By Jeb Wright
ZZ Top’s iconic frontman/guitarist/vocalist/songwriting bearded reverend, Billy Gibbons, first met guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Beck wayyyy back in the 1960’s. Despite a strong friendship and mutual respect of each other as people and musicians, the guitar maestro and that little 'ol band from Texas never toured together. The travesty!
Good news! The wait is over as ZZ Top and Jeff Beck have teamed up for a five week run of shows across the old US of A this summer. Sure the boys may be a tad older and a bit frailer but they can both still satisfy on the six-strings. While their styles may be different, the talent level and songwriting are sharp as the edge on a newly forged switchblade.
The tour kicked off August 8th in Montana and Classic Rock Revisited bent the ear of the willing Rev who told us all bout what we can expect—well most of what we can expect anyway—while sharing his personal history with one of the best guitar players in rock and roll history.
Jeb: Jeff Beck and ZZ Top have started the show! Tell me about opening night? Did you and Jeff jam?
Billy: It all went down in Missoula, Montana a/k/a “Home of the blues.” Jeff did his set and ZZ did its, then a finale with Jeff joining in for "La Grange" and "Tush." Jeff’s something else and what a pleasure to be able to hang out with him both on and offstage. This combination is something of a dream. Our pre-ZZ band, The Moving Sidewalks, shared the bill with The Jeff Beck Group going back to 1968 so this is, in essence, a long-overdue reunion on a certain level.
Jeb: While you all come from the same era, ZZ and Beck are two different styles… one is Texas BBQ and the other English Truffle. How did the idea come to get together and do a tour?
Billy: Beg to differ — tain't exactly "truffle"… rather, shall we say, "blues-based and bad ass shuffle…!" Anyway, we’ve known each other for eons and mutual admiration was hardly concealed. Respective management put heads together then put us together so here we is; one of those “what if” ideas that has come to life.
Jeb: Back in 2009 Jeff joined you for “Foxey Lady” and “Rough Boy” at the Hall of Fame. I know you have mega respect for Jeff so tell me how that went down and what was going through your mind rehearsing and then performing with such a true icon or rock.
Billy: Well, we all have Hendrix in common so the decision was made to celebrate it with “Foxey Lady” which only made sense since we both knew Jimi and are both still in awe of his playing. Turns out that “Rough Boy” is a favorite of Jeff’s — it’s very meaningful to him, he candidly revealed — and it was his choice to do that one as a collaboration. The thing about Jeff is that he’s the best there and at the same time, very approachable. The guy plays like a god but hangs out like a regular guy.
Jeb: I saw a great photo of Jeff and you speaking during the Guitar World photo shoot. What were discussing?
Billy: Probably getting out of the hot sun. It was around 100 degrees during the session and we were getting french-fried. We did have a discussion about amplifiers — I clued him in to the Magnatone line that has now been resurrected.
Jeb: The shot was by Ross Halfin. You ever get tired of that camera guy following you around? Seriously, the guy can do with a camera what you do with a guitar.
Billy: Never tire of Ross. He’s done quite a few shoots with us and gets the job done quite expeditiously. He artful and efficient —you gotta respect that.
Jeb: I have heard legend that “Jeff’s Boogie” made an impact on you as a young man and a young musician.
Billy: When you hear it you can only imagine what his hands are doing—there’s a lot going on so it fires you up to figure out how to replicate it, as if replicating it is within the realm of possibility. HA! Of course, when you see Jeff do it, one is still left trying to figure out all that’s going on. Jeff’s as much a magician and he is a musician.
Jeb: Did Jeff inspire you as a guitar player. You both have unique and funky approaches to how the six strings should be plunked.
Billy: Yes, indeed! Those Yardbirds records like “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” remain a definite thrill ride and will be for years. We might play slightly different, but it’s strangely compatible...maybe a yin and yang thang on a certain level.
Jeb: Jeff is a finger player. You should get him to try a peso.
Billy: Hey, no problem. His credit is good or should I say “Su credito es bueno”?
Jeb: Will there be any surprises on this tour, either jamming with Jeff or some ZZ songs that you have not performed in a while?
Billy: If we tell you then there won’t be a surprise. We do play with Jeff when the feel is right.
Jeb: Beck called you the “The Professor of Grunge.” What does that even mean? He also said he wanted to play with you since he heard Eliminator. I have mad respect for Jeff but he should have felt that way since Tres Hombres!
Billy: That means we never play it too clean. You’re asking us to interpret what he said so maybe that’s not fair. Gotta ask 'im. We think that grunge refers to grit and grime and since we’re both hot rod cats; that simply comes with the territory. As far as his picking up on Eliminator, we dig it... he was probably touring in Japan or Finland when Tres Hombres first came out.
Jeb: Last one: Tell me more about the Moving Sidewalks and Jeff Beck hanging out. Ever get to hang with the maestro back in the day?
Billy: Oh, yes. We met Jeff when the Moving Sidewalks shared bills with The Jeff Beck Group — this was 1968 where we first got to hang out and start a friendship. He turned us onto Marshall amps and gave us some other great gear pointers. There have never been and ZZ/JB co-bills until now so we’re making up for lost time.
Jeb: Oops, one more…gotta ask, La Futura rocked. You released the live album on Eagle Rock, which is killer by the way, but will there be another studio album?
Billy: Yes, we’re contemplating what the next studio album will be and are scheduling some new, back in the studio time to lay it down…sooner than later.
For all tour dates please visit www.zztop.com
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