ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons to Chaoszine: “The band’s legacy serves as an ongoing inspiration.”

Author Flavia Andrade - 7.6.2022

After the release of their critically acclaimed documentary, Netflix’s That Little Ol’ Band From Texas in 2019, ZZ Top get ready to unleash “RAW”, an album recorded as an interlude in the film, directed by Sam Dunn (Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey). With the group’s classic line up — Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard and the late Dusty Hill — gathering for a very intimate session at Gruene Hall, “the oldest continually run dance hall in Texas”, “RAW” is the perfect title for the straightforward manner in which the tracks were recorded. As seen in the film, the band members played, for the most part, together within sight of each other in the course of one day. The methodology employed was something of an homage to the way ZZ Top recorded at the start of its epic five plus decades run at the pinnacle of rock’s pantheon.  Produced by Billy F Gibbons and engineered by Jake Mann and Gary Moon; “RAW” was mixed by Ryan Hewitt. The album’s twelve tracks recall ZZ Top‘s early days: “Brown Sugar” and “Certified Blues” from their first album; “Legs,” “Tush,” “LaGrange”, “Gimme All Your Lovin’”, some of their greatest hits; the blues tracks “Blue Jean Blues,” “Just Got Paid”, “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”; and some up-tempo house rockers, “Tube Snake Boogie” and “Thunderbird”. The release is scheduled for July 22nd, via Shelter Records/BMG on 180 gram vinyl, CD and through digital platforms and is dedicated “In righteous memory of Dusty Hill.” 

ZZ Top is part of the rock and blues imaginary, and has been the band that was always there, an institution, omnipresent with their beards and bluesy sound. So, when news came of Dusty Hill’s death, it hit us all like a brick. He passed away in his sleep, at home, in Houston, Texas, in July 2021.

Chaoszine had the opportunity to interview Billy F Gibbons via e-mail, and ask about how it is for ZZ Top now, to keep the show on the road, after the passing of their old friend. He also spoke of the documentary film and recording process of “RAW” and how important Texas and its iconography has been for their sound and career. You can check out the full interview below.

Hello and thank you for talking to Chaoszine.

Marking your 50th anniversary in 2019, “That Little Ol’ Band From Texas”, a documentary directed by Sam Dunn, was released. It deservingly reached critical acclaim and a Grammy Award nomination. Was it intentional to make a documentary which reveals a lot about how ZZ Top came into being, but still keeps so much of the mystery?

BFG: Yes, there remains a magnificent measure of mystery even within the factual elements of the ZZ Top documentary. The director, Sam Dunn, masterminded an appealing way into and out of the entire intriguing story of the band. Quite a feat!

Your upcoming release “Raw” is based upon a session recorded at Gruene Hall for “That Little Ol’ Band From Texas”, and dedicated in no small part to Dusty. The album has indeed a raw, more straightforward version of some of ZZ Top’s classics. What made you decide to release that “back to the roots” kind of material?

BFG: The “live album” idea unfolded quite by happenstance. Our director, Sam Dunn, wanted to show us working in a setting from earlier times. We arrived together for what we thought was simply a non-performing photo session at Gruene Hall in Texas. Upon arrival, our entire stage show was assembled, complete with guitars, drums, microphones, the works…! As the cameras were getting into place, we simply cranked it up and began laying down a few favorite songs just to get the afternoon going with the right “feel”. After thrashing on with the usual loudness, we realized our engineers had captured just enough of the moment to make an actual album, a genuinely “raw” experience which is now appropriately titled “Raw.” Straight ahead.. “Raw”. We were our own private audience, and, as soon to be heard, things really worked out with a full-on, early styled recording

With the recent loss of Dusty, how has it been to continue touring, with practically no interruptions, with Elwood Francis as his replacement?

BFG: As ‘The Dust’ so accurately assessed the value of a suitable successor, Elwood accepted the position being intimately familiar with each and every way into the ZZ Top thing…that being the delivery of solid sound and solid attack with tone to compliment the essence of each of ZZ’s songs.  The band’s legacy serves as an ongoing inspiration. Elwood brings a sincere background of sonic soothing matched with an awareness of both high and lo-tech and now, a huge beard to the fore. Some people suspect the chin whiskers might be a stick-on but it’s the real deal. It was Billy Bob Thornton who convinced Elwood to keep the whiskers. Glad the beard carves an entree and the way in on deck. Kind of a tip of the hat to Mr. Beard, the man with no beard, to make up for good balance!

Did you guys consider retirement at all, or will you keep writing and releasing new material after Dusty’s passing? And how do you suppose it will affect how you write new songs?

BFG: Fortunately, time was such that we immediately followed through knowing what the challenge posted… keeping on keeping on. As we picked up sticks moving forward, the live show on the road brought the three of us into the spirit which has always accompanied the band’s creative side. The upshot is our collective writing style remains steeped in a tried-and-true bluesy direction. It’s what we embrace to continue creating while bringing good times along the way.  

Going back to the 1960s: Billy was part of The Moving Sidewalks, and both Dusty and Frank were in American Blues, two Texas-based psychedelic rock/blues bands, with a clear influence of The 13th Floor Elevators, also from Texas. How did you transition from psychedelia to the blues sound that became the trademark of ZZ Top?

BFG: The blues traditions and pychedelic music are absolutely compatible. Transposition rather than transition succeeded thanks to keeping a dedicated and decidedly open mind. If you think about it, the singly American art form of what Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed did was rather psychedelic as it expanded a consciousness of feel while “gettin’ down.” 

Speaking of Texas, with all its idiosyncrasies. ZZ Top’s imagery and sound has a distinctive Texas feel to it. How important has Texas been to the making of who you are as artists and how the world has embraced you as such?

BFG: Texas is genuinely part of our identity.. the grandness of the Lone Star State and well,… it’s kind of “baked in” so we chose to embrace from border to border. And, as been told time and time again, Texas remains in the minds of most as the biggest and the best. It’s a lot to live up to yet we simply dig in and get down to some seriously sizable sonics, Texas style.

You embarked on a Canadian tour in April 2022, with Cheap Trick as special guests. How excited were you for going back on the road and in such great company?

BFG: The recent Canadian tour was sensational. The Cheap Trick guys fit the bill handily along with the Canadian folks, all whom were ready to put on the boogie shoes and rock the nights away.

Thank you again for taking the time for this interview.