Besides members’ trademark beards, ZZ Top is visually linked to vintage cars and custom guitars, so much so that they’ve all become equally engrained within the essence of pop culture as the immortal rockers “La Grange,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’” and “Legs.”
Now that the group’s logged 50 years of mileage, it’s also given front man Billy F. Gibbons and co-writer Tom Vickers a chance to look back on all that imagery and how it relates to unforgettable album covers, game-changing music videos, plus mounds more in a newly updated edition of the coffee table book, “Rock + Roll Gearhead” (Motorbooks).
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer turned author gave Chicago Concert Reviews a verbal visit to his garage and studio, alongside an assurance that even after five decades of durability, ZZ Top is raring to rev up again with a full tank of gas.
What are the expanded parts of “Rock + Roll Gearhead” that you’re most excited about?
Gibbons: Sharing some of the extremes from the side of guitar-building expressions bring forth the notion that, from this point ahead, it’s no holds barred. The new images illustrate a straightforward existence of an ongoing mystic twist. It’s in the viewing and evaluation of what’s going on that brings it into focus.
Can you tell us specifically about a few of the guitars from your MTV days and what they added to ZZ Top’s iconic videos?
Gibbons: Well, there’s quite a few…and each excursion on set when it was time for rolling camera, we thought, let’s get weird with the electrics…that being standing behind some unusual six-strings and unearthly, off-the-grid bass-guitar strangeness, which fit nicely within the bearded boys’ unorthodox presence.
How about the car from the classic “Eliminator” album cover?
Gibbons: Oh, yes. The little red ‘34, three-window “Eliminator” coupe is still going strong and still rockin’ ‘n rollin’ in pristine form as she hits the asphalt now and again. Pedal to the metal and lovin’ it. That rod is totally the inspiration of her bad little sister, “The Whiskey Runner.” It’s a fenderless, version that’s cut down, repowered, repainted, and providing a stance that’ll scare those that are ill-prepared to take in her encompassing profile. She even gained attention in a featured episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage” where his automotive expertise immediately detected her winning profile, even with one eye closed! You’ll have to watch the program to get the meaning of that reference!
What was the photography process like for “Rock + Roll Gearhead” and to what extent were you involved?
Gibbons: That’s the genius of our go-to guy, David Perry. David’s prowess with the lens is absolutely stunning. He’s definitely got the eye. Working with David included an invitation to share the suggestion platform. The exchange made for those exquisite images.
Where do you store these incredible collections? Would you ever consider making them available for the public to see in a museum-type setting?
Gibbons: Each of the custom cars and hot rods in the collection remain under day-to-day care, along with the exhibition of the follow-up car to the “Eliminator” coupe, the infamous “CadZZilla,” on current display over at LA’s The Petersen Museum.
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