Why ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons Will Never Retire
The singer and guitarist wrapped up a series of overseas tour dates with his solo band the BFG's less than two weeks before ZZ Top's tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd kicked off. He tells UCR why a farewell tour isn't on his radar and how a conversation with Keith Richards helped give him a new perspective on the subject.
Gibbons also talks about the new ZZ Top album that has reportedly been in the works, his long relationship with Skynyrd and other plans that will keep him busy until the end of the year and beyond.
What are some of your earliest memories of Lynyrd Skynyrd?
We really liked the compositional elements that they put together. They had a bit of a different approach from ZZ Top, we being a trio and they of course had, not one, not two, but three guitar players. Of course, they were [also] augmented with piano. Through the years, their lineup has maintained what I call a real sophisticated complexity. [Laughs] I don’t know if those two words go together, but they certainly pull it off.
Watch Billy Gibbons, Slash and Others Pay Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd
You helped honor Gary Rossington and Lynyrd Skynyrd at the CMT Awards earlier this year. It was a great tribute to their legacy.
Indeed. I was wrapping up a recording session in Nashville. As I was leaving the studio, I heard somebody call my name. It turned out to be a gentleman sitting in an SUV that was parked adjacent to the doorway of the studio. I recognized that it was a guy I had met on a number of occasions. He’s the promoter of that awards presentation, and he summoned me over to the window. He said, “Hey, I’m glad I saw you. I need your advice.” I said, “What might that be?” He said, “What would you think about putting together a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute, with this being so close after the passing of [Rossington], the last surviving member.” I said, “Gee, that would be quite fitting to become part of that.” He said, “OK, you’re it.” [Laughs] There was just a short fuse to organize what turned out to be a stunning lineup for the presentation of two Lynyrd Skynyrd favorites, “Simple Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” With the stellar positioning of those that participated, we felt like it was the right way to bring a nice focus and a bit of attention to a group that has lasted longer than most. It’s funny because I got into the elevator after the rehearsal to go into the dressing room. I felt somebody tapping me on the shoulder. It was Johnny Van Zant and Rickey Medlocke. They said, “Isn’t it interesting we’ve both enjoyed being in bands that have managed to draw crowds all over the planet.” I said, “Yeah, that’s pretty cool. You know, I could be in Tucson, Arizona, playing a show, or I could be in Madrid, Spain. Inevitably, after about the second song, there’s always a guy in the second row that leans up and screams at the top of his lungs, ‘Play some Skynyrd!’ Tonight, we get to do just that.”
You were touring overseas with the BFG's less than two weeks before the tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd kicked off. How do you shift gears?
I was talking with our drummer, Matt Sorum. I was able to brag to Matt, “Well, I’ve successfully returned from a nice run across Europe, which included some dates in England.” Lo and behold, two of the more robust responses came from one of the songs off of the recent BFG’s release, Hardware, the song called, “More-More-More” and a newer song called “The Devil Is Red.” I composed that with Matt. My two partners, [drummer] Frank Beard and [bassist] Elwood Francis, now want to include a couple of the BFG's songs in a ZZ Top show. So the influences are spreading far and wide, which we think is kind of cool.
Watch Billy Gibbons Perform 'The Devil Is Red'
A lot of your peers have announced farewell tours. How do you see yourself approaching that when the time comes?
I borrow the conversation from an exchange I was able to enjoy with Keith Richards. He said, “Man, if we’re lucky enough to follow the words of Muddy Waters, he said, ‘Do it until you die.’” Of course, Muddy Waters was lucky enough to do just that. He was playing right up until the end. So we should be fortunate, I guess.
Where are things with the new ZZ Top album?
We’ve got some ZZ Top sessions. I’ve got about half a dozen tracks from the recent BFG's rehearsals, which is Austin Hanks on the left-handed guitar and Matt Sorum on drums. But we’ve also got some tracks that were developed - some of it goes back over two years. So there’s some BFG stuff in the wind as well as ZZ Top. Get ready.