The Top Five Billy Gibbons/ZZ Top Riffs of All Time

From the moment he received Jimi Hendrix’s accolades (and the gift of a pink 1958 Fender Stratocaster) as a young lad in the Moving Sidewalks, to his present status as a near-elder statesman of all things cars, guitars, and chili bars, the honorable Reverend Billy F. Gibbons seemed destined to become the ambassador of Texas blues-rock guitar. Over the years, Gibbons has become identified with his beloved 1959 Gibson Les Paul ’burst (dubbed Pearly Gates), but regularly coaxes signature tones from his legendary collection of instruments, including a mix of Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters, Les Paul gold-tops and Juniors, a plethora of custom planks and hollowbodies, and, of course, his new Gretsch co-signature model, the Billy Bo, as in Diddley. (You can check out these and many more sweet axes alongside Gibbons’ classic rides in his recent book, Rock + Roll Gearhead.)
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Even with this admirable arsenal at his command, Gibbons’ real secret weapon has always been his bandmates. Formed in 1970, ZZ Top has maintained the same lineup of Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank “Rube” Beard since day one—an impressive feat in itself. With a slew of albums—including such classics as

Tres Hombres and Fandango!, both finally available in remastered versions of the original mixes—under their belt, the boys have honed a tight musical bond that extends from stage to studio, and marks them as one of the top power trios of all time.

Tales of Gibbons’ sonic sorcery in the studio abound, but Bisarktones, recording rooms constructed from four walls of amplifiers pointing inward from all directions, and maniacal chaining together of eight Expandora distortion units aside, the Reverend Billy G’s speciality has always been putting the right note in the right place at the right time, and doing it with a tone as big as Texas.

In this edition of Lick Library, we’ll be serving up a spicy stew of song riffs and solo excerpts drawn from three of ZZ Top’s deepest and most distinctive Texas grooves. In addition, we’ll explore the connections between these straight-eighth rocker, Texas blues-rock shuffle and full-tilt boogie riffs, as each kicks the tempo up a notch from its predecessor. Chow down and rock on, y’all!