Billy Gibbons brings a Cuban beat to Revolution Hall Friday
Written by Randy Black on December 8, 2015
Billy Gibbons and the BFGs play Revolution Hall on Friday, Dec. 11.
If you’re going to the Billy Gibbons show at Revolution Hall expecting to see a bunch of ZZ Top songs, be prepared to be surprised.
A phone call last year from keyboardist Martin Guigul set Gibbons down the path to his first solo release, a path that starts in Cuba and will end there next week.
Guigul was calling to offer a gig at the 2014 Havana Jazz Festival, just for Billy. Not ZZ Top. Though that gig fell through, it led to the recording of Gibbons’ new release, Perfectamundo, and a trip to Havana next week.
It’s a voyage that’s not new to Gibbons. His father was a noted orchestra leader for movie studios. Gibbons showed an affinity for percussion early in life, so at age 13, he was sent to New York to study with the great bandleader Tito Puente.
“I must have had enough chops because he kind of smiled and said, ‘OK, we’re going to get on with this,’” Gibbons told Relix Magazine. “When it came time to add those elements of rhythmic percussion (to Perfectomundo), those days from long ago all came back. The saying goes, ‘It’s like riding a long-lost bicycle – you don’t seem to forget.’”
Gibbons already had studio time booked in Houston for the period around the 2014 Havana festival, so wasn’t able to make it last year. But the idea of playing in Cuba germinated within him. Before long, he had the musicians to form a great Cuban-style band, including Guigul. Chino Pons, a Cuban musician playing in New York City, by chance was in Houston, adding his Cubano Nationale Beat Generator percussion collective, along with Hammond B3 ace Mike Flanagan, drummer Greg Morrow, bassist Alex “Guitarzza” Garza, “drum-battle queens” SoZo and Melanie DiLorenzo, and producer Joe Hardy. He calls the band the BFGs, apparently meaning Billy Freakin’ Gibbons.
The finished project has great Spanish-language, Cuban-beat songs such as “Sal y Pimienta;” ZZ Top-sounding numbers such as “You’re What’s Happening Baby;” the Booker T-influenced “Q-Vo,” and a cover of the Texas blue-eyed soul classic, “Treat Her Right,” a Roy Head song that missed being Number One in 1965 only because it was up against the Beatles’ “Yesterday.”
Though there’s plenty of variety on the album, the songs all share the famous gravelly Gibbons voice. That sound will return with a full-on ZZ Top album sometime before long, after Gibbons returns from Havana and finishes this tour.
What do bandmates Dusty Hill and Frank Beard think about this turn of events?
“ZZ Top is three guys, and two of those three guys are sitting back smiling,” he told Associated Press writer Nicole Evatt. “They’re going, ‘Yeah, you go out on the road! You take a new band out there. We’re going to have a nice holiday.’”
“By the time we have some breathing room (from the solo album),” he said, “I’ll be able to go back into the studio with Frank Beard, the man with no beard, (and) Dusty Hill.”