45 Times Billy Gibbons Stepped Out of ZZ Top

For 30 years, ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons was prevented from collaborating with other artists. The directive came from impresario Bill Ham, who started working with the band at the very end of the ’60s and propelled them to the big time. He wanted to protect their image as “That li’l ol’ band from Texas” and worked hard to ensure no boundaries were crossed. When Ham – who died in 2016 – split with the band in 2006, Gibbons had already started to stretch those boundaries. Here are 45 times, mostly after the split with Ham, that Gibbons stepped out of ZZ Top — in the studio and onstage.

2001: John Mayall, “Put It Right Back” (Along for the Ride)

Rumor has it that Ham, who’d seen Gibbons supporting the Doors, saw him again when he jammed with John Mayall around 1969, and that’s when they first spoke about a management deal. It was another 30 years before Gibbons would record with Mayall.

2002: Hank Williams III, Lovesick, Broke & Driftin’

Williams, unhappy with his 2001 debut album, decided to run the show himself with the follow-up, and brought in a band that included Gibbons to play on all 13 tracks.

2003: Kid Rock, “Hillbilly Stomp” (Kid Rock)

Gibbons didn’t play guitar but instead provided lead vocals here. Kid Rock credited him with “vocals and beer.”

2005: B.B. King, “Tired of Your Jive” (80)

Gibbons was one of many guests who helped mark B.B. King’s 80th birthday with a celebratory album. King’s first version of “Tired of Your Jive” was released in 1967.

2005: Nickelback, All the Right Reasons

Gibbons played on three tracks from Nickelback’s blockbuster album: “Follow You Home,” “Fight for All the Wrong Reasons” and “Rockstar.” He later defended the derided Canadian band by saying, “You have to note the great vocal stylings that Chad Kroeger can bring to the party. Man, he can sing for days.”

2005: Les Paul, “Bad Case of Loving You” (American Made World Played)

Guitar icon Les Paul marked his 90th birthday with his first album in 27 years in 2005, and Gibbons was there to provide guitar and vocals. He previously jammed with the Les Paul Trio in 1999.

2005: Queens of the Stone Age, Lullabies to Paralyze and Over the Years and Through the Woods

Gibbons appeared on two QOTSA albums in 2005, guesting on three tracks — including “Burn the Witch” from Lullabies to Paralyze — and played on their live LP Over the Years and Through the Woods. “One of the things I love about ZZ Top is they’re a people’s band, y’know?” QOTSA mastermind Josh Homme later said. “And they don’t ever really play L.A., they play Bakersfield instead, which is a farming town out of the way, so I kinda wanna do that too. I wanna copy [Gibbons’] ass.”

2005: Vivian Campbell, Two Sides of If

Gibbons was part of the band for Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell’s solo debut, which mainly consisted of his favorite blues-rock standards, but also included “Willin for Satisfaction,” written by Gibbons and reputedly finished five minutes before it was recorded.

2006: Butchering the Beatles: A Headbashing Tribute

As the era of tribute albums heated up, Gibbons collaborated with Vivian Campbell again, contributing to their take on “Revolution” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” for an album of Beatles covers that featured a host of big names.

2006: Sam Moore, “If I Had No Loot” (Overnight Sensation)

Gibbons joined Sam & Dave’s Sam Moore for a star-studded album that Allmusic said boasted a “cheese factor [that] is woefully high.”

2007: Revolting Cocks, Cocked and Loaded

“Prune Tang” features a lead guitar track by Gibbons, who also played slide guitar on “Dead End Streets.” The tracks were re-imagined for the album Cocktail Mixxx the following year.

2008: Everlast, “Stone in My Hand” (Love, War and the Ghost of Whitney Ford)

Former House of Pain rapper Everlast completed his move away from the genre with his 2008 album, landing squarely in the swamp of alt blues, and Gibbons helped him on his journey with this contribution. The track was used in the 2011 movie Drive Angry.

2008: “Run Rudolph Run” (We Wish You a Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year)

Gibbons conspired with Lemmy Kilmister and Dave Grohl to help turn Christmas heavy, covering Chuck Berry’s 1958 seasonal song “Run Rodolph Run.”

2009: Live with Jeff Beck at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary

Gibbons joined Jeff Beck onstage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th anniversary concert for a jam that included Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.”

2009: Billy Sheehan, “A Lit’l Bit’l Do It to Ya Ev’ry Time” (Holy Cow)

Billy Sheehan released his third solo album in 2009, and Gibbons joined him on “A Lit’l Bit’l Do It to Ya Ev’ry Time.” Sheehan later told how he’d learned the hammer-on playing technique from Gibbons at a ZZ Top show in 1974, when he was so close to the stage he was “under the shadow of Billy’s cowboy hat.”

2009: Gov’t Mule, “Broke Down on the Brazos” (By A Thread)

Warren Haynes’ jam band Gov’t Mule wrote and recorded the material for their ninth album in Willie Nelson’s Texas studio, and Gibbons added some additional bite to the opening track.

2010: Ronnie Wood, “Thing About You” (I Feel Like Playing)

The Rolling Stones veteran said he was proud of the spontaneity of his 2010 solo album, noting, “This album I’m really feeling comfortable with what I’m singing. Also the interplay with people like Slash. He was making an album next door when I was in L.A. He’d always come by and say, ‘Anything I can do, Ronnie?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, play on this. You know what I want!’ And he does. Billy Gibbons passed through. He said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve been looking at you. I got a song for you.’ A lot of them were very spontaneous like that.”

2011: Pushking, The World as We Love It

The opening tracks of the Russian band’s attempt at breaking the U.S. opened with “Nightrider” and “It Will Be OK,” both featuring Gibbons on guitar and vocals. He was even dropped into the promo video for the second number.

2011: Leslie West, “Standing on Higher Ground” (Unusual Suspects)

Despite having lost a leg to diabetes while working on Unusual Suspects, Mountain man Leslie West offered a full and heavy account of himself, notably on this track featuring Gibbons.

2012: “Oh Well” (Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac)

Participating in another tribute album, this time to Fleetwood Mac, Gibbons lined up with Blake Mills and Matt Sweeney to cover Peter Green’s 1969 classic.

2012: Live with Jeff Beck at Madison Square Garden

Repeating their performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” — which they played at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert a few years earlier — Beck and Gibbons tore through the song again at New York City’s famous venue.

2012: “September Song” (Thank You: A Tribute to Les Paul)

Following Les Paul’s death in 2009, bandmate Lou Pallo assembled a tribute album, with Gibbons playing on a version of a track Paul and his wife Mary Ford had performed in the ‘50s.

2012: Live with Camp Freddy

Gibbons has joined the ever-changing supergroup on a number of occasions since the mid ‘00s.

2013: Will Lee, “Get Out of My Life Woman” (Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions)

Gibbons recorded with David Letterman band member Will Lee on his album Love, Gratitude and Other Distractions after the pair had performed live together on a number of occasions. Lee said the track was laid down during a “spontaneous recording session.”

2013: Live with Guns N’ Roses in Houston

Gibbons joined Guns N’ Roses onstage in Houston for a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

2014: David Guetta

In 2014 Gibbons revealed he’d  worked on eight or 10 songs with the EDM artist, although none seem to have seen the light of day yet. “I wanted to know how they did certain things, and of course they were badgering me to bring the guitar to the forefront,” Gibbons said. “They said, ‘Y’know, the only thing missing in dance music is a good guitar player.’ I said, ‘Let’s see if we can bring the two together and make it shake.'”

2014: Johnny Winter, “Where Can You Be” (Step Back)

Johnny Winter’s last album was released after his death, but its packed contents – including Gibbons’s contribution on “Where Can You Be” – led to Grammy success (Winter’s only one) the following year.

2014:Live with Mick Fleetwood at Uncle Willie K’s BBQ Bluesfest, Maui

Gibbons joined the Fleetwood Mac drummer for “I Love a Woman” at blues festival in Maui in 2014.

2014: Live on ‘Conan’ with Reggie Watts

Then there was that time Gibbons joined Reggie Watts on Conan for a song called “I Once Knew a Horse.”

2014: Live on ‘Daryls’ House’ with Daryl Hall

Gibbons and the Hall and Oates singer performed on an episode of Live From Daryl’s House in 2014.

2015: Buddy Guy, “Wear You Out” (Born to Play Guitar)

Gibbons finally managed to work on a record with old friend Guy. “I know Billy well,” the veteran bluesman said in a 1998 interview. “We have never played together a lot, but man, to be around people like that.” The pair also performed together at the 2008 Montreux Jazz Festival.

2015: Live with Richie Sambora at Adopt the Arts benefit, Hollywood

Gibbons and Bon Jovi guitarist Sambora covered “Statesboro Blues” at a 2015 benefit in Hollywood.

2015: Billy Gibbons & the BFGs, Perfectamundo

Gibbons’ debut solo album highlighted his range of talents as he tracked vocals, guitar, bass and keyboards. He also wrote and produced the record, which featured his band the BFGs. “We were enjoying the environs of the recording studio with absolutely no rules,” he told the Guardian ahead of its release. “And we were exercising our experimental side in all different directions. Some of the stuff is quite unusual. It is not another ZZ Top-sounding record.”

2015: Shemekia Copeland, “Jesus Just Left Chicago” (Outskirts of Love)

Describing the collaboration as “left field,” GIbbons told The BluesMobile that he “knew and admired her dad Johnny ‘Clyde’ Copeland, who was a great Texas bluesman. When she got in touch with this idea of covering ZZ’s ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago,’ we thought it would only be right to join in on that.”

2016: La Marisoul, “Green River” (Quiero Creedence)

Another tribute album, this time a Latin tip of the hat to Creedence Clearwater Revival (The LP’s title means “I Want Creedence”). Gibbons teamed up with La Marisoul, the singer with Mexican-American band La Santa Cecilia.

2016: Tim Montana and the Shrednecks, “Weed and Whiskey”

In 2013, Gibbons had co-written “This Beard Came Here to Party” with Montana, and it became the Boston Red Sox’s post-season theme. For Montana’s self-titled second album, they recorded “Weed and Whiskey” together. “I really like what Tim Montana is doing,” Gibbons told Rolling Stone. “It’s this whole new wave in Nashville. It’s youth-driven, and it’s shaking up what some people think is country.”

2016: Supersonic Blues Machine, “Running Whiskey” (West of Flushing, South of Frisco)

Gibbons was one of the guests lined up to appear on an album that Allmusic said was “targeted at guitarists who love to hear other guitarists play.” He proved the point with his work on “Running Whiskey.”

2017: Alice Cooper, “Fallen In Love” (Paranormal)

Alice Cooper felt he had no option but to ask Gibbons to take part. “Once we started writing it, it just fell into that ZZ Top type of flow, and that’s why I just said, ‘We’ve got to get Billy Gibbons to play on this,’” Cooper explained. “It was perfect. It’s a true Alice Cooper pop song.”

2017: Live at Guitar Legends For Heroes, New York

Gibbons lent his guitar skills to a show called Guitar Legends for Heroes in 2017.

2017: Jeff Beck, “Rough Boy” (Live at the Hollywood Bowl)

This concert had been recorded a year earlier, and followed Jeff Beck guesting with ZZ Top at London’s Wembley Arena in 2015. As Beck told Rolling Stone, “There’s no one-upmanship with Billy. He’s Billy and he’s like a concrete statue. You don’t mess with it. I just do little flights of fancy around him. His sound is as big as a house.”

2017: Supersonic Blues Machine, “Broken Heart” (Californisoul)

Gibbons returned for Supersonic Blues Machine’s second album, writing and performing “Broken Heart.” Bassist Fabrizio Grossi explained the band’s desire to invite guest artists. “One, we’re all super friends and we’re having a blast,” he said. “Two, most of them don’t give lessons, and for us it’s only way to learn their secret ways. And Three, because of the inspiration and the challenge they bring to the table.”

2017: Live with Guns N’ Roses in Houston

Guns N’ Roses once again teamed up onstage, this time for GNR’s “Patience” at a show in Houston from 2017.

2018: Warren Haynes, “Mean Mistreatin’ Mama” (Strange Angels: In Flight with Elmore James)

Gibbons once again worked with Gov’t Mule leader Haynes on an Elmore James tribute album. “’Mean Mistreating’ Mama’ was always one of my favorite Elmore songs,” Haynes said. “The original recording and performance has this nastiness that embodies where rock and roll came from. One of his best vocals.”

2018: Sue Foley: “Fool’s Gold” (Ice Queen)

Canadian singer-songwriter Foley recruited Gibbons for a key track from her Ice Queen LP. “This man is a master,” Foley said. “Billy F. Gibbons has one of the best, lowdown, gravelly, smooth yet hard, back-beat heavy, groovy, stylish and most recognizable voices in blues and rock. I don’t know anyone who can touch him.

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