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"I handed him a guitar he had never played, and an amp he never played. He plugged it straight in, turned it all the way up, and it sounded exactly like Billy Gibbons" – The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach on their new album's special guest

Billy Gibbons
(Image credit: Gary Miller/Getty Images & Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival)

Bluesmen recognise their kin; and back when The Black Keys were years away from arena status and touring their third album Rubber Factory, Billy F Gibbons was in a small crowd watching them play. Now he's guesting on their new album.

"He came to one of our first shows, when we were touring Rubber Factory," The Keys' Dan Auerbach recalls in a new interview with Stereogum. "He came to a show in New Mexico. There were 30 people in the audience. And one of them was Billy Gibbons."

But he remained a distant admirer for a while. 

"He didn’t even say hello to us," adds Auerbach. "He came to the show, we were done, and he left. I didn’t see him. Everybody was like, 'Man, Billy Gibbons was here!' He told everybody he loved it. So he’s been a supporter for a long time."

Everyone goes on and on about what special gauge strings Billy uses, his holy grail Les Paul. Man, whatever that guy picks up sounds like him

Fast forward and the duo of Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney are recording their new album Dropout Boogie and Auerbach now has Gibbons on his phone's contact list.

"I knew he was in town so I sent him a text, very off-the-cuff. I said, “If you’re free later, stop by, Pat and I are in the studio,” explains the guitarist/vocalist. "He just showed up. He brought a bottle of red wine, no guitars. I handed him a guitar he had never played, and an amp he never played. He plugged it straight in, turned it all the way up, and it sounded exactly like Billy Gibbons. 

"Pat brought that up the other day. Everyone goes on and on about what special gauge strings Billy uses, his holy grail Les Paul. Man, whatever that guy picks up sounds like him. It’s awesome. Dr. John was like that. He could sit down at whatever and it sounded like him. David Hidalgo is like that, too. I worked with him on the Arcs and some other stuff. We wrote here a few times. It’s all in his fingertips."

The result of that session is Good Love – and yes, there's an undeniable laconic ZZ Top vibe going on. 

On the subject of guitar playing, Dropout Boogie found the duo changing their writing approach for some songs – with Carney and Auerbach both sitting down together and writing with acoustic guitars.

"I had never sat around a table with Pat and an acoustic guitar and wrote songs," Auerbach told Stereogum. "That’s not something we’d ever done. That’s because I’ve been working in Nashville for 11 years and I learned how to work that way, sometimes. So we applied that to me and Pat. It was great. He hopped right in. He picked up a guitar, we were throwing out ideas. It was very much an equal creative situation."

Dropout Boogie is out now 

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Rob Laing
Rob Laing

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar. I've currently set aside any pipe dreams of getting anywhere with my own songs and I am enjoying playing covers in function bands.