Happy Birthday: Billy Gibbons

Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Happy Birthday: Billy Gibbons

Today marks the 65th birthday of a gentleman tasted his first success of note in a band that opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, not only earning praise for his tasty licks from Hendrix but also getting the gift of a pink Stratocaster from the guitar god. Those are the sorts of accomplishments that would be enough for a lot of musicians to coast on for the rest of their lives, so we should probably consider ourselves quite fortunate that Billy Gibbons decided to carry on with his music career beyond The Moving Sidewalks to ultimately join forces with Dusty Hill and Frank Beard for what has turned into a 45+ year career with ZZ Top.

Born in Houston in 1949, William Frederick Gibbons was the son of a musician, making it slightly less surprising that, when he got his first electric guitar not long after entering his teens, Billy was off and running, playing in a few bands here and there before starting the unit mentioned above: The Moving Sidewalks, who went on to score a minor hit single with the song “99th Floor.” Given their gigs opening up for Hendrix and The Doors, among others, The Moving Sidewalks might well have gone farther had two of the band’s members – Tom Moore and Don Summers – not been drafted, but while the US Army’s gain was a major loss for the band, it turned out to be a positive development for Gibbons: he and his fellow remaining Sidewalks member, drummer Dan Mitchell, brought in organist Lanier Greig and founded ZZ Top.

Wait, what? Yep, that’s the lineup that can be found on ZZ Top’s first single, “Salt Lick.” But in short order, Greig’s organ was replaced in the band’s sound by bassist Billy Ethridge, and Mitchell was switched out with Frank Beard. Okay, so now you’ve gotten a second familiar name, but how about the third? Well, when ZZ Top was offered a contract with London Records, Ethridge departed, and Beard pitched the idea of bringing his former bandmate, Dusty Hill, with whom he’d worked in a group called The American Blues…and if you’ve checked the credits for any ZZ Top album, then you know that the pitch was accepted.

Although ZZ Top has been Gibbons’ full-time gig since the band was founded, he’s enjoyed the opportunity to branch out on occasion and work with a wide variety of other artists, contributing to recordings by Les Paul, Kid Rock, the Revolting Cocks, Hank Williams III, Nickelback, Brooks & Dunn, Sammy Hagar, Queens of the Stone Age, and Everlast. (Now if that’s not variety, then we don’t know what is.) He’s also turned up repeatedly on FOX’s Bones, ostensibly playing himself, albeit a fictionalized, never-named version who’s the father of forensic artist Angela Montenegro, and you might also have caught him getting animated on King of the Hill. But if you only know Gibbons from his work in ZZ Top, well, that’s okay, too, because that’s some damned fine work, as you’ll be able to tell as you work your way through the birthday playlist we’ve put together to celebrate his career to date.

By the way, if you wanted to wish Mr. Gibbons a happy birthday, you could try doing it on Twitter – you can find him at @BillyFGibbons – but we’d recommend you hit up his official Facebook page instead, which at the very least is updated by one of his designated representatives every few days or so. We suspect they’ll pass along your birthday wishes far sooner than Gibbons will check his Twitter account.