Inside the mind of the guitarist: ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons

ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons
ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons
(Image: © Gerardo Ortiz)

It’s been a busy year for Billy Gibbons. Last July he released his debut solo album Perfectamundo, while ZZ Top have been on the road for much of this year. A new album, Live: Greatest Hits From Around The World is released on Friday, and the band appear on the cover of the new issue of Classic Rock. We spoke to Billy in London.

The song that made me want to pick up the guitar was…

Anything by the great bluesman Jimmy Reed. His music drew me like a magnet. If you want a specific song then it was his first single, High And Lonesome.

The first guitar I owned was…

A 1962 Gibson Melodymaker, a single pick-up, single cutaway. A nice guitar to start off with – it was a full on solid body. I used it with a Fender Champ tweed amplifier.

My first guitar teacher was…

Chuck Berry. Or Bo Diddley. It would have been one or the other of those.

The first thing I learned on a guitar was…

What’d I Say by Ray Charles. Is it a hard one to begin with? Well, it all depends on the player. That first guitar I mentioned was dragged out from beneath the Christmas tree, I’d just turned 13; I plugged it in, cranked it up and by the end of the afternoon I’d worked out that opening figure.

The best bit of advice another guitarist has given me is…

I picked up quite a bit from BB King during a friendship that lasted for many years. One of the best things he said to me was, ‘I always found it handy to learn to play what I wanted to hear’.

The most underrated guitarist in history is…

My cheeky and hopefully humorous answer to that is… you know what? I can’t place his name at the moment. [He laughs]: haw, haw, haw.

The one thing Billy Gibbons can do on guitar that no one else can is…

Oh gee. Since it all emanates from the hands, it would be difficult to swap with anyone else. So I guess my answer is everything.

The most I’ve spent on a guitar is…

A dollar’s too many and a hundred ain’t enough.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate myself as…

[In an amazingly accurate Nigel Tufnell voice]: Does it go to 11?

The album I want to be buried with is…

Anything by Jimmy Reed. The best one to start with is the self-titled one, I’m Jimmy Reed.

If I wasn’t a musician I’d be…

A pharmacist.

The one thing I’ve never told anyone about myself is…

The things that I would rather bury are so plentiful that they’d fill more than one page.

The guitarist I’d most like to do battle with at The Crossroads is…

Jeff Beck. I’m here in London today but tomorrow night I’m appearing with Jeff at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. He’s celebrating 50 years in the business. He’s also a guest on our new release, Greatest Hits Live, playing Sixteen Tons. It was recorded on Jeff’s birthday when he made the trek to come and join us at Wembley Arena.

The worst thing about singers is…

Being white.

My musical nemesis is…

Jeff Beck. Haw, haw, haw.

The silliest I’ve ever looked onstage was when…

That would be last evening. And most likely tomorrow evening as well.

My favourite musician joke is…

Oh, it’s a very old one but it still holds water. How do you know when a drummer’s at the door? It’s quite simple… the knocking speeds up.

Metal Detector: ZZ Top