Interview : Robert Cavuoto
Legendary guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top will be releasing his second-ever solo CD, The Big Bad Blues on September 21, 2018, via Concord Records! This is the follow-up to his acclaimed 2015 Afro-Cuban-flavored solo CD, Perfectamundo.
The Big Bad Blues focuses on Billy’s lifelong love of the blues and Rock and Roll, showcasing the blues-influenced vocals and guitar licks that have together served as the foundation for his numerous hits over the past five decades. The CD features 11 tracks balanced with smoldering versions of classics like “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and “Standing Around Crying,” along with some brand new blues originals.
The Big Bad Blues has an intimate and atmospheric feel to it; like you are sitting in a smoke-filled bar watching Billy perform. He sings the blues with sincerity and passion where you feel every word. As you would expect the CD is also filled with rich and dirty guitar tones that would make any fan of the guitar or blues stand-up and take notice. It’s a diverse array of musical influences with superb singing and guitar playing. Long live the king of guitar tone!
Billy will be on his solo tour from mid-September through December and pre-orders/exclusive bundles for The Big Bad Blues can be obtained through https://billygibbons.com
I had the honor of interviewing the guitar legend to discuss the creation of his new CD while gaining some insights into his blues playing and instantly recognizable guitar tone!
Robert Cavuoto: Perfectamundo was based in Afro-Cuban influences, and now you are back to your roots with this new solo CD. Tell me the inspiration behind The Big Bad Blues and the impetus for capitalizing on your musical roots.
Billy F. Gibbons: Well, there is something there for everyone. One can get back to those blues whenever. Concord Records, particularly the company boss, Mr. John Burk, suggested a blues-oriented project following the success of the Latino-Cubano release, Perfectamundo. We were, of course, listening to some Jimmy Reed sides at the time so this seemed pre-ordained. We jumped at the chance to pay homage to the giants that inspired us at the beginning and right up to the moment. The blues is alive!
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about your decision to include the covers tunes on the CD?
Billy F. Gibbons: Two are Muddy Waters pieces, and two are associated with Bo Diddley. Muddy was the man who changed the world in a very real way. He took the rural blues out of the Delta, went up to Chicago, “discovered electricity,” and the world was forever changed. Muddy’s at the root of just about everything that came after. Bo was his own invention; he seems to have sprung, full-on, from his own brow. The Bo Diddley beat is eternal, and it’s all groove. We all seem to know it.
Robert Cavuoto: “Bring it to Jerome” is one of my favorite track on the CD. What can you tell me about the song’s history?
Billy F. Gibbons: Well, we can agree on the marvels of the number, “Jerome;” the creation of Mr. Jerome Green; Bo Diddley’s iconic on-staff “maraca man.” Mr. G stands solid also being Bo Diddley’s one-liner nemesis, dont’cha know…!?!
Robert Cavuoto: Can you share the gear that you used on that song “Rollin’ and Tumblin” as the guitar tone is fantastic?
Billy F. Gibbons: The instrument of choice is another studio staple, a Les Paul transition model from 1961; the see-thru red model. From out of the depths came a 1936 Nation Tried-Cone resonator heard underneath the wickedness of the electric. Everything runs through an ancient Marshall 18 watt, 2 x 12 minicab coupled with the rack-mounted JMP-1 pre-amp. That’s about it with the exception of a Fender tweed Champ to blow harmonica through. Very righteous set-up all way around.
Robert Cavuoto: When writing songs, how do you determine if they will be used for a solo CD or a ZZ Top CD?
Billy F. Gibbons: When it’s a ZZ Top project, that’s our focus, and that’s true of Dusty and Frank. When it’s a solo effort, we just kind of blue-sky it. It’s a tangible tangent.
Robert Cavuoto: What are a few things about your approach to playing guitar that you feel are your own and that tend to define who you are and what you do?
Billy F. Gibbons: It’s about tone and the dirtier, the grittier, the better. Dirt is its own reward, but you have to go low to get in it.
Robert Cavuoto: So many guitarists spend their lives chasing tone and looking for their identifiable guitar sound like you have achieved, how much of your tone comes from touch and how much from your gear?
Billy F. Gibbons: Man, that’s a great question. The touch is pretty constant, and the gear is tweaked to a fare-thee-well, so it’s anybody’s guess. We’d say 60% of one and 40% of the other, but we’re not sure which aspect is the 60 and which is the 40, and besides, there’s at least another 25% that’s free-floating so now we’re talking about 125%, and that does indeed add up!
Robert Cavuoto: The CD guitar tones on the CD are varied from song to song. Are you someone who is always experimenting with the song’s guitar tone or is more of a happy accident?
Billy F. Gibbons: Most of it is serendipity, but we keep on experimenting because, you know — it’s a continuing science project.