Billy F Gibbons – The Big Bad Blues
Concord Records CRE00747
11 songs – 41 minutes
Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer Billy Gibbons completes the musical journey he started three years ago with the Afro-Cuban-flavored Perfectamundo album with this release, something that’s a treat sure to please both blues traditionalists and the millions of fans he’s acquired through his five-decade career as ZZ Top’s vocalist and guitarist.
Born in Houston in 1949, Gibbons is the son of an orchestra conductor and concert pianist, and he studied percussion under Tito Puente in New York. He picked up the guitar at 13, and was influenced by Jimmy Reed and others. He polished his guitar chops while attending Warner Brothers’ art school in Hollywood, Calif., in a succession of bands that included The Saints, Billy G & The Flames and The Coachmen, but started making a name for himself after founding the psychedelic group, The Moving Sidewalks, when he returned to Texas.
That group released several singles and one LP, Flash, but is best known for being the opening act for The Jimi Hendrix Experience during Hendrix’s first U.S. tour as a headliner. Gibbons formed ZZ Top in 1969, and, despite being one of the most successful bands in the rock world, has always infused his performance with a big dose of Texas-style blues.
“Nobody gets away from the infectious allure of those straight-ahead licks,” he says. “The inventiveness of that high-and-lonesome sound remains solid and stridently strong to this day.”
Other than a compilation album in 2016, ZZ Top has toured but hasn’t released a new CD in six years. But Gibbons has remained busy with other projects, including a tribute album to guitar pioneer Les Paul that included Keith Richards, Steve Miller, Jose Feliciano and Slash in its lineup. While his most recent previous release hinted at blues in the Afro-Cuban mix, this one’s deeply rooted in the blues tradition.
Billy’s backed here by Mike “The Drifter” Flanigin on piano instead of his normal Hammond B3 organ, Austin Hanks on second guitar and a rhythm section of Joe Hardy on bass and Greg Morrow and Matt Sorum on drums. Gibbons also contributes harmonica along with James Harman, who makes a special guest appearance, and the music ranges from full-tilt boogie and straight blues to New Orleans funk.
“Missin’ Yo’ Kissin’,” penned by Gibbons’ actress wife, Gilligan, opens the action. It’s a driving, percussion-heavy pleaser based on the separation from a loved one that any touring musician or actor has to endure. The loping answer song, “My Baby She Rocks,” features stellar solos from Harman and plenty of guitar lines that prove to any doubters that Billy’s a bluesman at heart.
The shuffle “Second Line” has a Big Easy feel as it tips the hat to a New Orleans tradition before Gibbons delivers a faithful, slow-blues treatment of Muddy Waters’ “Standing Around Crying.” The original “Let The Left Hand Know…” follows. It’s an unhurried four-four harp-and-guitar shuffle, and the next line is: “where the right hand goes.”
“Bring It To Jerome,” made famous by Bo Diddley, gets a slower, funkier treatment than the cacophonous rocker original. “That’s What She Said” delivers some of the music folks know Gibbons for, albeit at a gentler pace, a theme that continues with “Mo’ Slower Blues,” before Billy delivers some tasty slide guitar as he professes his love for a lady in “Hollywood 151.” Two more covers – an uptempo take on Waters’ “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” and Diddley’s “Crackin’ Up,” delivered with its original calypso feel – bring the set to a close.
If you love the blues – or ZZ Top, for that matter – you’ll love this one. I sure did.