Billy F Gibbons doesn’t really know how many guitars he owns, but figures he has about 500. No matter which one is in his hands, he makes it sing in a manner he calls the “talking strings” phenomenon.
“I do think you can make a guitar ‘speak’ and I try to let mine always have the last word,” he said in a recent email interview.
Audiences will get to hear the man, the myth and the guitar sing when Gibbons, one-third of the ZZ Top phenomenon, brings his Big Bad Blues Tour to the Riverside Casino Event Center on Saturday night (10/13). Drummer Matt Sorum and guitarists Austin Hanks and Elwood Francis will join him onstage to play largely from the new disc, “Big Bad Blues.”
Released Sept. 21, that collection hearkens to Gibbons’ roots. It’s just his second “solo” album, after the Afro-Cuban sounds of “Perfectamundo” in 2015. So what prompted him to venture into such different directions?
“You hit it with that word ‘different,’” he said. “These outings offer a superb chance to do some left-field stuff that wouldn’t really work within the context of ZZ Top which, I hasten to remind, is still going strong. It’s creatively invigorating to explore some uncharted territory, both in terms of sonic focus and approach.”
While both discs are departures from his usual fare, he described his new blues album as “an homage to the music that started it all — the electric blues that is the foundation of rock and roll and everything else that’s worthy of one’s attention and efforts.”
Now 68, the Houston, Texas, native has music coursing through his veins, with his father being a classical pianist and orchestra conductor. But other types of music flowed through his household, as well, so his parents didn’t flinch when he gravitated toward blues and rock.
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“The folks at home were cool with my plugging in and turning it up,” he said. “Right after my 13th birthday, I was gifted with my first electric guitar, a Gibson Melody Maker, so you might say they encouraged. Dad was very open-minded about all kinds of music: pop, Latin, blues. He took me to a B.B. King recording session so that should count as encouragement. And mom took me to see Elvis!”
His father introduced him to another “king,” as well, arranging for young Billy to study with Tito Puente, the “King of Latin Music.” A musician, songwriter and record producer, Puente brought mambo and cha-cha sounds to the mainstream and penned “Oye Como Va.” He also gave Gibbons life lessons that continue to resonate.
“He encouraged me to not hold back. As a percussionist, he knew that being tentative would only undermine one’s efforts. He was a ‘go for it’ kinda guy and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since,” he said.
Gibbons, who formed ZZ Top in late 1969, has collaborated with a wide array of artists and genres over the years, from B.B. King and Les Paul to Kid Rock and Ronnie Dunn.
“What we’ve done is incorporate the blues into guitar rock, making it accessible to people who might, otherwise, have no real exposure to the genre,” he said. “As far as guitar, specifically, goes, our focus is on the three T’s: tone, taste and tenacity. It’s really not important how many notes are played — the spaces between then can be most compelling. Our approach is something we call ‘dirty minimalism’ — spare but gritty.”
That’s a quality that landed him the role, as the father of Angela “Pearly Gates” Montenegro on the Fox’s TV series “Bones.”
“We were recruited to play a cranky, bearded guitar slinger. Talk about type casting,” he said. “It was big fun and while on set, it really had the vibe of a family, so life did, in fact, imitate art.”
WHAT: Billy F Gibbons: The Big Bad Blues Tour, featuring Matt Sorum, Austin Hanks and Elwood Francis
WHERE: Riverside Casino Event Center, 3184 Highway 22, Riverside
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday (10/13)
TICKETS: $35 to $65, casino gift shop, (877) 677-3456 or Tickets.riversidecasinoandresort.com
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Billygibbons.com