Don’t think about whether you hear ZZ Top mentioned within the same breath as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, AC/DC or a whole host of other classic rock acts. Chances are, you won’t. But there’s an authenticity to Billy Gibbons and his blues band that confirms he will always be thought of as a guitar hero. When you consider that Jimi Hendrix once called Gibbons a guitar hero, then that position is confirmed forevermore.
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. But, despite his magical demeanour, the guitarist has always been happy to share his very real inspirations and influences that helped him become a six-string illusionist.
“I’d just turned 13,” says Gibbons. “I plugged it in, cranked it up and by the end of the afternoon, I’d worked out that opening figure,” recalled the exciting guitarist when noting the first time he ever picked up a guitar. He learned Ray Charles’ ‘What I’d Say’, and his love affair with music continued on from there.
Thankfully, in an extended piece with Classic Rock, Gibbons picked out the ten albums that changed his life forever. As you might expect, the list of records is bustling with blues, rampant with rock and roll, and simply drenched in the brilliance of the delta music scene. But, his first pick was simply dripping in psychedelia, selecting The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators, telling Classic Rock: “That one stands as a literal mind blower. It alters the neurons when hearing it. Roky Erickson didn’t consider adhering to any traditional boundaries or formats. In fact, The Elevators became self-appointed pioneers of a psychedelic trip that seems to have the impact of lasting past the present.”
Considering the music we know to have shaped Gibbons, it seems evident that he would find a spot for Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker’s project Cream: “A trio sound but like that of a freight train. Totally blues-based yet weren’t bound by any particular strain which makes the offering endlessly refreshing and innovative.” By extension, it seems obvious that gibbons would also pick out the debut album from Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?.
Speaking about the formative LP, Gibbons recalled: “The question that the title poses was immediately answered once the needle settled down in the grooves. Nothing before that one sounded anything like it, and the result was a sonic explosion for just about everybody who was playing in a band at that time. It pretty much opened the door to another dimension.”
Elsewhere, there are selections for Depeche Mode and Some Great Reward and a band that Gibbons says “constantly impressed” him over the years. Gibbons also picks out Rolling Stones’ 1967 psychedelic trip Their Satanic Majesties, about which Gibbons said: “It’s a sonic tour de force that 50 years later underscores what masters of the studio they are. ‘2000 Light Years From Home’ is a whole sci-fi film that just begs for a few visuals. It’s a door-opener.”
Two live albums are included on the list, including Muddy Waters at Newport as well as B.B. King’s classic live record Live at the Regal, which Gibbons called: “One of the best live performances ever captured on wax. B.B. was at the apex of his powers as a vocalist and did that thing where he plays the part of the girl that still makes for a good laugh-out-loud. It underscores that B.B. was, in fact, the king of the blues.”
Elsewhere, there is a mention of Otis Redding and the compilation Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, about which Gibbons calls Redding’s singing a “complete and unbelievable vocal attack.” Also, picking Ministry’s album The Land of Rape and Honey, Gibbons reserves his highest praise for a true guitar impresario.
Jeff Beck is famed for being able to flirt with every genre under the sun. Pop, rock, blues and funk all have a debt to pay Beck and his unique fretwork, but Gibbons believes there is another genre that owes a lot to Beck; heavy metal. He says of Beck’s album Truth: Some say this is ground zero for heavy metal, and it certainly created a huge influence on players too numerous to even attempt tallying. Jeff’s Yardbirds bandmate Jimmy Page would take some of it with Led Zeppelin, yet remember. The first time I heard this one, it felt like something truly revelatory. Blues, rock, psychedelic, pop fusion, metal… it’s all here.”
Below, find the full list of billy Gibbons’ favourite albums of all time.
Billy Gibbons’ 10 favourite albums of all time:
- The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators – 13th Floor Elevators
- Fresh Cream – Cream
- Are You Experienced? – Jimi Hendrix
- Some Great Reward – Depeche Mode
- Their Satanic Majesties – The Rolling Stones
- Muddy Waters at Newport – Muddy Waters
- Live at the Regal – B.B. King
- Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul – Otis Redding
- The Land of Rape and Honey – Ministry
- Truth – Jeff Beck