ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons Talks His New TV Show

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ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons kicked off The BFG's tour last November, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Rich Fury/Invision/AP

Updated | "Hot rods have been a part of my world for as long as I've been spanking the plank,” Billy Gibbons, the long-bearded guitarist and singer of ZZ Top, explains during the pilot episode of Discovery Channel’s Rockin’ Roadsters. Though his band has been around since 1969 and has released records almost consistently since, Gibbons’s love of cars has found its way into almost everything he’s done. He’s a natural on the new show, which follows him with his friend, hot rod builder Jimmy Shine, as they transform barely drivable junkers—like the 1984 El Camino, dubbed “the Grocery-Getter,” that Gibbons grabbed out of the California desert—into beastly gems.

Lately, Gibbons, 66, and ZZ Top’s similarly hirsute bassist, Dusty Hills, and perversely clean-shaven drummer Frank Beard have been working on some new tracks—the band’s first fresh material since 2012’s La Futura. One song is intended for the upcoming motorcycle-trip flick American Dresser, “so it’s still about rolling iron, and letting the rubber hit the road,” Gibbons tells Newsweek. Expect to hear some of these tracks when ZZ starts its world tour this month.

When did your obsession with cars begin?
Well, believe it or not, my mom reminded me that my first three words were Ford, Chevrolet and Cadillac. Rolling iron. These crazy things called cars have been in the background, part of the personality and character of our band, for as long as we can remember, and that passion has continued to escalate. We're just having a blast. We've scared up some crusty iron that deserves the talents of Mr. Shine and what his shop turns out. It’s gonna be good. Jimmy has kind of given me a free hand on the design end of things, and once it starts taking shape on paper, then I turn him loose to light up the torch and get to burnin’.

Are there any ZZ Top songs that embody that passion? On [1983’s] Eliminator , there’s that hot rod right smack on the cover.
Oh yeah, in fact that stimulated what’s coming off the assembly line [on the show] next. It will be a ’33 Ford, which was called the Whiskey Runner, but it’s the bad little sister of the Eliminator coupe. That record cover is telling a tale.... Frank and Dusty and I have been hammering out new tunes, and we stopped for a moment to address the fact that a car or some imagery connected to the car seems to present throughout the career of the band. I mean, we’ve got songs like “Chevrolet,” “She Loves My Automobile,” “Arrested for Driving While Blind.” We’ve set our sights on capturing that ferociousness of the high-horsepower side of things, and that makes its way to the stage. That’s what we enjoy.

Last year, you and your other band, Billy Gibbons and the BFGs, released the Perfectamundo album, which has an Afro-Cuban flavor. Any plans to do more work with the BFGs?
Possibly so. That was stimulated with an invitation to appear at the Havana Jazz Festival, where we actually went to Cuba. It was a sidestep away from what ZZ Top would be considered having done. And it's funny, when you speak of Cuba, a lot of people things that come to mind— rum, cigars and the old cars that still manage to keep running. They're everywhere. You've got to tip your hat to the resourcefulness of those guys, when you stop and think about not having the luxury of tip-toeing around the corner to an auto parts shop. You make do with what you can either find or fabricate, and that's saying a lot. These guys have turned restoration into a lifelong hobby.

In the Rockin’ Roadsters pilot, you mention “spanking the plank.” So what guitar are you playing these days, your tried and true plank?  
Well, we step on both sides of the fence, with both Gibson and Fender. We've recently picked up a 1960 Les Paul; it was the transitional year for that particular instrument. It left the figure-eight body shape behind in favor of a little bit more stylized, a little bit more pointy [profile]. It later became known as the Gibson SG. But the Fender Esquire, on the other hand, is probably as simplistic as one could want. It's a single pickup, and it's get up and go.

 

This post has been updated to include additional responses from Gibbons.