Billy Gibbons, the splendidly hirsute guitarist with ZZ Top was born 16th December 1949 in Tanglewood, Houston, Texas. His father was an entertainer, orchestra conductor, and concert pianist who worked alongside his second cousin, art director Cedric Gibbons, for Samuel Goldwyn at MGM Studios. A percussionist as a youth, Gibbons was sent by his father to New York City to study with Tito Puente. In 1963, Gibbons received his first electric guitar following his 13th birthday, a sunburst Gibson Melody Maker, accompanied by a Large Cat amplifier, and was influenced by guitarists such as Jimmy Reed.
While attending Warner Brothers’ art school in Hollywood, California, Gibbons played in his first bands including The Saints, Billy G & the Blueflames, and The Coachmen. Gibbons formed a psychedelic concept band inspired by friend and fellow musician, Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators, naming the group the Moving Sidewalks, becoming friends with Jimi Hendrix, who went on to say on The Tonight Show and The Dick Cavett Show that Gibbons would be the next hottest guitarist. The The Moving Sidewalks, 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. 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. He has also commented during live performances while playing the string-bending intro to “Foxy Lady” that Hendrix taught him how to play the song when Gibbons was “about 17” in Dallas. Hendrix gave Gibbons the pink Stratocaster he had been playing as token of his appreciation for Gibbons’ level of talent, and that Hendrix subsequently stated that Gibbons was one of the best guitarists in the US.
Gibbons formed ZZ Top in late 1969, and 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 toured/ recorded and released albums until 1977. They reunited two-and-a-half years later in order to start recording under a new Warner Bros. contract. Independently, both Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons had grown the chest-length beards that quickly became a part of their image. 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 multimillion-dollar, five-disc deal with RCA Records. This was followed by the album Afterburner featuring the songs Rough Boy and Sleeping Bag.
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. 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 due to scheduling conflicts. Gibbons performed at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards. With the Racontuers alongside Lou Reed and Jim Jarmusch.
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 Hank Williams III on the song “Trashville,” from his album Lovesick, Broke and Driftin’. Gibbons collaborated with 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. He 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, who died a few months later. Gibbons was also a guest vocalist on Kid Rock’s “Hillbilly Stomp” from the album Kid Rock.
He 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”. Gibbons 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 joined Jeff Beck onstage at the 2009 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert with a version of Jimi 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). Gibbons plays lead guitar on two songs from the 2008 Everlast album Love, War and the Ghost of Whitey Ford: “Stone in My Hand” and “Anyone”.
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” and in 2011, Gibbons appeared as a guest judge at the 5th Annual Misprint Beard and Moustache Contest at the Mohawk club in Austin, Texas. In 2012, Gibbons made a guest appearance at Social Distortion’s concert at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. Frontman Mike Ness brought him out for two songs, “Drug Train” and “Black Magic”. On November 19, 2014, Gibbons performed “Baby Please Don’t Go” at the Vaclav Havel Bust Dedication Ceremony in the US Capitol. In 2015 Gibbons embarked on a solo project Billy Gibbons and the BFG’s featuring musicians Mike Flanigin, GG Maartine (née Martine GuiGui), Joe Hardy and Greg Morrow. Their debut album, Perfectamundo, was released on November 6, 2015.
Gibbons also 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. He has appeared in several episodes of Bones, and also voiced a fictionalised version of himself in Fox’s animated show King of the Hill which is set in the fictional town of Arlen, Texas. ZZ Top’s appearance on the show was due to Dusty Hill being given the role as the cousin of the show’s main character Hank Hill. Frank Beard also voiced himself for the band’s appearances on the show. Gibbons also appeared as a dining room guest in the season-13 episode of Hell’s Kitchen. In 2011, Gibbons joined with Texas-based Mojo Products, LLC, to launch a line of hot sauces, barbecue sauces, and other products with his own personal branding, “BFG Brand”. The sauces are sold as BFG No. 44 via his personal website. Gibbons also featured in a series of television commercials for Fiesta Mart, a Texas supermarket chain. Some of the BFG Brand sauces were seen in these commercials.
ZZ Top has released 14 studio albums and are among the most popular rock groups, having sold more than 25 million albums in the United States. They have won three VMAs and in 2004, VH1 ranked ZZ Top at number 44 in its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock”. They have performed at many charity events and raised $1 million for the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi.