Billy Gibbons of the Texas band, ZZ Top, formed in 1969, is considered one of the greatest guitar players to have ever blessed the realm of rock n’ roll. ZZ Top are often underrated in the bone-shaking stakes as their live sound is tremendous, considering that there are only three musicians on stage. Not to mention, Billy Gibbons himself is just about an entire orchestra of blues, whisky, women-seeking, and some incredible but beautifully subtle guitar licks. Gibbons is a real artist because he walks his talk, whether you agree with it or not.
Gibbons had a few stints with other groups before he settled with ZZ Top who would prove to be his successful outfit. Back in 1968, Gibbons and his psychedelic blues band, Moving Sidewalks, opened up for Jimi Hendrix, another guitar wizard, who Gibbons would end up touring with as well as learning a lot from.
Gibbons, in an interview with Express, said: “We hit it off in a rather unexpected manner.” Gibbons goes on to describe what his first encounter was like with Hendrix, “our contract required us to play for 45 minutes, and at that time, the only way we could complete the run was to include two numbers by Jimi Hendrix. Which was kinda chancy I must say.” Not only did Gibbons find healthy competition with Hendrix, the ultimate guitar god, but he also took that competition to an entirely different level by covering a couple of his songs before Hendrix himself went on stage.
Luckily for the Texan outlaw, he was able to pull it off and impress Hendrix. “I remember wrapping up the set, coming off the stage, there was Jimi in the shadows – off to the side with his arms folded. But he was grinning, and as I passed by he grabbed me and said, ‘I like you. You’ve got a lot of nerve!’’ Gibbons said according to Ultimate Classic Rock.
After this encounter, the two would go on to be friends, which led Gibbons to tour with Hendrix. As a creative artist, Hendrix took what the Mississipi delta bluesmen did and added his own brand of psychedelic rock. Hendrix’s signature guitar was a white Fender Stratocaster which he got from Keith Richards through Linda Keith. He was left-handed but played this right-handed guitar upside down, which nobody was doing. The psychedelic maestro used a wah-wah and a fuzz pedal, typically with two large speaker cabinets. He did things to his guitar that left many in awe as to how he could make a guitar sound the way he did.
“He was a real technical wizard. He was inventing things to do with the Stratocaster guitar I am confident the designers had no clue would unfold in later years. Jimi had the talent to make that work for him. His technique was very peculiar in that he was playing a right-handed guitar in a left-handed style, upside down. To look at it and try to figure out what he was doing was very daunting,” said Gibbons in an interview with Rolling Stone.
While on tour, the two stayed in the same hotel and would learn songs together and shared a mutual camaraderie. “But we got to share opposing hotel rooms always at the end of the hall and the doors were always open,” recalled Gibbons. “He had a record player delivered each and every afternoon, and he would motion to me, ‘Come on over here. Let’s see if we can figure this out.’ And we wound up listening to Jeff Beck trying to figure things out. I said, ‘Jimi, chances are that Jeff Beck is sitting there listening to you saying the same thing. ‘How do we do this?'”
Billy Gibbons added with a real admiration for his fellow guitar wizard. The two musicians had different styles yet similar. They both originated from the blues but approached the artform from different angles.
When Gibbons was asked if ZZ Top would have still become successful had they started today, he replied: “If we embraced that same youthful enthusiasm that brought us together in the first place, it might just well work. We threw caution to the wind and jumped into it with both feet, but all we wanted was to make loud noises, get free beer and chase the girls after the show.”