Five decades of rollicking, blues rock ’n’ roll later, ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons is just as cool and curious as his early days.
He still has his characteristic on-stage swagger. He’s still regularly paying homage to his heroes like B.B. King and blues songwriter Jimmy Reed. And he’s still pushing the envelope: Last year, he recorded a Cuban-inspired solo record called “Perfectamundo.”
Ahead of shows celebrating ZZ Top’s “Greatest Hits Live” compilation (out now), we asked the 66-year-old Gibbons to look back on his musical career.
While earlier material with ZZ Top focused in on blues rock, your records from the ’80s shifted to include more synths. What do you think synths added to ZZ Top?
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They are two approaches toward a common ground. Although the mechanics may differ, the sounds aim to become part of the same thing.
So many years later, you’re still playing with all of ZZ Top’s original members. What’s your musical relationship with them like?
It’s steady as she goes. Dusty [Hill] and Frank [Beard] and I have a telepathic relationship, and that’s pretty much been the case since we first got together. We communicate with each other non-verbally; it’s somewhat intuitive regarding what each of us is about to deliver.
It’s an uncanny exchange and it remains a constant. I can probably tell you what Frank shot in golf today without having to ask him and, likewise, Dusty probably knows how many tacos make our take-out order.
What did you learn about music from recording and performing "Perfectamundo"?
It was really an excursion of putting the beat up front and the rhythm out back. For this unexpected venture into the former unknown, we began to come to grips with the power of the punch and get why it works.
After playing countless live shows, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about performing to an audience?
Play what you want to hear. That makes it work and it then it works for those wanting and waiting to be moved in the live arena.