Magazine article The New Yorker

GIBBONS; VISITING DIGNITARIES Series: 3/6

Magazine article The New Yorker

GIBBONS; VISITING DIGNITARIES Series: 3/6

Article excerpt

Billy F. Gibbons, the lead guitarist of the Texas trio ZZ Top, prefers to sleep on the floor when he stays in a hotel. Before he dozes off, he listens on his laptop to old radio programs, such as "The Saint" or "The Whistler." "These antiquated sounds can pull me out of my head," Gibbons explained the other afternoon, while catching his breath, as he put it, in a dark corner of the bar at the Rihga Royal hotel, in midtown.

Gibbons drinks beer through a straw, to keep the suds from getting in his beard, a double-barrelled two-footer that, along with a pair of Ray-Bans and an African cap that resembles a full head of stubby dreadlocks, leaves little room for evidence of a face. As a prop--one of rock's least dispensable--the beard also obscures the presence of a fairly keen mind, which instead must reveal itself in ornate remarks about souped-up automobiles, vintage guitars, and life on the road: his pillars of wisdom. For example, here is his answer to the question "Who was that?" after he'd talked for a while on his cell phone: "Elwood Francis, our guitar technician, took a brief absence from the tour in order to escort his wife to China, where they successfully adopted a baby girl named Joshi. In his absence, his post was attended by a talented technician named Sammy Sanchez, who introduced me to a guitar called the Turbo Diddly, which is made from an old wooden cigar box. It has what you call a resonator, and it sounds like a bad recording from 1949. The guy who makes it, Kurt Schoen, is a pilot for UPS."

Gibbons collects and customizes cars and guitars. He and his mates in ZZ Top, Dusty Hill (who has a beard, too) and Frank Beard (who does not), share an obsession with gear, as they call it, which Gibbons has chronicled in a new picture book called "Rock + Roll Gearhead." He was in town, after two gigs with the band, to promote it. "It's been a pretty packed day, dude," he said.

Gibbons had an appointment to videotape a guitar lesson for a music magazine. He had decided, however, that it could wait. "It is not to my liking, per se," he said. A straw apparently helps beer go down quick. Gibbons made frequent trips to the bathroom, trotting through the bar, a slight figure with a little paunch, leaving double takes in his wake. …

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