ZZ Top and Jeff Beck may seem like odd bedfellows. ZZ Top is all-American; Jeff Beck is British. ZZ Top is celebrating its 45th anniversary, while Jeff Beck's groups -- the Yardbirds and the Jeff Beck Group -- were comparatively fleeting. But these Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are two branches of the same blues roots -- in fact, ZZ Top counts Beck as a major influence. After playing a couple one-offs together, the Texas trio invited the legendary guitarist out on a five-week summer tour, which starts August 8. I chatted with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons about the tour, the whiskers, wheels, women, and his favorite apps.
What does it mean to you to be touring with Jeff Beck? What can fans expect at the shows?
It means the world to us. Jeff, both as part of the Yardbirds and as leader of the Jeff Beck Group, was one of the guys we most admired and listened to when we were coming up. He's got it all: technique, taste, and he's a real innovator -- what we call "the realist deal goin' down." We certainly expect to be joining forces onstage, and we've got a hot and heavy email correspondence going on right now to determine appropriate repertoire choices and approaches.
Going back, when you and your bandmate Dusty Hill grew your iconic beards while the band was on hiatus, was that a coordinated effort? Or was it independent, like the Egyptian and Aztec pyramids?
No, it was completely spontaneous. While we were off the road for that, we did speak to each other on the phone, but the subject of chin whiskers just never came up. When we finally got back together, in the flesh, we were both completely amazed at what had happened to the other. Dusty and I -- as the British say -- were gobsmacked!
Sound engineer Linden Hudson was described as a high-tech music teacher on your highly successful "Eliminator" album. How much did the band experiment with electronic instruments prior to that album, and what did you learn through that experience?
We had always been open to technology and what it had to offer, and, as a matter of fact, so did our forebears. Muddy Waters went electric when resources and circumstance allowed him to do so, and we went "electronic" when we had that opportunity. It was an eye-opener in terms of what could be achieved but also taught us that the roots of what we do, i.e., the blues, is at the very core of our craft. These seemingly disparate elements can certainly co-exist, and we're living proof of that.
As "Official Heroes for the State of Texas" and one of the state's most famous exports, what are the three best things about your home state? Also, are there any misconceptions that you'd like to clear up?
The three most amazing things are Tex-Mex food, Texas blues, and a trio of guys named Frank, Dusty, and Billy. OK, if you want to keep us out of it, I guess the fact that the legislature of a state that was once a sovereign nation would take the time to designate three scruffy rock-and-rollers as heroes is pretty amazing. Did I mention the Tex-Mex food? One of the misconceptions is that we're all walking around with ten-gallon hats and fancy cowboys boots. That only applies to 90 percent of the population.
"Sharp Dressed Man" is used as the "Duck Dynasty" theme song. How did that come about?
It's pretty apparent that their look recalls us in a few ways, so they used the song to underscore that reality. Of course, it's paradoxical, because camouflage fatigues are not what the song had in mind, but on a certain level, that can be pretty sharp.
In the early '80s, it was very bold for guys to have such long beards -- especially in big cities and on MTV -- but today everyone has really embraced the long beards. Does ZZ Top deserve some of the credit?
I guess we do, but as noted, it wasn't calculated. It might have helped us get more exposure on MTV, since without the beards we're not all that telegenic. We give credit where it's due: to Rutherford B. Hayes.
The ZZ Top women and your '33 Ford Coupe were both subjects of male fantasies in the '80s. How did those components enter into the equation, and did they ever overshadow the music?
There's a holy trinity in pop culture that dates back many decades: cars, girls, and rock 'n' roll. In fact, the very first rock 'n' roll song, or at least the one credited with being first, was "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brentson, who fronted Ike Turner's outfit at Sun Records. Yes, the car was what they were singing about, because it attracted girls. We certainly didn't invent this wheel, but we put it on radial thirds in some respects. We don't think the car overshadowed the music; it just illustrated it.
Were you able to drive the car, or would it have attracted too much attention?
Yes, we've driven the car on occasion, and it does attract a lot of eyeballs. It's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on loan, for the moment. Get out to Cleveland and kick the tires if you get a chance.
Music aside, you might be the first vegetarian to put out a BBQ/hot sauce line. Do you have any tips for how vegetarians can use it?
Goes great on tofu, add it to veggie burgers; heck, splash it on your quinoa and kale.
Outside of music, you also had a recurring role on the TV series "Bones." What is your dream acting project to work on in the future?
I'd like to play an outlaw who drives a Cadillac-based hot rod in a futurist fantasy. Is that specific enough? Oh yeah, I could get two other guys that I know to join me, and we'd be called ZzzzzzzzTop.
Which mobile apps make your engine purr?
1. Shazam, because we always want to win when we play "name that tune."
2. Waze, because LA traffic can be challenging, and it's good to have an army of accomplices when you hit the road.
3. Uber: Traffic, parking, and partying are all issues we face. Uber gets you there without having to worry about any of them too much.
4. iTip: We see what they suggest and then round it up.
5. The Weather Channel, because we travel so much and through so many climates, so it's comforting to know what to anticipate.