ZZ Top has sold over 50 million records. You can go in any bar in this country, and half of them are either covering his band’s songs, or aping his style. He’s been doing it for nearly half a century, combining the coolest bits of country, blues and rock. He’s played with everyone you know, and everyone you should know. He’s one of the main reasons we don’t let Texas secede, even when they’re on our nerves. He’s Billy Gibbons.
His playing isn’t really flashy, although his persona is, but anyone who has played in a trio knows how difficult it is to fill in all that sound with your guitar parts. Gibbons does it effortlessly, over classic songs of his own creation. He is a showman of the highest order, an art that great guitarists often don’t have, but one that musicians desperately need.
He is inherently distinctive, another thing that great guitarists all share. The moment you hear that distinctive intro, and the smiling man with the long beard and Mexican peso that he uses as a guitar pick comes out, you know what you’re in for. He makes music that people respond to. You tap your foot, you bob your head, and when he goes for those long bends, you grimace. But its a good hurt.
Gibbons is the triumph of taste over excess. He doesn’t play a lot of notes, but like Scotty Moore, he plays the right ones. (He also probably invented two-handed tapping.) The moment Jimi Hendrix heard Gibbons, he knew he was a star, and talked about him to everyone he knew (after exchanging ideas). He just puts out decade after decade of great songs, which is more than pretty much anyone else has done.