infamous “Pearly Gates”, a fine ’59 Gibson ‘Burst. The real challenge continues on, attempting to emulate the technique by the many great Texas players who founded the longstanding tradition of fierce guitar stylings.”
There is a jar of who knows what down in Seymour’s office with your initials and Seymour’s on it, and a pickup submerged in it – can you tell us the story of this?
“Yes, Seymour rose to the occasion to test whether a pickup would continue to function underwater. We submerged a very early example of the Seymour Duncan “Pearly Gates” model humbucking pickup into a simple Mason jar, wired to an output line to allow checking performance. It’s now been submarined maintaining complete utility for 3 decades…!”
Is it true that you once considered making a pickup out of a meteorite?”
“Yes, we obtained a chunk that fell to earth, large enough to cut a sliver for magnetizing in order for Seymour to fabricate a working model. It’s outta-this-world…!”
Guitars: what was the one that got away?
“The next one…!”
What’s the secret to keeping a band together for over 40 years?
“Play what you want to hear. Keep it fresh and keep the enjoyment factor in focus.”
When you’re recording, do you like to create an environment? We hear stories of David Lee Roth shipping in sand and deck chairs to fuel his creative juices.
“Well, when commitment to interpretation became ingrained in the band’s aim to keep things blue, we’ve not shied from placing African objects in the pathway to the control room as a pleasant reminder where it all began. And, let’s face it, there’s always a wealth of Seymour Duncan’s masterpieces working away underneath them strings…! Rock on…!”
You can check out ZZ Top’s new album La Futura and get tour dates at: http://www.zztop.com/