Billy Gibbons

Billy Gibbons (born December 16, 1949)

William Frederick “Billy” Gibbons is an American musician, actor and car customizer, best known as the guitarist of the Texas blues-rock band ZZ Top. He is also the lead singer and composer for many of the band’s songs. Gibbons is known for playing his Gretsch Billy Bo guitar and his famous 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar known as Pearly Gates. Gibbons has a Bass vocal range, spanning E♭1 to E♭5, one of the widest ranges in Rock. He is noted for using a Mexican peso coin as a guitar pick and uses many pinch harmonics in his solos.

In May 2011, it was announced that Gibbons was named as the 2012 Texas State Musician by the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Early life

Gibbons was born to Frederick Royal (Freddie) and Lorraine Gibbons in the Tanglewood suburb of Houston, Texas. His father was an entertainer, orchestra conductor, and concert pianist who worked alongside second cousin, art director, Cedric Gibbons, for Samuel Goldwyn at MGM Studios. In 1963, Gibbons received his first electric guitar following his thirteenth birthday, a sunburst Gibson Melody Maker, accompanied with a Fender Champ amplifier. While attending Warner Brothers’ art school in Hollywood, California, Gibbons engaged with his first bands including The Saints, Billy G & the Blueflames, and The Coachmen. By 18, Gibbons went forward forming an artfully designed band, conceptually inspired by friend and fellow musician, Roky Erickson and The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, naming the group the “Moving Sidewalks”, penning the hit single, “99th Floor” and engaging a friendship with Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix went on to say on the Tonight Show that Gibbons would be the next hottest guitarist.

Recording career

Moving Sidewalks

Gibbons founded the Texas psychedelic group The Moving Sidewalks, which recorded several singles and one full-length album, “Flash.” Gibbons and The Moving Sidewalks came to prominence opening for The Jimi Hendrix Experience during Hendrix’s first American tour as a headliner (Hendrix was the opening act for The Monkees first tour). Also notable was the Gibbons-penned song, “99th Floor,” its title a nod to the influence on Gibbons of fellow Texans and pioneering psychedelic band The 13th Floor Elevators.

ZZ Top

Gibbons formed ZZ Top in late 1969, which then quickly settled on bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank “Rube” Beard, both being members of the band American Blues. After honing their trademark blues-rock style, they released the aptly titled ZZ Top’s First Album on London Records in 1971.

The band rolled on, intensively touring and recording/releasing albums until 1977, when they took an extended hiatus. Their long-time manager took this time to negotiate a deal that allowed the band to keep control of their previous recordings, to be distributed by their new label, Warner Bros. Records. They reunited two-and-a-half years later in order to start recording under a new Warner Bros. contract. Unknown to each other at the time, both Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons had grown the chest-length beards that quickly became a part of their image. With the exception of a short uniform beard in the 1990s, drummer Frank “Rube” Beard attempts keeping a somewhat blank face, with the occasional goatee.

The band hit international prominence and their commercial peak with the release of 1983′s diamond-selling disc Eliminator. Eliminator was named after Gibbons’ customized 1933 Ford Coupe, which was featured in three of the band’s music videos. This vehicle is on exhibition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. The album featured the hits “Gimme All Your Lovin’”, “Sharp Dressed Man”, and “Legs”.

In 1994, the band signed a multi-million dollar, five-disc deal with RCA Records.

In 2003, a comprehensive collection of recordings from the London and Warner Bros. years entitled Chrome, Smoke & BBQ was released. In 2004, ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They have the distinction of being among a very small group of bands with a 40-year-plus history that still has all of its original members.

Other appearances

Gibbons played the first slide guitar lead on the song “Dead End Streets” on Al Jourgensen of Ministry’s side project Revolting Cocks album Cocked and Loaded. He also wrote, played guitar on and sang the song “Willin’ For Satisfaction” from Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell’s 2005 solo album Two Sides Of If.

Gibbons collaborated with the Queens of the Stone Age on the song “Burn the Witch” from the album Lullabies to Paralyze. ZZ Top’s “Precious and Grace” was also recorded with lead vocals provided by Mark Lanegan as a bonus track for the album. Gibbons has also claimed this was one of his favorite collaborations and “Precious and Grace” was later added back into ZZ Top’s set lists. Gibbons was also selected to guest the follow-up album Era Vulgaris but was unable to due to scheduling conflicts.

Together with The Raconteurs Gibbons performed at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards. Gibbons was part of an ensemble chosen to play with the band, which included Lou Reed and Jim Jarmusch. The performance was heavily edited and cut short by MTV for broadcast. However, the full unedited performance is available on MTV’s Website for the VMAs. Although not a full-length performance, Gibbons can also be heard playing a few bars of the ZZ Top classic “La Grange.”

Gibbons can be seen among the crowd at the WWF/E November 13, 2001 live Smackdown show from Houston.

Gibbons was one of several artists to participate together with B. B. King on the song “Tired Of Your Jive,” from the B.B. King & Friends album. Gibbons also appeared on Nickelback’s album All the Right Reasons on the songs “Follow You Home,” “Fight for All the Wrong Reasons” and “Rockstar.”

Gibbons performed with country legend Hank Williams’s grandson Hank Williams III on the song “Trashville,” from his album Lovesick, Broke and Driftin’.

Gibbons also collaborated with the original designer of his favorite guitar “Miss Pearly Gates” Lester William Polsfuss aka Les Paul with his Les Paul & Friends American Made, World Played track “Bad Case of Loving You.” Gibbons also performed guitar with John Mayall & Friends’ track “Put It Right Back” from the album Along for the Ride.

Gibbons was the first artist to appear on stage at Cleveland’s State theater in November 2008 at the American Music Master Tribute to Les Paul, honoring the guitar and recording innovator. Featured guests were a who’s who of American Axmen, including Steve Lukather, Lonnie Mack, Duanne Eddy, Richard Burton, The Ventures, Richie Sambora, Jeff Baxter, Lenny Kaye, and Slash. A fitting tribute to the old master who passed away a few short months after this memorable night.

Gibbons was also a guest vocalist on Kid Rock’s “Hillbilly Stomp” from the album Kid Rock.

Gibbons was also the guitarist during singer Luis Fonsi’s presentation at the 7th Latin Grammy awards held in Madison Square Garden, New York, on November 2, 2006. Lately Gibbons also sang background vocals on former Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar’s 2008 CD Cosmic Universal Fashion during the song “Switch on the Light.”

Gibbons collaborated with Ronnie Dunn, of Brooks & Dunn fame, for Ronnie’s first solo work, playing guitar and singing along on the song, “Honky Tonk Stomp”.

He played guitar on “Broke Down On the Brazos”, the opening track of Gov’t Mule’s 2009 album By a Thread.

Gibbons played guitar on “Run Rudolph Run”, the third track of We Wish you a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year compilation.

Gibbons has a recurring role on the Fox network TV series Bones. He plays a fictionalized version of himself, as the father of Michaela Conlin’s character, Angela Pearly Gates Montenegro. Conlin’s character’s middle name is the same as Gibbons’s Les Paul guitar. Gibbons’s character is extremely protective of his daughter, and he often “threatens” or “haunts” Jack Hodgins, now her husband, telling him that if he hurts Angela, he will pay. He has appeared in several episodes, including one where he asks Hodgins to help him recover his car from some “biker hoods”.

Gibbons joined Jeff Beck onstage at the 2009 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert with a version of Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”.

Gibbons made a special guest appearance behind Roky Erickson on Austin City Limits taped on November 12, 2007 and originally aired January 12, 2008. (ACL Season 33, Episode 12)

On January 22, 2010, Gibbons joined Ben Harper, Beck, Conan O’Brien, and others on the final episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien playing a Will Ferrell-led rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird.

On February 19, 2011, Gibbons appeared as a guest judge at the 5th Annual Misprint Beard and Moustache Contest at the Mohawk club in Austin, Texas.

Discography

The Moving Sidewalks

  • Flash (1968)

ZZ Top

  • ZZ Top’s First Album (1971)
  • Rio Grande Mud (1972)
  • Tres Hombres (1973)
  • Fandango! (1975)
  • Tejas (1977)
  • Degüello (1979)
  • El Loco (1981)
  • Eliminator (1983)
  • Afterburner (1985)
  • Recycler (1990)
  • Antenna (1994)
  • Rhythmeen (1996)
  • XXX (1999)
  • Mescalero (2003)

Guest singles

Year Single Artist Chart positions Album
US Country US CAN Country
2009 “Honky Tonk Stomp” Brooks & Dunn 16 96 8 #1s… and Then Some


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