There are musicians who enjoy the spontaneity of good conversation, be it over the phone or face-to-face.
There are others who prefer to let their words, literally, do the talking for them.
ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons falls into the latter of the two camps. When contacted for a phone interview to discuss the band's Sunday night concert at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist opted to instead answer questions via email.
In the following exchange, Gibbons reflects on more than four decades of serving up hot licks, the continuing influence of Jimi Hendrix and why he regrets not investing in a hot sauce company.
Dustin Schoof: ZZ Top is closing in on its 50th anniversary. After 47 years of of performing together, what is the secret to longevity and keeping the (musical) chemistry alive?
Billy Gibbons: Telepathy. Don't laugh. We maintain the rather uncanny ability to anticipate the other's moves before striking and it's remained solid since ZZ Top's very beginning. It's something of that rare, non-verbal knowingness surrounding each other's space on stage and right into the studio. It's an insider's process of exchange that allows us true commitment to communication. It's just grand.
DS: Sharing a bill with Gov't Mule is tailor-made for a blues-heavy, butt-kicking rock 'n' roll show. What can fans expect when you return to Bethlehem?
BG: We gonna bring it with heaping helping of all the above. The fundamental of just about everything we do is the underlying basic of blues which can always be conjured up and counted on. From show to show, the night's song selections vary wildly, with early-middle-and-present-day, all taken into account. We're all in for whatever might go down, whatever. It will certainly remain L-O-U-D.
DS: Do you find it tougher to stray from having to perform the hits and dig deeper into the back catalog? Or is it the opposite in that being at this stage in the game allows for that sort of freedom when coming up with a set list?
BG: The "unpredictable" is what's behind the desire to mix it up a bit. ZZ Top's drive always includes the ones well-known, having heard them on the radio a million times, and we do a favor, a roll of the late-night dice for some downright obscure choices. The rockin' version of the infamous country-and-western hit "16 Tons," found on the upcoming "live" release is one of the band's newfound faves.
DS: With so many career highlights, what is the one moment that continues to stand out for you, head-and-shoulders, above the rest?
BG: Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards. Really, the Rolling Stones' own Keith Richards doing the honors remains high cotton for this band. How could it not be?
DS: Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you would do differently?
BG: Our sincerest regret is that Jimi Hendrix isn't still with us. However, let it be known the presence of Jimi and the Stones really set us on this path and they're still designing the rock 'n' roll road map in a very real way. Doing something different? Well, not much we like to think, although, when it's all said and done, an early investment in a hot sauce factory might have kept gallons by our constant side quite handily. Then again, that Tex-Mex "thang" ain't never too far from a Cadillac Bar.
DS: You have collaborated and jammed with so many amazing guitarists and performers. Which one has been your favorite?
BG: It's difficult to come up with one, so let it be said Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards definitely stand solid with our crowd. Did we say Jimmy Page, Bo Didley, Peter Green, Lightning Hopkins, Mick Taylor, Jimmy Reed, Albert King, Albert Collins, B.B. (King), T-Bone, Muddy (Waters), (Howlin') Wolf, Elmore (James) and Freddie (King) and ... well, gimme another couple hard drives to whip up a stack of terabyte lists of six-string, electric-slingin', plank-spankin' favorites.
DS: Diamond and platinum-selling albums, being inducted into the Rock Hall and Roll Hall of Fame, acting, beard competition judging and gaining fans around the globe. What is left to check off on the Billy Gibbons/ZZ Top bucket list?
BG: That perfect taco, the best-est barbecue, the shiniest car. Open the time machine, por favor! We've got a long way to go!
ZZ Top performs with Gov't Mule Sunday at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center, 77 Sands Blvd., Bethlehem. Tickets cost $70-$99.50. sandseventcenter.com