There are few all-time masters of the guitar riff that can compete with Billy Gibbons. For five decades with boogie blues rockers ZZ Top, Gibbons had a seemingly endless supply of amazing guitar lines and memorable riffs that he could conjure up out of thin air.
Even though no two riffs are exactly the same, everything Gibbons does just sounds like ZZ Top. That’s whether the band are indulging their garage rock roots, paying tribute to their blues forefathers, or adapting themselves to the sleek synth-pop of the 1980s. Gibbons’ guitar always remains at the forefront of their sound, and his riffs propel the songs to gloriously hard-edged heights.
While sitting down for the television series Front And Center, Gibbons was given a monumental task: whittle down his favourite ZZ Top riffs to just five. This means that some of the greatest guitar lines he ever put to tape would have to wind up on the cutting room floor, but Gibbons doesn’t even go that far. He’s only restricted to three in the video, but those three choices are huge
There’s no messing around with his first pick: ZZ Top’s signature tune ‘La Grange’. Featuring a blues figure, Gibbons’ mastery of the fingerpicked intro makes the song instantly recognisable from the second it comes on the radio. Gibbons has been playing it for 40 years, and he still seems to get a kick out of the response the song gets even just by saying its name. It has that kind of effect on people: it’s primal, and it’s immediate.
For his second pick, Gibbons went with another classic: ‘Tush’, sung by his late bandmate Dusty Hill. While ‘La Grange’ became their signature song, ‘Tush’ was the band’s first top 20 hit in America, and for a while, it looked like it might have been their last. That was until ‘Legs’ landed in the top ten nearly a decade later. For his final pick, Gibbons threw out a slightly older song from the band’s catalogue: ‘Just Got Paid’, the second track from their second album Rio Grande Mud.
That means that classic tracks like ‘Tube Snake Boogie’, ‘Cheap Sunglasses’, ‘Sharp Dressed Man’, and ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ were left off the list. The truth is that we could sit here all day and list the killer riffs created by Gibbons. When given the difficult task of only picking a few, Gibbons made some fine choices.
Check out Gibbons discussing his favourite riffs down below.