ZZ Top leader dishes on culinary interests and the great outdoors.
STORY BY JIM HANNAFORD
His plans for the summer may not be completely firmed up, but it’s a safe bet that Billy F. Gibbons won’t be spending it all in one place. “It’s a big country we have here, and the limits are boundless,” says the legendary ZZ Top frontman. “Let’s just say we’ll be treadin’ the soil from coast to coast and border to border.”
The talkative Texan spends a lot of time in Las Vegas these days, where the open-all-night ethos suits his rock-star lifestyle.“There’s something about shootin’ dice when night falls,” he says.
While he’s perfectly at home inside a swanky casino, he’s got plenty of other places he needs to be, and some of them are outdoors. While summertime typically means concert dates, it may also involve casting a line—being extra careful to not get those famous whiskers entangled.
TAKING IT OUTSIDE
Billy spends a lot of time these days with the similarly bearded Tim Montana, who is a Nashville-based performer and recording artist. Though Gibbons is twice his age, the two have become fast friends and are partners in music, in business, and in their shared love for hunting and fishing.
While Montana tends to favor lakes and rivers, Gibbons is drawn to the more mysterious depths offshore. “Sometimes he and I get in the crosshairs because he’s the freshwater guy, and I’m definitely the saltwater guy,” Gibbons says. “It’s always a surprise—you’re never quite sure what’s gonna come up out of the salt.”
At one of Gibbons’ favorite Pacific Ocean fishing spots, the unexpected might surface in the form of a tuna, snapper, or wahoo, or maybe something a lot bigger. He relates a tale from Zihuatanejo Bay, off the southwestern coast of Mexico near the town of Ixtapa. It’s a place that Gibbons has been visiting for years, watching it grow from a sleepy beach village to a top resort destination.
“You’re in deep water really, really quick. I don’t even think you’re 100 yards off the coast before the bottom drops away,” Gibbons says. “On one of our outings there the boat couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15 feet long, and it had a tiny little outboard motor. I saw the water thrashing, oh gosh, 20 yards ahead, and I thought what in the world is going on, and we were dead center in a school of sailfish. It was insane.”
On the hunting side of things, Montana, who has a professional association with Velocity Outdoors, introduced Gibbons to the joys of using compound bows and crossbows. “I had always preferred either a long rifle or even a handgun,” says Gibbons. “The simple bow and arrow was the last thing that I thought would come into play.”
ACROSS THE MUSICAL MAP
After half a century of making memorable music, the charismatic and enigmatic Gibbons is known around the world. Behind this beguiling character is a man of many broad interests. He has a story on seemingly every subject and speaks in a gentlemanly manner with no trace of a growl or drawl. His words are colorful and carefully chosen.
He has always seemed to carry a sense of intrigue. His first solo album a few years back was packed with legitimate Latin rhythms instead of the blues-flavored rock that’s long been his bread and butter. It turns out that he was schooled in percussion as a youngster by the famed bandleader Tito Puente.
Gibbons’ interest in music came early. His father (who came to America from England) was a concert pianist and orchestra conductor in Houston. When he was just five, his mother took him to an Elvis Presley show. That made a huge impression, but something that happened a couple of years later opened his eyes even wider. On a fateful day in 1957, his dad arranged for young Billy to observe a recording session for blues great B.B. King and his full band. The hook was set.
The circle completed itself some 40 years later when Gibbons was asked to be part of an album of duets with King. The song he recorded that day with the early hero who directly inspired his career choice was the one from way back then: “I’m Tired of Your Jive.”
UP TO THE TOP
Along with bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard, Gibbons managed to turn his beloved blues into party music. ZZ Top’s first album came out in 1971. Early classics like “La Grange,” “Tush,” and “Just Got Paid” would have been enough to assure them a place in rock history, but there was much more to come. As “Cheap Sunglasses” signaled a change in direction at decade’s end, massive success was just a few years away with the advent of MTV. The band reinvented themselves with a modernized sound and blasted into the stratosphere with help from a series of eye-catching videos for songs like “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Legs,” and “Sharp Dressed Man.”
Members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2004, ZZ Top has sold an estimated 50 million records around the world. Their music has shown up in some unlikely places, even as the theme song to Duck Dynasty.
Gibbons says his relationship with the Robertson clan goes back to before their TV exposure—when they were still best known for making duck calls. “They said, ‘We’re starting a new series, it’s called Duck Dynasty, and we’re not the sharpest looking guys but maybe we can balance things up. Can we use your song “Sharp Dressed Man?” I said, “Well, you don’t need a tuxedo, you just need to smile big and carry on.”
Gibbons has had some screen time himself. He had a recurring role in the Fox series Bones, appeared as a diner on Hell’s Kitchen, and turned up, in animated form, on the animated classic King of the Hill.
His musical collaborations with Montana go back to 2013, when they teamed up for a novelty song of sorts called “The Beard Came Here to Party.” On their debut EP as the Whisker Brothers, Gibbons’ squealing and squawking guitar graces food-themed tunes like “Good Ol’ BBQ,” “Rock–A–Mole” and “That Sauce is Hot.”
It was on a break at the studio where they discovered their shared culinary interests. Gibbons’ eyebrows rose when he spied Montana in the studio kitchen chopping up tomatoes and jalapeños. They decided to compare notes and come up with a hot sauce of their own. After a bit of tinkering and lots of tasting, Beez & Teez Whisker Bomb was born.
“It’s hot, but not too hot,” Gibbons says. “We like a little spice and we like a little heat, but we put flavor right at the forefront.”
The main ingredients follow the pattern set long ago in Louisiana—heavy on vinegar and cayenne pepper. “It’s good on just about everything,” says Gibbons. For those who do like more heat, there’s the “Have Mercy” blend that’s made from a special type of habanero grown in the highlands of Peru.
Montana, whose band has also toured as an opener for ZZ Top, seems grateful that his upward path has crossed with Gibbons’. Despite being a couple of generations removed, this bona fide music legend has become almost a brotherly figure as well as a mentor and champion.“ He turned out to be a kindred soul,” says Montana. “We just realized we have a lot in common, musically and food-wise and the stuff we like. He’s been a tremendous help and support in my career and just a great friend.”
The two pals have worked nose to nose in studios but—like many people these days— have also developed ways to collaborate remotely.“We have found a new outlet—it’s called the cell phone,” says Gibbons. “We’ll have a verbal exchange, and we may come up with a couple of titles, something that we find provocative. Sometimes it’s the simplicity of a good strong backbeat that gets us going in the right direction, and other times it’s a string of words that just shows up that leads into a verse, and then we have a song. I think the good news is we’re not restricting it to one style or the next. It’s whatever seems to unfold first.”
WAITING IN THE WINGS
As for ZZ Top, they are enjoying some down time, but don’t count them out, their leader insists. A career retrospective documentary on the group, ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas, came out last year and quickly became a favorite on Netflix. He notes that the director, Sam Dunn, had a challenge with how to end the film.“I said you’re welcome to give it your best shot, but I said, keep in mind you’ll be struggling because there is not an ending,” says Gibbons.
The movie sheds lots of light on the band’s remarkable story, but a good part of their shadowy mystique remains safely shrouded behind the beards and dark glasses. When it does fade to black, after 90 minutes, it’s with a strong suggestion of “to be continued” rather than “the end.”
Asked specifically whether we’ll see them out on another tour, Gibbons answers this way: “ZZ Top is ready to rock.”
The past year has been a tough one for many, especially for guys like Gibbons who love to travel so much. Normally he crisscrosses the country regularly, with frequent stops in Los Angeles and New York as well as Nashville and his native Texas. Many of his classic cars are in a warehouse in San Antonio (which he calls “San Antone”). He notes that, from there, it’s a short journey to South Texas and its abundance of outdoors opportunities.
He’s hopeful that it’s only a matter of time before they are able to rock on the big stage again. “The novelty of this rather feisty virus is growing a bit stale. I think I speak for many: We’re all ready to let her rip and get back to grooving some way.”
Billy F. Gibbons and his running buddy Tim Montana have spent lots of time together in the kitchen, and also outdoors. We asked them to share some easy on-the-go recipes with us, and they didn’t disappoint.
“These are for when you’re outside of the home or a fully stocked kitchen,” says Gibbons. “They are something you can do out of a backpack, and they make it enjoyable when you’re in the outback.”
When saltwater fishing, ceviche is a natural addition. “If you pull something into the boat, get out the fillet knife, and ceviche is right around the corner. All it takes is 30 minutes. Make sure you’ve got a stack of saltine crackers, and away you go.”
Guacamole is another summertime favorite, and their version takes a spicier turn with help from their own Whisker Bomb hot sauce.
– Billy F. Gibbon’s High Seas Ceviche
Try this one righteous recipe for a deep-sea dive into a simple, high seas culinary delight.
1 rectangular Pyrex pan
4 stacks saltine crackers
4 fresh fish fillets
8 fresh limes (or 24 key limes)
2 red ripe medium-sized tomatoes
1 white or purple onion
1 bulb garlic
1 bunch fresh cilantro, for garnish
Squeeze the juice from the limes into the pan and add the tomatoes along with the finely diced onion. Add 2 teaspoons or 4 cloves of fresh, pounded garlic. Sprinkle a teaspoon of smoky paprika into the blend. Stir the components until blended.
Place fresh-caught fish fillets into the bath and allow the marination to temper the fillets until white. (Note: placement of the pan in direct sunlight will facilitate the marination.) When ready, knife the sun-baked fish until diced. Following completion, garnish with a throw of cilantro leaf flakes and get ready…
With a couple stalks of premium saltines on hand, grab a cracker to scoop up a mouthful and enjoy. Smiles guaranteed!
– “Rockamole” Guacamole by Billy F. Gibbons and Tim Montana
The quick ‘n easy rockin’ guac recipe is now here for discerning avocado fans everywhere!
Ingredients and kitchenware:
1 stone Molcajete or 10-inch stainless mixing bowl
kitchen knife, fork, and spoon
extra large bag of tortilla chips
4 ripe avocados
1 fresh lime
½ bunch finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 finely diced jalapeños (with seeds intact for extra heat)
½ diced yellow onion
2 Tbsp. Beez & Teez Whisker Bomb (use Beez & Teez “Have Mercy” for a hotter, spicier guac)
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. salt and black or white pepper (to taste)
Using a knife, divide avocados into halves and remove the pit. With a spoon, remove the edible portion of the fruit into a medium-sized stoneware Molcajete or stainless-steel bowl.
Using a wire masher or fork, press the avocados into chunks or purée depending on the level of rustic texture desired. Add garlic powder, cumin, and juice of fresh lime and the Beez & Teez Whisker Bomb pepper sauce while mixing the avocados with a gentle stir.
Note: diced green or red jalapeños and diced onion may be added for extra zing if so desired.
Add salt and pepper along with a dash of smoked paprika, if desired, to complete the presentation. Twist a few fresh cilantro leaves across the top for a final appealing garnish.
Now pinch a crisp tortilla chip, and scrape a heap of some groovy green goodness!
Gibbons’ advice for beating the summer heat is succinct: “Cold beer.”He’s also developed a taste for a michelada, which brings tomato juice (and sometimes clam juice and other flavorings) to the party. He first encountered it in a Mexican resort town.“Now, it’s caught on around the country,” he says. “In fact, you can find it in convenience stores because all of the Mexican beers now offer a version. We used to call it red beer.”