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ZZ Top's Billy F. Gibbons releases new solo album, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Thursday, June 3, 2021

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With his lean build, long beard and African Nudu hat, Billy F. Gibbons has been an, and perhaps THE, identifiable face of ZZ Top for more than 50 years.

But there's more to the man than that.

Gibbons, 71, has long kept things rockin' outside of the Lil' Old Band From Texas, with a book, a line of hot sauces and numerous appearances on friends' albums. Since 2015 he's also maintained a side solo career, and his third release, "Hardware," comes out Friday, June 4.

The set was recorded at Escape Studio in California's high desert, with Matt Sorum of Guns N' Roses, The Cult and Velvet Revolver fame -- who also worked with Gibbons on 2018's "The Big Bad Blues" -- and Mike Fiorentino. The sister duo Larking Poe joins Gibbons on the track "Stackin' Bones," while the rest of "Hardware" showcases the guitarist's range, from gritty rock and blues to the psychedelic spoken-word album closer "Desert High"...

Gibbons says via Zoom from San Antonia that "Hardware" began with a phone call from Sorum, who had also been tipped off about the studio near Joshua Tree. "It turned out to be an interesting spot. I invited Matt to consider taking 30 minutes or an hour to go have a look at the place, and our inspection tour turned out to be three months. we walked in and never left. It turned out to be very energetic. I mean, here we are in the middle of nothing but a lot of sand, some rocks and cactuses, a few rattlesnakes thrown in. But when you're surrounded with nothing, the way out is to do something."

He adds that he and Sorum also had nothing ready when they decided to make the album and let the environment help them get on course. "The mystery surrounding Joshua Tree is no less different than most other spots on the planet that really defy description. There's an energy that descends, and it becomes a fixture. And having shown up at the studio with literally nothing except pencil and paper, we were able to use that energy and turn it into the creative spark that landed. Twelve tracks later we're leaving the studio with an album in hand."

Gibbons was also inspired by the selection of gear available at Escape Studio. "When we arrived, we didn't have anything. (Sorum) didn't have a drumstick, I didn't even have a guitar pick. Fortunately, when we entered the studio they had some stuff laying around. They had an early 60s Fender Jazzmaster guitar and a Fender Reverb (amplifier) in the corner, which I immediately plugged into to see if it would work. And out sprang the sound of the surf guitar, which of course you can hear on the first track we recorded, "West Coast Junkie." That unusual sound was really energizing. It lifted the creative lid, and off we go."

As "Hardware" comes out, Gibbons says another ZZ Top album -- the band's first since 2012's "La Futura" -- is in the works, which may include "spin-off songs" from the "Hardware" sessions. "Frank (Beard) and Dusty (Hill)...are just as eager to get back to it. They're back in the studio as we speak. As I leave the studio with this "Hardware" in hand, I plan to re-enter the studio with Frank and Dusty probably having great success peeling the onion on something new on the ZZ front. They kept saying to me, 'Gee whiz, we're so excited about your new solo record.' Every day I would get a phone call with this urgency -- "Oh yeah, get back in and keep working!" I was able to discover they were watching television and playing golf. They were on holiday!" (laughs)

Gibbons has played a few shows since the pandemic shutdown began, but he's looking forward to hitting the road in earnest as soon as he can. "This is the first time for as long as we can remember being able to stay in one spot for longer than one day, and we didn't really anticipate 12 months of being in one spot. I think it's fair to say most folks are ready to get out and whoop and holler a bit. We were weaving our way back towards Austin (Texas) and our buddy Mike Flanagan and Chris Layton and Sue Foley were doing a solo thing to test the water. So we made a detour, and sure enough we stumbled in to hear live music. What a refreshing experience, needless to say, that turned out to be. It like the fuse. Now we're ready to just strike up the band and click the heels and make the loud noise come back. It's long overdue, I should say."

Billy F. Gibbons hosts a Global Virtual Listening Party for his new album, "Hardware," at 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 8 via Spotify and Apple Music. Register via hardware.tunecast.com.

Web Site: www.hardware.tunecast.com

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