Gibbons fins a ‘classic’ fit for ZZ Top

ZZ Top
With: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Ironstone Vineyards Amphitheatre, 1894 Six Mile Road, Murphys
Tickets: $50-$145; $245 (buffet, 5:30 p.m.)
Information: (209) 728-1251; ironstoneamphitheatre.net.
Being “labeled” isn’t such a bad deal for Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top.
“ ‘Classic’ includes ‘class’,” Gibbons said. “So that’s kind of nice.
“We sincerely revolve through so many different labels and, of course, we still prefer the one that’s on a hot-sauce bottle.”
That would be BFG (Billy F. Gibbons) hot sauces and barbecue sauces that complement the torrid, smoking brand of blue-rock this Houston, Texas “classic-rock” trio has been cooking up for 45 years.
No other rock band has remained intact for that amount of time.
Gibbons and Dusty Hill, both 67, are known globally for their distinctive beards, shades and cowboy hats as much as for their deeply-rooted American music with all the labels: Blues; hard-rock; blues-rock; and, well, pure ZZ Top rock.
Naturally, drummer Frank Beard, 67, doesn’t maintain facial hair.
In addition to the crunching rhythmic stomp, rough-hewn guitar licks and Gibbons’ gruffly grizzled vocals, these guys appreciate (occasionally accentuate) the wry, subtle ¬ often self-deprecating ¬ wit that leavens even the bluesiest blues.
As part of a three-stop Northern California journey, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers conclude Ironstone Amphitheatre’s eight-concert summer season with a Friday show in Murphys.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, a 39-year-old ZZ Top blues-rock acolyte from Shreveport, Louisiana, and his band open.
ZZ Top. Which played at Ironstone in 2014, returns with a new album (No. 25) ¬ “Tonite at Midnight, a collection of 15 tracks from “several piles” of track from world tours that had been overlooked. The Texas trio is the definitve “live” blues-rock band.
Of course, such ZZ Top brand names ¬ and guitar riffage ¬ as “Gimme All Your Lovin’ ” (Houston); “Got Me Under Pressure” (New York); “Cheap Sunglasses” (Paris); “Legs: (Sao Paolo, Brazil); “Sharp-Dressed Man” (Los Angeles); “La Grange (Dallas); “Tube Snake Boogie” (Rome); and “Gimme All Your Lovin’ ” (Houston) are on the setl list..
Jeff Beck joins them for “Rough Boy” and during an example of the band’s collective sense of humor.
After hearing an unnamed group of musicians’ “fake” a ZZ Top version of “Sixteen Tons” on YouTube, Gibbons & Co. decided to try and top it. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s No. 1 hit form 1955. written by Merle Travis, never has been rocked u like this.
Gibbons, also an avid collector of guitars and cars ¬ the 1933 red Ford “Eliminator” from the band’s 1983 album cover of that name ¬ took some tour time to respond to a few questions:

Q. When choosing tracks for a live greatest-hits album, what are the key factors? Who chooses?

A. It’s always been the collective decision by the band. This latest was the unexpected (discovery) of several piles of hard drives that had been gathering over … the recent couple of tours. We immediately took to setting up our famed listening sessions to see what was going down. Lo and behold, there were some interesting variations of some of our tried-and-true songs that prompted gathering up the favorites for this first-ever “live” release.

Q. What tracks are your favorites? Any stories behind them?

A. Well, to make things interesting, we included a few tracks featuring our long-standing pals, Jeff Beck, and harmonica blues great James Harman. James blows some mean sounds on … “Waitin on the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago”.
Jeff Beck added some killer tonality to the performances we did together, “Rough Boy” and “Sixteen Tons.” Jeff said he had always liked “Rough Boy” and, now that the story is out, we all decided to deliver a whacked-out version of “Sixteen Tons,” based on a YouTube hoax — perpetrated by someone we think had too much time on their hands. We had joined Jeff at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden back in 2009. There was a DVD issued of the show. About three years later, someone took the visuals and created a new audio track of “Sixteen Tons” that sort of matched it. At first, Jeff and I weren’t certain we could assure it wasn’t us performing. We stumbled upon this rather near-believable creation and said, “Bloody hell — we can do this!”
So the faked version became our instant inspiration to do a real one. True story!

Q. When you were a kid, did you ever think you’d achieve the longevity, popularity and artistic respect you have?

A. When I was a kid, I would only think about the next record I was gonna get or the next guitar I had to scheme to get. Long-range thinking was more along the line of pondering what party to attend on whatever weekend might be coming up. So, I guess the answer is “no.”

Q. Who was/is the most influential person in your life?

A. I’m gonna suggest there are many. You can go down the long list of originators in the great American art form known as the blues and there they are… Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. (King), Muddy (Waters), Albert Collins. Man! The list goes on and on. …!
At the same time, my dad (Frederick “Freddie” Royal) gets in the mix. (He) was the consummate professional entertainer, an orchestra leader and the model who set me on the path to pursing making loud sound. That’s really what it comes down to. Of course, Jimi Hendrix remains an inspiration. Jimi did things with the electric guitar that its inventors could never have envisioned. Getting to spend time together still resonates through the memory banks. He showed me that innovation is its own reward and that’s something still remains tried-and- true.

Q. Have you guys ever talked about Frank growing a Beard, too?

A. Just so and that’s fine. His is a titular “Beard” so if someone should say, “Frank, where’s your beard?” he can just lay out his passport or his famous driver’s license.

Q. What’s the No. 1 car in your collection? Are there any you really want, but haven’t found? Ever bid at a Barrett-Jackson (or other) auction. If so, how high did you go for what vehicle?

A. No. 1 has got to the Eliminator, the little red ’33 Ford three window coupe. She really conquered the world. She’s a star of stage, screen and has been reproduced in tabletop form by Monogram and Revell and Hot Wheels. The never-ending lookout for that next car is just that…never-ending. Barrett-Jackson’s annual get-together is stunning. “Temptation City” as we’ve come to say.

Q. If you could have dinner with three other guitarists, who would they be? What’s on the (food) menu? BFG sauces?

A. Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Seems like soul food would have to be the order of the day, no?

Q. Who’s the “toughest” Texan of them all?

A. That’s between Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddy King and, maybe, Sam Houston.

Q. How many guitars do you own. Which one’s “best?”

A. We have, quite literally, lost count. but guessing it’s between 2,365 and 10,892. Our “best” is “Pearly Gates,” that original 1958 Les Paul Standard that sounds like no other. Got ‘er back in ’68 on a borrowed $250. Best return on investment ever!
Q. Can you describe what the “heart” of the blues is?
A. It’s a biorhythm. Completely organic and just presents itself to you. When it’s there, you got it. and it’ll always stay with you.

Q. Tired of being labeled “classic” rock? Or is the label correct in a formative/historic sense?

A. “Classic” includes “class.” So that’s kind of nice. We sincerely revolve through so many different labels and, of course, we still prefer the one that’s on a hot-sauce bottle.

Q. Who do you hear playing real rock-and-roll these days?

A. Quite a few rockin’ outfits out there nowadays. We’re likingDinosaur Jr., Isaac Rother and the Phantoms, Surprise Vacation , Jonny Lang. Yeah, they rockin’!

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    Tony Sauro

    Tony Sauro has been writing feature stories and reporting on entertainment events since 2008. Before that, he helped write, edit and design the editorial pages for five years. Tony edited and wrote for the TimeOut section during its first 10 years ... Full Profile
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