"He grabbed me and said, I like you. You've got a lot of nerve": ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons on the night his teenage band supported Jimi Hendrix, and closed their set with Foxy Lady and Purple Haze

Billy Gibbons and Jimi Hendrix
(Image credit: Tom Hill/WireImage | Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Future ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons was still in his teens when he founded Houston, Texas psych-blues band The Moving Sidewalks, and secured a booking to support The Jimi Hendrix Experience at shows in Fort Worth and Houston in February 1968. The Moving Sidewalks were required to play a 40-minute set each night in their contract, and Gibbons quickly realised that the only way that his band could stretch their set to the required length was by including the two Jimi Hendrix covers they regularly played at gigs, his 1967 singles Foxy Lady and Purple Haze. It's not as if Hendrix would notice, right?


"I'll never forget the opening night, we played Foxy Lady and were going into the intro to Purple Haze, and I happened to look over to the side of the stage, and there in the shadows was Jimi Hendrix with his arms folded, grinning," Gibbons recalled in a later TV interview with US broadcasting legend Dan Rather. "He made a bonded friendship right off the bat."

In a 2021 interview with MOJO magazine, Gibbons picked up the story.

"When we walked off stage, he grabbed me and said, I like you. You've got a lot of nerve. Later, there was quite a bit of panic as we tried to get hotel rooms. We were escorted to the far end of the hallway. But Jimi said, 'Hey, take the room across the way'."

Asked by writer David Fricke what lessons he took from his time with Hendrix, Gibbons noted that the Seattle-born guitarist "was doing things with the electric guitar that had not even been thought of, that it was not designed for."

"I was playing a Stratocaster, another thing that endeared me to him," he recalled. One night, in the hotel, he said, 'Come check this out.' He was taking the spring off the whammy bar, cutting two [coils] off the spring so you could really push the bar down - just dive bomb."

"There was the string-bending - how he got that effect in Foxy Lady - and that powerhouse backing of Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass. Jimi often said, 'Man, isn't it great? I can go from here to the stratosphere, knowing that l've got a rock-solid wall supporting those excursions. Nobody loses the beat. Nobody loses the sense of where the music is going.' From that, I had Dusty [Hill, late ZZ Top bassist] and Frank [Beard, ZZ Top drummer] doing much the same, offering a rock-solid foundation: going through the changes but hammering the tonic [note]. That lives on today."

In his interview with Dan Rather, Gibbons recalled Hendrix being a "shy" character off-stage, but added, "but when the lights came on, he came aglow. And man, he would set about doing things with that guitar that were just otherworldly."

Gibbons would later tell Classic Rock that the whole experience was "a real mind-bender and eye-opener to say the least."

Watch a clip of the interview with Dan Rather below:

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.