Billy Gibbons has recorded a selection of impressive guitar tracks, many of them propulsive in their realisation and vision. As it happens, his is a guitar of great defiance and attack, every guitar solo polished with a sense of situation and sensitivity for the work in question. But even he has his favourite guitar solos, and like any honest parent, is happy to say what they are when the time is right to do so.
In an interview with Speakeasy in 2018, Gibbons decided to give three guitar solos that he considered to be his personal favourite. Ultimately, he opted to go with ‘La Grange’, ‘Tush’ and ‘Just Got Paid’, much to the delight of the audience seated in front of him. Although he didn’t elaborate on why they meant so much to him on the night, he has given some hints over the years that suggest why he enjoys the pieces above the other solos in his canon.
In a revealing interview with USA Today, he explained the process that led to the barrelling piece, such as it ended up becoming. “Well, one could call it true inspiration,” he claimed. “So making the journey to the famed Chicken Ranch was something of a genuine rite of passage for successive generations of young Texans.”
In the same conversation, he claimed that the work, “in truth, it’s a blues-infused take on talking in tongues. You think you understand what’s being said. But, then again … do you really?”
The guitarist next turned to ‘Tush’, and based on this interview from Guitar Player magazine, it’s clearly one that meant a lot to him: “I made up this introductory riff. So I recall the lighting director: He pulled the headphones off and he put his finger in the air. He was grinning and pointing. He said, ‘Don’t lose it’. I looked over at Dusty and I said, ‘Man, we’ve got about four, five minutes before we collapse from this heat’.”
“So we ran through a 12-bar blues using that headline figure,” he continued. “Then Dusty leaned over, and he said, ‘What are we going to call this thing?’ So I remember, the three of us were all big fans of Roy Head. In fact, we used to play ‘Treat Her Right’ as part of the ZZ Top repertoire. The flip side of Roy Head’s ‘Treat Her Right’ single was an instrumental called ‘Tush Hog.’ Was a Texas slang term that meant ‘That’s just about as good as it’s gonna get.’ It didn’t get better than a tush hog!”
This brings us to track number three: In an interview done with Rolling Stone, Gibbons said the song came from a connection to Fleetwood Mac, not the Stevie Nicks lineup, but something bluesier.
“This was inspired by Peter Green’s opening figure in (Fleetwood Mac’s) ‘Oh Well’,” he recalled. “I was living in Los Angeles, sitting on the steps of this apartment. It was raining and I couldn’t go anywhere. So I was trying to learn this figure. It got all tangled up and it stayed tangled.”
So, there we have it, his favourite three solos, and explained in a way that is progressive, thoughtful and deeply reverent of the work in question. It sounds like he responds well to intelligent questions, just as he is carefully considered in his approach to playing the guitar.
Gibbons and ZZ Top are still performing, although they encountered an unfortunate tragedy in 2021 when bassist Dusty Hill died. One of three core members, the band’s future spiralled into uncertainty following news of the bassist’s demise. But the band stated they were going to soldier on, in accordance with his wishes.
Who knows how they will get on, but it’s not the first time a band has soldiered on without a core band member. Echo and The Bunnymen survived the death of drummer Pete De Freitas to write a collection of strikingly well-produced numbers, and Adam Lambert has brought Queen to highs that Freddie Mercury could never have hit in his lifetime. It’s easy to write the band off as a group of also-rans, lacking an essential member of their battalion, but in their own way, ZZ Top have the steel and stomach to bring these three solos back to life.
Billy Gibbons’ favourite guitar solos:
- ‘La Grange’
- ‘Just Got Paid’