The ZZ Top guitarist also talks advice from B.B. King, lessons from Haruki Murakami and the time he almost shaved his beard
ZZ Top frontman Billy F Gibbons was experiencing a rare bit of downtime when he phoned into Rolling Stone for a Last Word interview in late October. ZZ Top had just postponed their remaining 2017 dates while bassist Dusty Hill dealt with what a press released called a “tummy ailment,” and Gibbons had yet to begin his current solo tour. That gave him plenty of time to reflect on his long life and share some wisdom as he barreled down the highway on his way to a recording session in Nashville. “This was an unexpected treat,” he said at the end of the hour-long conversation. “Thank you for giving me something to think about on this ride.”
What’s the best advice you ever received?
B.B. King laid quite a simplistic statement on me: Learn to play what you want to hear. When you’re trying to learn an instrument, chances are you find yourself at the feet of a teacher who may have an idea of what you should learn. But if you learn to play what you want to hear in your head, you are steps ahead.
What’s your favorite city in the world?
Las Vegas. One of my favorite houses is located there. I’m on musicians’ hours, and Vegas rolls 24/7. Also, everything is square, nothing is round in Las Vegas. When you live this kind of uncertain life from being on the road, you don’t like sitting in chairs with a round arm. You like sitting in a nice square chair because it has identifiable corners.
Do you gamble?
Oh, yeah. We throw them bones. We like to step up to the craps table and look for that 7/11.
What was your favorite book as a child, and what does it say about you?
Junior’s Fun to Draw. I think it was originally published in 1944, and if you’re lucky, you can find one on eBay. That book taught the left hand to watch the right hand. It teaches you how to draw page by page. It starts out with circles and squares and ovals, and then you put them together. Very informative.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
It’s a surreal book by Haruki Murakami called Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I find myself rereading it every couple of years. Definitely a bit on the creepy side. It’s effective in dragging you out of incessant thinking, because the creative mind, it will not leave you alone. There’s a great saying: “For the artistically inclined, just remember you don’t have to swing at every pitch.”
What’s your favorite movie of all time?
The Passenger with Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider. I am a big fan of Michelangelo Antonioni, the director, and this is one of those disturbingly quiet type films, but it is really thought-provoking. It’s very soothing and it was shot in the deserts of North Africa. It has all these elements of intrigue that has the quiet feeling.
What’s the most indulgent purchase you’ve ever made?
I bought a Cadillac Eldorado convertible with my first royalty check. Triple white. This fascination with cars, old, new and everything in between, started with that really indulgent purchase.