ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons Talks Epic Beards, Killer Tunes And Life Lessons Learned
“You never know what you’re gonna get until the chin whiskers start to fly.”
ZZ Top have been churning out their inimitable brand of Texas blues-rock for nearly 50 years. The beloved power trio are perhaps best known for their ’80s heyday, in which guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill–along with their impressively long beards–and a smooth-chinned drummer named yep, Frank Beard, winked through iconic MTV videos for “Legs,” “Gimme All Your Lovin'” and “Sharp Dressed Man.”
But even before selling millions of records and becoming global superstars, ZZ Top was dropping greasy, blues-driven jams like “Cheap Sunglasses,” “Tush,” “”La Grange” and “Tube Steak Boogie,” so they were always pretty much destined for immortality.
The “Little Ol’ Band from Texas” has recently embarked on yet another national tour (they’ve been together since 1969) and are celebrating the vinyl release of Cinco: The First Five LPs, available June 9 on heavyweight 180-gram wax and packaged in a box inspired by the “Nudie Suits” they sometimes wear onstage.
Gibbons chatted with Maxim about musical influences, tequila, women and what he’s learned during a life on the road.
What did you think of Jimmy Fallon and Chris Stapleton’s recent riff on “Legs”?
I’m impressed that they got their fuzzy guitars up and spinning… and in sync, of all things! The mechanics to get the spin worked out takes a while to master. Chris, Jimmy and Kevin [Bacon] did a stellar job and, of course, the adaptation of the lyrics are guffaw-worthy. The beards and Beard made the grade!
What are you listening to these days, and who are your all-time favorites?
All time favorites? Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Reed, Jimmie Vaughan…that takes care of those who started out as “James.” Gotta include Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. B.B., Freddie and Albert and takes care of “the Kings.” These days we’ve been digging L.A. punkers Surprise Vacation and back to the basics with Depeche Mode.
You famously have an amazing beard, and you must have noticed that beards are definitely back in fashion. What must every man do to grow the perfect one?
Wash, condition, pat dry and repeat. You never know what you’re gonna get until the chin whiskers start to fly. Totally trial…or error.
Fair enough. What’s the one foolproof way to win a woman’s heart?
Write a song for her and sing it to her. Flowers are helpful, as is jewelry, but the song’s the thing.
And your favorite kind of booze?
We’re partial to Pura Vida tequila, 100% agave from Los Altos in the highlands of Jalisco State. It’s the foundation of a great margarita but is, perhaps, best enjoyed by itself. Sabroso!
How about your most treasured guitar?
That’s our beloved Pearly Gates, a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard that has been a lifelong companion. Nothing has really ever sounded as wonderful as our girl Pearl.
What’s the one song you wish you would have written?
Good question. It’s a tie between Jimi’s “Foxy Lady” and Muddy’s “Mannish Boy.”
How did ZZ Top decide on the direction of the MTV videos that made you guys global superstars? Also: whatever happened to that car?
We told Tim Newman—Randy’s cousin—who directed “Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’”– that we didn’t want to be the stars of our videos… just bit players or, maybe a modern day Greek chorus to help the narrative flow.
In truth, we weren’t thinking of seeing ourselves all that much. We did suggest the party would best be served with pretty girls and our pretty little car, and that is exactly how it worked out.
The Eliminator car, a ’33 Ford three-window coupe, is on loan at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hello, Cleveland!
What’s the best lesson you learned from life on the road?
Pajamas… wear them before and after you’re on stage. Comfort is king!
Got any last words for Maxim readers?
Come on out and see us at an arena, festival or roadhouse near you. It’s gonna be loud and it’s gonna be a party!