ZZ Top guitarist and singer Billy Gibbons revealed in an interview with The Quietus back in 2016 his 13 favorite albums of all time and explained the reason why he loves those records so much. The musician is considered one of the best guitarists in history.
ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and his 13 favorite albums of all time
Surprise Vacation “Stealing Office Supplies”
“We start this list off with Surprise Vacation as they seem to be a logical stepping stone out of that period of 1950s blues favourites, and there’s a similar lo-fi quality. In terms of today’s contemporary recording processes, how do you undo modern equipment, backwards? Well, you start by avoiding getting too complex. At the same time you avoid purposely creating noise for effect. However there is some appeal to be found in this lo-fi bottom line.”
“Let’s include Ramones in this – who would have thought that after 40 years there would be attention bestowed upon the punk scene? That scene erupted with the exact opposite: they didn’t want attention. They abhorred that as a goal. And ironically this celebration four decades later is being reflected in window-dressing for highbrow stores for menswear and womenswear. We’ve almost seen it turn upside down – but that’s okay.”
Charles Bradley “Changes”
“Here we are in 2016. Having enjoyed a rather robust excursion through the ‘70s, it seems like yesterday. As the clock swings around, things tend to reappear – but in this case revisiting the ‘70s is certainly not nostalgic. The ‘70s was a period of style, statement and fashion that probably should not be repeated. It was horrible! The oranges and the browns, the suede combos. I think Charles is challenging a prospective buyer to see through it, to get beyond the repellent quality of the horrible ‘70s, saying, “If you dare buy this, you probably know to avoid what you’re seeing. Let’s get into what you’re listening to.”
“From the ‘70s what was salvageable on the musical side was truly good. Here in London on Greek Street there was a really cool spot named Madame Jojo’s. It was closed up not so very long ago. There was a great northern soul DJ named Keb Darge on Thursday nights who I got to be friendly with. Seventies pop music was intolerable but what we can now embrace as northern soul was something you could really sink your teeth into with satisfaction. He had the deepest record box on those Thursday nights.”
“Recently I tried to take my lovely sweetheart Ms Gilligan to experience it but Keb was absent and instead there was a celebration of transvestism. We had a great time, but the following weekend we were at Camden Market and I bumped into none other than Keb who was still on a quest, trading records. The vinyl game is still vibrant and it’s mostly alive at second-hand shops and flea markets. Vinyl trading reigns supreme.”
Dâm-Funk “Invite The Light”
“I’ve made a really valuable association with a gent from Los Angeles, Mr Ben Merlis. I quite admire Ben as a performer – he’s a bass player in a pretty lively band, they travel out of LA frequently. And like much of the stuff we’re talking about, you have to dig deep to find something of value. I found this through Ben. There’s an ambience here, the unsettling presence of impending doom, which is part of the environment that we step into day by day in this contemporary world. It’s part of what we have to exist with.”
“I was talking with Terry Manning and Joe Hardy from our recording studios in Memphis and we got onto this topic of ambience. There was once a constant struggle to overcome background noise, the hiss of tape passing across the recording head. However, when absolute digital silence came into play, it was very unsettling. It’s not in our genetic code. You can enter an anechoic chamber, which eliminates all sound, and very quickly it’s so disturbing that you want out.”
Erick Sermon “E.S.P. (Erick Sermon’s Perception)”
“I rekindled a fondness for hip-hop having spent so much time in Houston, Texas, which lately has been revealed as the unexpected destination to make rap and hip-hop records. That’s due largely to the presence of the Geto Boys and Bushwick Bill, Scarface and even Destiny’s Child. When ZZ Top were recording the album Rhythmeen our studio was undergoing a facelift so we went into an alternate studio, John Moran’s Digital Services, where many rap records have been made.”
“There was the left room and the right room, adjoined with the shared group lounge area. I was trying to figure out how the hip-hop guys and rappers got such great-sounding backbeats. And of course what they didn’t have was this kinda bluesy guitar. To this day ZZ Top aspires to keep some crunch and grit as part of the fabric. What started the ball rolling back in that direction was the movie Straight Outta Compton. All of a sudden I’m watching the genesis of NWA and what really started such a robust scene. I’d watch that movie ten times. And I probably will [again]!”
Chromeo “White Women”
“As obtuse as this whole list may be, what drew me to Chromeo was their name. Being a hot-rod head and a car fanatic, I loved the name. It could have been a terrible record and I would have loved it, because you ain’t got nothing unless you got a lot of chrome.”
“My taste doesn’t run too far into dance or disco but in the grand scheme of things, and for those who are attempting to perceive what ZZ Top is, it’s good on occasion to find an unexpected surprise. On occasion we’d be lumped in with southern rock bands, but we’re really not – it’s Texas. Which is quite a bit different. Texas is down south, but it’s certainly a far cry from South Carolina or Alabama or Georgia”.
Michael Kiwanuka “Love & Hate”
“He’s new to me, a Londoner, and relatively recent. Again I fall back on the challenge of digging through so many day-to-day musical releases in that grandiose search for something satisfying. This came as a pleasant surprise, without any backstory whatsoever. I first came as a visitor to London in the ‘70s and it was a period of discovery. London was probably the liveliest place to experience something new. Here it’s probably the lyrical content and a consistency that strikes me most. Some people can even find messaging musical offerings that have no singer whatsoever: it’s messaging. I think that’s a good word.”
“So I was just wrapping up an appearance where I bumped into the great guitarist Steve Cropper from Booker T. & The M.G.’s and of course they were the backing band for so many of the great artists on the Stax label. I said, “Gee, Steve, the Stax records had a remarkable sound. Release by release they had a consistency you could identify. How did you dream up the idea?” And he said, “Well… we didn’t. I agree that the Stax records have a recognisable character. But the studio in Memphis was in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods. To avoid having the gear stolen after a probable break-in, we nailed everything to the floor!”
Quinn Sullivan “Midnight Highway”
“I was a little sceptical at first, because he’s so young. The term ‘blues’ has come to be quite different than what I know as blues in a traditional sense. I’ve been tagged as this blues-rock guitar player and on more than a tolerable number of occasions I’ve been accosted by people who say, “You must listen to this new young guy! A blues player, you won’t believe it!” And usually, no, I don’t.”
“Quinn Sullivan seems to have what it takes. The ‘blues’ seems to be rediscovered about every ten years but in this case I think it’s well done. It’s certainly encouraging. Interpreting the blues in an appealing manner is not so different than attempting to speak a recently-learned foreign language. You can memorise the instruction book but it’s the dialect that allows you to enter the society as a true speaker of the language,” Billy Gibbons said.
Carlene Carter “Carter Girl”
“Rick Rubin embraced Johnny Cash when he was floundering without a label. Rick thought this was unthinkable. He started soliciting writers beyond the country community and they did two great, odd, dark records. I wound up writing a song called ‘I Witnessed A Crime’ without knowing that Rick was going in this more contemporary vein. I later discovered it was too mid-’50s; too perfect for old-school Johnny Cash. So it didn’t reach release until it was bootlegged out of the studio and found its way to YouTube.”
“Rick called me up – I live just walking distance from house-to-house: “Can you come over?” I said, “Well, you still got that old Fender guitar down there? If you let me play it I’ll come on down.” He had this stunning Fender Esquire from 1954. I walked down and the door opened up, he ushered me into the living room and sitting on the sofa was Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. I was dumbfounded. So we sat down this close and he said, “I like that song.” June started welling up and said, “Ooh, you played the solo just like Luther Perkins.” I said, “Well, I’d like you to help me get through it.” We wound up singing it across the table. Little did I know that Rick had hidden microphones, capturing the whole thing,” Billy Gibbons said.
Shemekia Copeland “Outskirts Of Love”
“This art form, and it is an art form, which winds up being tagged as blues, is largely made up of expressions so genuine that they come straight out without second- or third-draft revisions. There’s a resonance that’s magnetic, kind of a compelling entity of its own. Shemekia Copeland, her dad is also from Houston, and released a couple of regional hits under the name Johnny ‘Clyde’ Copeland. As teenagers when we had the garage band we attempted playing – and the word is attempted – his great record ‘Down On Bending Knees’. Talk about compelling – that was a great record.”
“Unknown to me, Shemekia recorded a ZZ Top song, ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’. Her people asked if I’d consider playing a guitar figure and I said I’d really enjoy it. She didn’t know that I treasured the work her dad gave us. I said, well what’s this for? A single? “Well, we think it’ll be single-worthy, as part of an album.” An album? Well I gotta hear it,” Billy Gibbons said.
Lecherous Gaze “Zeta Reticuli Blues”
“I want the fortunate readers to know that contemporary sounds are not restricted to lighthearted pop. There’s as much heaviness available as well. The celebration of punk might be bad in the grand scheme of things but what I’m saying is, you wouldn’t catch me digging into my parents’ record collection. You wouldn’t want to dare go there.”
“The fact that I treasure my friendship, for instance, with Depeche Mode really catches people off guard. But under thorough analysis, Depeche Mode was super-heavy, particularly live. That bottom end, that can only be found through synthesisers. It’s earth-shaking. At one point back in the States Depeche Mode was wrongfully tagged and people said, “Oh, you like that disco-sounding stuff?” Well it wasn’t. It was heavy,” Billy Gibbons said.
Dinosaur Jr. “Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not”
“Once the Seattle scene exploded and the band names became living-room buzzwords, Dinosaur Jr. got a modicum of recognition. They deserve a little more. If there is such a thing left as the avant-garde – as you know, all of the foreboding walls of the forbidden zone have been removed – it seems to me that Dinosaur Jr. have a bit of an edge.”
“Nirvana was everywhere you went at that time. I was living in Laguna Beach. Some friends stopped in for a visit and we wound up on Balboa Island. To get to the other side there were two routes: the roundabout way, or a small five-car ferry that makes the short hop across. I remember waiting in line to board the ferry and some cute young barefooted hippie chick walked up to the car window and, out of the clear blue, gazed in with a smile and said, “It smells like teen spirit in here.” I was going, wow. Okay,” Billy Gibbons said.
Isaac Rother & The Phantoms “The Unspeakable Horror Of…”
“The Misfits are a good reference here. Having come off the question of where Dinosaur Jr. fit in, as with The Misfits, this is kind of hard to describe and hard to pigeonhole. They don’t belong in just one box. Like when I was back working with Roky Erickson, who had the 13th Floor Elevators – the Elevators were heroes and Roky’s voice was maniacal. Just that screaming. It was lovely.”
“The Phantoms aren’t quite psychedelic, but Roky was part of a group that popularised the term, a word which first emerged around 1957. It was certainly handy, to give a point of reference to what the Elevators were delivering. Back then I had the Moving Sidewalks. I chose that name because, well, elevators take you up, if that’s where you want to go. Moving sidewalks take you forward,” Billy Gibbons said.
Motörhead “Bad Magic”
“Motörhead on the other hand are very much included in that heavy metal thing. My tribute to Lemmy would be that he was genuine, through and through. He never posed behind any manner of falsehood. He was exactly what he stood for: a rock & roller through and through. I once heard it said that he caught one of his sons, he caught his youngster extolling the virtues of speed. And Lemmy said: “Naw, don’t get too much behind speed. What you want is weed!” Billy Gibbons said.