Interview:Musician's Friend Pop Quiz with ZZ Top
School's never out for the hottest band of straight shootin' Texans since Davey Crockett defended the Alamo. We pinned down the intrepid trio on their current tour and slapped a pop quiz on 'em. Each band member rose to the academic challenge with flair and aplomb.
1: When's your birthday? (We need it for our weekly trivia column. Don't lie, this will not compromise national security.)
A: BFG's Birthday is December 16, 1949...! No Lie...!
2: Who's the baddest mo'fo' ever to sling a 6-string? (Support your argument.)
A: There's a bunch of badass gunslingers to consider—anything from some serious metal-meshing to blues-bashing, jazz-jiving, even flamenco. I mean seriously severe slangin' on 6-strings. We know in contemporary circles, there's the obvious across the boards! Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Beck, Page, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, the illustrious combo Keith Richards and Ron Wood, on into the exotic realms from Dimebag, then the dangerous duo from Superjoint Ritual Kevin Bond and Jimmy Bower, Ministry's most outrageous Al Jourgensen master of the maniacal, Eric Johnson's speed demon-demonics, and why not go to Spain? Andre Segovia's delightful delicacies in a flamenco bag, and how 'bout Brazil—Antonio Carlos Jobim with his insane invention of chords requiring a wad of fingers, Santana, Sammy and Eddie Van H, and the remarkable line of Blues originators which list is completely compelling. I mean, MAN! Where does it end!?!?!?!?! It's a strong vision and gettin' stronger. Like Muddy Waters said, "You don't have to be th' best one, just be a good 'un!"
3: Pontificate freely as to why the blues is the leavening in every musical loaf baked in the 20th century. What makes the blues so great?
A: Simplicity in a complex free form. Basics. Layin' on the backbeat and creating avenues of provocative imaginations. And the beauty of a secret language of 'sayin' it' without sayin' it.
4: Do you still have your first guitar? (1962 Gibson Melody Maker) When's the last time you played it? (OK, that's two questions. Extra credit will be given for a complete answer.)
A: It's in the hands of a long-standing good friend Ronnie Seixas, right up the street in Hollywood. And, right up to this moment, it remains a really choice chunk o' wood, hot-rod pinstriping and all!
5: If you weren't a musician, what would you like to do for a living?
A: I don't know rightly . . . Perhaps a pharmacist. Yet, right at this very moment, guitar-slingin' is about all we know.
Extra credit question: Describe the most bizarre experience you've had in your decades of doing that bluesy rockin' thang.
A: Encountering the personal obsession of expanding a curiosity about guitars, guitars, and more guitars. An enlightening interest in all things distorted.
1: What's the oddest question you can remember being asked in an interview? (This interview doesn't count.)
A: Yes . . . odd . . . there's plenty! I suspect this one qualifies: "Will you trade places with me?" It wasn't Donald Trump asking!
2: Tell us about your experience playing with Freddie King.
A: I enjoyed the bass-guitar gigs with Freddie immensely! Learned lots. He always would say, "I like you. You got built-in fuzz in them fingers." I suppose he liked saving dough not having to buy any pedals. Freddie remains a solid figure with a legacy of some really heavy stuff.
3: What's the cream of your bass collection?
A: The highlight revolves around the Fender Bass Guitar. Keep in mind, the phrase says it all: "Fender Bass." Not just any bass necessarily, just, "Fender Bass." Specifically, the true personal favorites are a '53 Precision collection—the instrument which later evolved into the 'Telecaster' bass. Good low-end with a fierce cutting edge. Solid as a rock.
4: What's the most bizarre thing you can think of that happened to you on the road?
A: Well . . . all of it! The road IS bizarre. Plain and simple! We recount on many occasions the first official ZZ show once I joined the band for the appearance down in Beaumont, Texas. I was so excited that I arrived in fine style having left my bass behind! Luckily, a stalwart fan ran across town and fetched his Fender stacked-knob Jazz. We then went for the performance, put on a great show, and tore the house down. Truly a memorable night!
5: Geek question: When Billy takes a solo, what techniques do you use to make the groove behind him fuller?
A: Stand on the tonic! I can lay down a line keeping frills and corners reserved for those special spots between Billy's line. Meantime, I keep it on the down-low and lay that solid foundation to let it rip.
Extra credit question: What do playing poker and playing bass in ZZ Top have in common?
A: Guesswork and a bit of mind-reading. Gotta stay one step ahead of the hounds!
(Have you seen the hilarious interview with you in the Smidgville Picayune Gazetteer? It sounds like what you might actually say in such a conversation.)
Yes, we enjoyed a robust exchange on that one! Quite cool.
1: Who's your favorite drummer? (Support your argument.)
A: Yo! Tall order that! I like Dusty and Billy G's reference to the lengthy list of inspirational players and, in this case, a long, long list of influential tub-whackers that have really added a lot to the world of drumming. Some of my personal drum kings go way back to the likes of Elvin Jones, Buddy Rich, Cozy Cole, Krupa . . . Can't leave out another one of the greats, another personal fave, Ginger Baker. Right alongside this extra added bonus lineup: Ritchie Hayward, a personal friend and hard hitter. The Allman Brothers side-by-side dual, Jaime and Butch Trucks, Terry Bozzio—another wizard! I can really get behind the Memphis work on record with Al Jackson. I got to see him laying it down behind Al Green many a night, which was a trip. Just a trustworthy, reliable groove. Billy Cobham stands tall, too. Peter Erskine: tight and right. Dave Grohl is pretty interesting. Chris Layton with that Texas thing. I just like good, solid point. Take time to tune your kit and go get after it.
2: What's the coolest practical joke you've ever pulled?
A: Joining this band! No, actually I'm a bit of a relaxed kind of guy. The real punch line is in the backbeat. I like the 'Big 3'. . . shuffle, cut-shuffle, and the monkey beat. That's the ZZ/FLB backbone.
3: When you were 19, did you imagine that you'd spend most of the rest of your life as a rock 'n' roll superstar? What were your aspirations?
A: Well, I started in a good place. My good friend and drumming buddy Doyle Bramhall I and I began about the same time. Same kind of background listening to late-night radio and picking up on an R&B trip. We were up and running starting our rock 'n' roll outfits to please the girls. Drummers gets 'em every time!
4: How did you learn to play drums? Were you an obsessed woodshedder for a while or did you pick up most of it during rehearsals and gigs?
A: Mostly from my main mentor "Toodie Toddie," an all-around gifted cat who could lean down with a real enlightened approach to the beat. He knew how to handle it all. Before I got to join up with Billy, I played with Dusty and his brother Rocky, when we started The American Blues playing the late-night shift at the famous after-hours joint called The Cellar in downtown Ft. Worth, Texas. Toodie took me in and laid it down, man. The real deal.
5: What's the difference between a good blues drummer and a good pop drummer?
A: Probably not much. Good is good. Pop, blues, whatever. It's just something you feel. Good. Period.
Extra credit question: Aside from Texas, where is your favorite place to play and why?
A: The house and the studio—both in Texas, I may say! And then there's the road. The famous road, where it's all good.