Billy Gibbons talks about the new ZZ Top tribute album
On 11 October, the music and legacy of ZZ Top, otherwise known as "That little ol' band from Texas" will be celebrated with the release of an album called A Tribute From Friends.
Paying their respects to Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard are a disparate group of talents, all of whom have their way with classic ZZ Top tracks. They are as follows:
1. Sharp Dressed Man - The M.O.B. (Mick Fleetwood, Steven Tyler, Jonny Lang and John McVie)
2. Gimme All Your Lovin' - Filter
3. Tush - Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
4. Legs - Nickelback
5. Cheap Sunglasses - Wolfmother
6. Got Me Under Pressure - Duff McKagan's Loaded
7. Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers - Coheed & Cambria
8. Just Got Paid - Mastodon
9. Rough Boy - Wyclef John
10. Waitin' For The Bus/ Jesus Just Left Chicago - Daughtry
11. La Grange - Jamey Johnson
MusicRadar can report that A Tribute From Friends is one heck of a good time, a rollicking set of stellar tunes served up with both gusto and reverence.
On the following pages, ZZ Top's own Billy Gibbons discusses how the album took shape, and offers his thoughts on some of the cuts. Read on...
Billy Gibbons on the new ZZ Top tribute album
“It’s funny: We were first given a thumbnail sketch of an idea for a ZZ Top tribute album. So we said, ‘Great. Who are we paying tribute to?’ That’s when we were told, ‘No, no, no! Artists are paying tribute to ZZ Top.’ [laughs] So the tables turned very quickly.”
“Of course, we were stunned, flattered and humbled...and also very intrigued. We rang up some of our pals, spilled the secret, and we got the good guys on the record. And gals! There’s some very impressive women on here, too.
“We’re very fortunate that it all came together as easily as it did. In the crazy world of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s not unusual for people to be on another planet, out on tour, they can’t be reached, whatever. But everybody jumped in very quickly and wanted to be a part of it.
“The song selections were a smooth process. I was prepared for trouble, with 12 bands all wanting to play La Grange. [laughs] But everybody had their own favorite ZZ Top song they wanted to do. There was no fighting over who was going to do what.
“One by one, these crazy interpretations of ZZ Top started arriving. Each one had its own special personality. All in all, this package has a wide range of appeal that is most entertaining. Some people might say ‘amusing,’ but I think ‘entertaining’ is the operative word.
“It’s difficult to find records these days that you want to listen to from beginning to end, but this album jumps out and really grabs you. Some bands you might know, others you might not, but I think you’ll enjoy what they’ve done with our songs. I know I have.”
Nickelback - Legs
“It goes without saying that Chad Kroeger has such an engaging voice. So right there, you know you’re probably going to get something of an unusually high quality.
“ZZ Top’s original version was almost captured by accident. I was singing in a fake falsetto. Usually, falsetto can be kind of thin, but what we did had a richness and a grit to it. Chad doesn’t have to do anything by accident. What he does is real, and he hits those high notes. It’s like Little Richard meets John Fogerty meets ZZ Top in another world. [laughs]
“Their version is thrashier and trashier, and the end result is a real rock song. It’s not techno-this or electronica-that. It’s straight-ahead rock. I was very curious as to what they’d do with the middle solo. There’s enough reference points so you’re never left out in the cold, but there’s originality there, too.
“Besides, who can really play the crazy stuff we play? I can hardly play it!” [laughs]
Jamey Johnson - La Grange
“The plot thickens. I got a phone call and was informed that Jamey Johnson wanted to do La Grange, but only on one condition: if I would join his fine backup musicians in the studio and help step them through it.
“I said, ‘Well, that’s something, because La Grange only has two chords!’ [laughs] As it turned out, there was another reason why Jamey and his band wanted me to come to Nashville. They had discovered that I launched a brand of tequila called Pura Vida. Like I said, the plot thickens.
“I got to the studio and said, ‘OK, when do we start?’ And they said, ‘We'll get to playing soon. How about having some of your tequila?’ [laughs] I told them, ‘Well, if there’s any way to start out playing La Grange, it’s with a shot of tequila!’
“The session lasted all day and all night, with everybody having a blast, playing solos all over. I really learned to admire Jamey as a bandleader. He turned to each guy and let him go off.
“And I played, too! When I walked in and saw a conspicuous extra chair, a conspicuous extra Les Paul and a conspicuous extra Marshall amplifier, I went, ‘Hmmm…’ And they said, ‘Here’s your strap and here’s your pick.’ I had a lot of fun with those guys. Great people, great musicians. And they certainly enjoyed the tequila!”
Daughtry - Waitin' For The Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago
“A very interesting, unexpected twist. Some friends of mine told me that they had seen Daughtry and that they were playing this live; it was part of their normal routine. So they had a leg up on things from the start. ‘We’d like to do this,’ the guys said. ‘In fact, we already do!’ [laughs]
“No matter who you assign to deliver an interpretation of the solos, a challenge is presented. When ZZ Top cut these tracks, back in 1973, we were still learning the ropes in the studio. But we charged large and had happy accidents. I played with a broken wah-wah pedal, but we left everything as it was.
“How would you throw that into somebody’s lap and say, ‘OK, go learn this’? But you really don’t have to, because it’s all in the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. At the end of the day, as long as everybody’s smiling, the job has been done.
“The guitar work here is great. A lot of the time, whenever you hear a cover version, you go, ‘Why are they trying to horn in on this thing?’ This one's got the goods.”
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals - Tush
“Andy Langer, a well-respected music critic, invited me to dinner in Austin, and he asked some friends to tag along – it was Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. We got on great. To think that such an inauspicious beginning would lead to the band throwing their hats in the ring.
“What really surprised me was that Grace wanted to sing Tush! [laughs] A girl singing Tush? That was sure going to put a whole new spin on things. But let me tell you, she copped every note and nuance that Dusty performed on the original recording. She nailed it. It’s a cool, cool version, man!
“Because Grace had done her homework so well, she made all the right corner moves and took the heat off the rest of the band. It allowed them to loosen up and run with it. I’ve become a big fan of these guys.
“A sidenote: Grace told me she’d heard of my experience with Jamey Johnson and my Pura Vida tequila, so she said I had to taste her own brand of chocolate. It’s chocolate with jalapeno peppers in it! [laughs] How crazy is that? So this album is filled with music, tequila and chocolate.”