Billy Gibbons and company may hold the record for the band with the longest continual lineup. True, the stones just celebrated their 50th anniversary back in 2012, but original guitarist Brian Jones left in 1968 and was replaced by Mick Taylor and then Ronnie Wood, who has been there since ’75. Original bass player Wyman retired in 1993. Jagger and Richards have been playing together for 52 years. ZZ Top has had unaltered lineup since 1971; they haven’t quite reached the longevity of the Stones yet, but at 43 years it still impressive.
In many ways, Gibbons and co are the anti-rock stars. They have ridiculous studded and jewel-encrusted jackets, their lyrics are rather silly and their beards are more in lineup with metal bands than rock and roll. These “old dudes with huge beards and Texas accents” seem more like outlaw truckers than raging musicians who take a lot of drugs and shag plenty of women. And yet, this is precisely what makes them legends and has kept them alive all these years. Being in my mid-20s, I had heard of ZZ Top but was not super familiar with their tunes. Evidently I heard some of them before.
Billy Gibbons is a fantastic guitar player. While he may not get the same praise as greats such as Hendrix, Allman (Duane), Clapton and Page, he deserves his place among them. In fact, in 2003, David Fricke of Rolling Stone named Billy Gibbons as the 32nd greatest guitarist of all time. For comparison Hendrix and Allman are listed as Nos. 1 & 2, Clapton is 4th and Page is number nine (Not to be outdone, The Los Angeles Times ranks Page at Number two; they have Allman as the best). The full list can be seen here. Since two of those four are dead, along with many others in the top 100, it was an honour to see such a technician at work.
He is also wickedly funny. The audience forgave him I’m sure for saying that the band took the ferry from “Victoria Island” (for those of you not in Canada, they played in Victoria, which is on Vancouver Island, before taking the ferry to the mainland). He also told a joke about these farmer shirts one can buy with the home of his hometown written on it. Apparently Gibbons had bought one with Hollywood, California on it. When asked about its farming community, he replied “there are plenty of farmers in Hollywood”. Vancouverites love a good marijuana joke.
Anywho, the music itself was an orgy of trucker blues with classic rock undercut by tongue-in-cheek vocals. And yet they are not one of those joke, parody bands like Steel Panther. They are Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted technicians – not only Gibbons but also bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard; all three of them are masters – and have sold over 50 million records. Of their 15 studio albums, 13 have gone multi-platinum, and 11 gold. Not bad for a bunch of cowboys. They may look like they still live in 1960s but they are very in touch with today’s world. (Or universe as the case may)
Flyin’ High, which is a single off their latest album La Futura was released aboard the International Space station. It was taken into orbit on a Soyuz rocket by astronaut Mike Fossum, a longtime friend and fan of the band, as part of Expedition 28. How many bands can say that? Here’s to another 40 years.
La Futura was released on September 11, 2012.
For a very different Top 100, have a look at Spin’s list from 2012: http://www.spin.com/articles/spins-100-greatest-guitarists-all-time/