Rant ‘N’ Roll: A Quick Word From ZZ Top’s Billy F Gibbons

The tour’s almost over. ZZ Top’s Billy F Gibbons has been supporting the release of the kick-ass Afro-Cuban-scented Perfectamundo (Concord Records) by Billy Gibbons and The BFGs, his solo band away from the motherhood of ZZ land. Dude’s sold millions and millions of records since The Moving Sidewalks (1967) became ZZ Top in 1969 with a lineup that hasn’t suffered a personnel change in 47 years. This, then, is the first solo project from any of ‘em. The fact that Perfectamundo has a definite Afro-Cuban feel comes as a bit of a surprise, less so if you know that Gibbons once studied conga, bongo, maracas and timbales in New York City under the tutelage of the legendary Tito Puente [1923-2000] who was a friend of Billy’s bandleader dad.

Lucky for us, the tour ends on February 6 in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, with a blow-out gig (as most final stops are) at the Sherman Theater. Better get there early because parking’s a bitch on Main Street. If you do, you’ll have time to sample the neighborhood’s cool haunts be they bars, restaurants, Main Street Jukebox (right next door; say hello to my man Tom) and Carroll & Carroll (great book store).

The show had been scheduled for late last year but had to be postponed. When asked why, Gibbons tells Rant ‘N’ Roll that “we had hoped to start the tour—of which the Stroudsburg date was part of a bit earlier—but it took a beat or two to put all the elements in place. Things are up and running and we’ve been having a really good time as have the audiences.”

So what can we expect? This reporter saw ZZ Top at Musikfest 2015 in Bethlehem, PA, and they were as high-energy and lowdown nasty bluesy as ever. “We’re bringing The BFGs, our `baby band’ that rocks it Hispanic bionic boogie style,” comes the answer. “We’ve got our go-to guy for Latin flavor, G.G. Martine, who comes to us from Argentina by way of Puerto Rico and New York on keyboards. We’ve got Austin’s own B3 bad ass Mike Flanigin. We’ve got hip-hop guru and potent percussionist Alx ‘Guitarzza’ Garza and our ladies of the traps, Melanie DiLorenzo and SoZo Diamond on drums.”

One definite Perfectamundo highlight is a cover of fellow Texan Roy Head’s 1965 “Treat Her Right.” I was 14 when I thrilled to that sexed-up song which I thought was about girls right up until last year when Gibbons told Rolling Stone it was about heroin.

“Man, Billy,” I whined, “you telling me that a little Jewish kid from Newark was diggin’ on a song ‘bout heroin?”

“The great thing about just about any song,” he explains, “is that it’s open to interpretation. It was certainly not our intent, nor our buddy Roy Head’s, to corrupt your 14-year-old New Jersey soul ex post facto.”

Well, still, I like to think the song is about knowing how to treat a woman. I wonder if Barbara Mandrell, Roy Buchanan, country singer Billy “Crash” Craddock, Otis Redding, George Thorogood, Johnny Thunders (well, I bet he knew) or Los Strait Jackets with former Paul Revere & The Raiders frontman Marc Lindsay, who all covered it, knew.

“I wanna tell you a story every man oughta know/

If you want a little loving you gotta start real slow/

She’s gonna love you tonight now well if you just treat her right now/

Ah squeeze her real tight you gotta make her feel good/

Tell her that you love her like you know you should/

And if you don’t treat her right she won’t love you tonight.”—written by Roy Head and Gene Kurtz

Gibbons, of course, started out emulating the artists who contributed to that rich cultural cauldron of Texas Blues, a particular style that culminated in Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan but that started with artists like Lightnin’Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker, Albert Collins, Freddy King and so many more. Now, I dare to posit the theory to him that he has turned into that which he first emulated.

“Have you ever really thought about that?”

“Uh, only now that you’ve brought it up. At the core, I’m still the same B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf and Roy Head fan I always was. If our channeling their inspiration in turn inspires others, then they’ll continue to resonate through the generations and we’re happy to have, perhaps, played some part in that process.”