Hey Baby, Que Paso? Billy F. Gibbons on ‘Hardware,’ Spanish Flies, High Desert Inspiration
Harry Reese/Courtesy Billy Gibbons –
True Value: Hardware’s Matt Sorum, Billy Gibbons and Austin Hanks
Few people embody the randy, the bawdy, the blues shuffle and the stanky tone like Billy F. Gibbons. Beyond being a master and afficionado of style and form, he’s a top-shelf purveyor of all those things that he also embraces. To hear him play is to understand how deep is his love: wang, dang and doodle, the music – like everything else in the sharp dressed man’s purview – is a stew of technique, a touch of gear and a whole lotta vibe.
Hardware, his COVID collaboration, began with Matt Sorum (Guns ‘N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and The Cult ) and Austin Hanks—both of whom toured with Gibbons following the release of his awesome 2018 solo album Big Bad Blues. But for this, the tones, grooves and notions crawled out of the desert under a full moon coaxed forth by producers Mike Fiorentino and Chad Shlosser along with Gibbons and Sorum, It started out of a whim and a notion, the jamming and jawing turned into a dozen exercises in crunch, hooks and the sort of delicious churn that has made Gibbons’ ZZ Top one of the most engaging power trios of the last – wait for it – half century. Sex. Lust. Cars. Mexican food. Voodoo. Mayhem. Weed. Wine. Cerveza. Booze. Girls, Girls, Girls. Gambling. Mystics. Spanglish. Long gone love. Hooks. Ear worms. Tequila worms. Augie Meyers. Plus that signature growl and low slung groove..
“I’m a West Coast Junkie from a Texas town
When I get to Cali, it’s goin’ down
My baby’s so tight, she turns me ‘round…”
Pollstar: Will you get to tour this Hardware project and this band?
Billy Gibbons: Mmmmm, ZZ is trying to figure out its flight pattern. (ZZ Top kicks off a summer/fall run in late June). It’s hard to know where to put the solo dates ‘til that’s sorted out. But, we’re gonna play these songs. Just with COVID protocols, how many butts can be in how many seats with how many seats between, it’s hard to say.
– Billy Gibbons Hardware
COVID has really busted everything.
Most of your friends and mine have been restricted from spanking the plank in the live situation for so long, it’s… The bands wanna work, and the managers want to the bands to work, and the agents really want to get everyone back on the road. The last bit seems to be to persuade the venues and cities to let the people in.
Other than this record, has anything good come of the quarantine?
Since every day is pretty much the same, this past year every day is Taco Tuesday! (laughter)
Not a bad plan. Sorta fits with being out in the desert, making a record.
The first thing we did was find a Mexican restaurant out there. A real local place, family-owned. The woman who was the owner/cook/bookkeeper, we walked in one morning, the place was literally empty and on fire. She looked at us, said, “Don’t worry. I’m not burning your breakfast. Be right with you.”
Damn. So, how did this all happen?
The opening high card was the call from Matt Sorum, saying “We’re out here… C’mon down.” I’ve worked at Rancho des La Luna with Queens of the Stone Age. He said, “We’re 20 miles across the highway.” Way deep into the desert, said it was just down the road, so I figured, “What’s 30 minutes?”
Turned into three months! Matt didn’t have a drum stick, I didn’t have a guitar pick. We literally showed up with blank paper and a pencil. They found a snare, cymbal and bass drum in a closet. There was a Fender Reverb unit that had been sitting there… and we went to work.
You didn’t have any fun.
Right? You hear people talking about Joshua Tree, the photos and legends, but there’s a real mysterious energy that does something (out there) as an accomplished writer once said.
You went a lot of places musically.
We just had a blast! That crazy surf sound on “West Coast Junkie”? With “Desert High,” we gathered up the best verbiage we could to describe where we were. We were all in the control room, playing dj, playing our instruments – and it just tumbled out.
The only thinking that really unfolded was realizing we’d got 16 tracks. But it was pointed out as we got into it, we’d only needed a dozen. So, we sorted what was there, and put out a pile to keep. The leftovers felt predictable, like a ZZ Top song. I took all that, put it in a box and sent it back to Texas.
Should I ask how Frank (Beard) and Dusty (Hill) felt about this?
They were so supportive. We’d talk on the phone every other day or so. They kept saying, “Yeah, man, stay with it.” It was only later I found out they were sitting on the coach watching tv, or out playing golf.
You’ve got some classic lines. “You’d think I was a highway, the way she hit the road…” puts a nail in it. “Spanish fly, Spanish fly, You gotta get down if you wanna get high…,” a song about the aphrodisiac?
Roger Kisby/Courtesy Billy Gibbons –
A ’46 Ford I’m quite fond of. I’ve tried every trick in the book to get the owner to sell it to me, or take it around the block. No dice. Finally, I just wrote a song about it.
More seriously, there’s “Vagabond Song.”
We were talking about the life of a musician, the being gone. This restriction allowed us to stay in one place for more than 48 hours. I said, “For five decades, I’ve been on the road like a vagabond.”
Matt said, “Let’s write that…” It’s not a woe-is-me song, just it is how it is. I called it a collision when Matt and I got together.
An odd and yummy mash-up.
It puts a modernist twist on the things we usually do fast and loud. Matt was the first one to encourage me to keep one foot in the blues.
How’d that work?
He said, “I’m a California guy, the sound of the surf,” and I was like, “When it gets to the shuffling, you ain’t shy.” He was like, “Really?” <
We took it as it comes, had fun.
You do this really slow stripper turn on “Hey Baby, Que Paso” that’s fun.
You know, the original 45 that predated the (Texas) Tornadoes and the Sir Douglas Quintet is different. I called Augie (Myers) to ask him. “What are you doin’?”
He said, “We’re in San Antonio, where are you?”
“We’re in Joshua Tree,” and I explained we were trying to figure the lyrics out. I told him, “We know it’s in Spanish…”
He said, “No, it’s not.”
“Is it Spanglish?”
“No, it’s not…”
“WHAT IS IT?!” (laughter)
“It’s Slanglish… slang and Spanish. We were looking for a Spanish word for San Antonio. When we couldn’t find one, we made it up.”
No, crazy is: We had to find a Vox Continental organ, that was Augie’s true contribution to the Sir Douglas Quintet. Augie was the very first recipient from England of the Vox Continental organ, so I called him and asked if he knew where we might find one.
“You gonna stay out there in California for a while?” he asked.
Next thing I know, he’s saying, “Why don’t I put this on the transport? I’m heading out there to California. I can just bring it.” And that’s what he did.
That’s the original organ?
It’s amazing how far back and how connected so much of rock’s past really is. And you’re also a big proponent for people coming up. I know you’re a fan of Larkin Poe, the sisters from Georgia who just crush the rootsy blues-driven rock that’s no frills no nonsense (and who appear on “Stackin’ Bones”), how’d you discover them?
He said, “Oh, they’re with us… Come out around 3, and I’ll introduce you.” Remember, I didn’t know, so at 3 pm, I kinda stalked his soundcheck – and the two girls get up and start playing. They’d written a new song, and wanted to try it out. I was floored.
To close your eyes and hear it, there’s a ferociousness to the way they play. I laughed. It was the last thing I expected. But, they’re good.
It’s funny how in some ways, the blues are the blues are the blues. Yet, you know, there are people turning’em inside out and upside down all kinds of ways.
The Big Bad Blues took us around the country — and the world. I’m ready to have a good ole time onstage again. Once we clear the deck of all this, we can get back to being ourselves again. Get back to smiling, too.