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ZZ Top, Jeff Beck bond over "loud things" on summer tour

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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The idea of ZZ Top and Jeff Beck touring together this summer started with a telephone conversation between Beck and ZZ's Billy Gibbons.

"We were talking about things loud -- not guitars and amps but cars, and hot rod cars at that," says Gibbons, who's been friends with the British guitarist since meeting him during the original Jeff Beck Group's 1968 U.S. tour. Both are auto buffs and fans of Detroit metal; Gibbons, in fact, is in the midst of restoring a 1933 Ford three-window coupe, while Beck is working on a 1932 Ford Roadster, and comparing notes, the former says, is "a good stimulus to carry us through this tour."

"Jeff's as big a car nut as the next one of us," says Gibbons, 64. "I find it fascinating that our friendship, which started in 1968 and has found so much ongoing energy through the years talking mainly about hot rods and what makes them tick. It's kind of a cool diversion for us. We don't have to talk too much about guitars and amps."

The two certainly share a musical dialogue, of course. Beck has been joining ZZ Top for its encores, culminating with a rendition of Merle Travis' "Sixteen Tons" that Beck suggested during tour rehearsals.

"As we diverted from cars to more musical things, (Beck) was grinning and I was kind of looking down at the notebooks and the notepad," Gibbons recalls. "I said, 'Jeff, you got a smile on your face about something, and I don't know.'

"He said...'Are you familiar with this unusual posting on YouTube.' I said, 'What might that be?' He said, 'It's you and I playing '16 Tons,' the hit from the 50s that was made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford. '16 Tons.' I said, 'Yeah man, let's go for it.' "

The tour with Beck also comes at an august time in ZZ Top's history. The group formed in 45 years ago in Houston, which was commemorated with the new compilation "The Very Baddest of ZZ Top," as well as a DVD from the trio's 2013 performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival. "We still get a kick out of it," Gibbons says of the group's endurance. "Someone asked me, 'What's it like?' I said, 'No difference. Still loud.' "

And still looking towards the future. Gibbons says ZZ Top plans to make a follow-up to 2012's "La Futura" with producer Rick Rubin and, in fact, has "probably another CD's worth of righteous stuff" ready to go from those sessions. Meanwhile, Gibbons surprised fans -- and himself -- during a recent vacation trip to Ibiza, where he met EDM producer David Guetta and wound up in the recording studio, with "eight or 10 cuts that I would consider completed.

"It's a far cry from what people might expect -- Gibbons and electronic stuff?!'" he notes. "And of course they were badgering me to bring the guitar to the forefront; they said, 'Y'know, the only thing missing in dance music is a good guitar player.' So I said, "let's see if we can bring the two together and make it shake,' and I think it's going to surprise people on both sides of the divide."

ZZ Top and Jeff Beck

7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 27

DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township

Tickets are $30-$75 pavilion, $25 lawn with a $60 lawn four-pack

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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