78°F
weather icon Clear

Billy Gibbons explores his blues roots with new album, tour

It’s a refuge, the blues.

That’s how Billy Gibbons sees it, at least.

It’s more than a sound for the guitar great with whiskers and chops in equal abundance.

Think of it as a source of shelter, a creative sanctum.

“It’s like base camp for a climb up a mountain,” Gibbons explains via email. “You explore new territory but are assured that there’s a safe harbor within reach.

“The vast majority of what we’ve done over the decades has been blues-based, but we have never been slavish imitators,” Gibbons adds. “What would the point be in replicating Muddy Waters? By definition, he was the best Muddy Waters there ever could have been. So we used the blues root as a jumping-off point.”

Gibbons is breaking down his new solo record — the lively, invigorated “The Big Bad Blues” — the second of his career following 2015’s Latin-leaning “Perfectamundo,” which explored his Cuban music influences — this is a man who studied under Tito Puente as a youngster, after all.

A mix of originals and covers with a loose vibe and tight playing, “Blues” is all about the ZZ Top frontman being emancipated from expectations.

“In some ways, it’s more liberating, because people would logically have an expectation about what a ZZ Top song would be like and don’t really have one regarding one of mine,” the 68-year-old Gibbons says. “The fact is, we just write what comes to mind and thereafter determine if it’s a good fit for the project at hand. In the case of ‘The Big Bad Blues,’ we had help from Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Jerome Greene and the lovely Gilly Stillwater (Gibbons’ wife). The common denominator for this outing was ‘blues you can use.’ ”

Waters and Diddley loom particularly large over “Blues,” with Gibbons and his band — which is rounded out by drummer Matt Sorum, guitarist Austin Hanks, bassist Joe Hardy and harpist James Harman — tackling a pair of tunes from each.

“The more I think about Muddy Waters, the more I realize what a debt we all owe him,” Gibbons says. “He discovered electricity … not like Benjamin Franklin with a kite and a key, but with a guitar and an amplifier. He really was an awesome innovator as far as electrifying the blues is concerned. It’s the template for all that came after in blues and rock.”

As for Diddley, Gibbons and company steamroll through his “Crackin’ Up” and “Bring It to Jerome.”

“We idolized him in no uncertain terms,” Gibbons acknowledges. “In the (very) abstract sense he was playing blues, but his source wasn’t specifically the Mississippi Delta but, rather, somewhere on Mars. Nobody thought like he did in terms of making a guitar do things that its inventors never intended it to do until Jimi Hendrix came along. We always loved ‘Crackin’ Up,’ but it took us all this time to deconstruct it so that we could do it justice. As far as ‘Bring It to Jerome’ is concerned, that’s an order!”

When Gibbons takes the Brooklyn Bowl stage Friday, it’ll mark the continuation of a long history with Las Vegas: He’s been performing here since the early ’70s.

“Quite a bit has changed over time,” Gibbons says. “We were there when the Sands, Desert Inn, Frontier, Hacienda, Dunes and Stardust were still up and running. Of course, there’s the Aladdin, where Elvis and Priscilla were married — we kind of treated that like a shrine. It certainly was easier to drive around back then, but we’re still digging Sin City as much as ever, traffic jams notwithstanding.”

Gibbons’ fondness for Vegas, however, doesn’t extend to certain marketing mottos.

“We’re kind of at odds with the ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ slogan,” he says. “What happens is, we take it with us and try to spread the Las Vegas attitude of nonstop good times wherever we go. It’s always great to be back to recharge our batteries with a heaping quotient of Las Vegas electricity. The air is different in the desert — it’s as if the breeze is sharing a secret with you. Let’s just say ‘Viva!’ and leave it at that.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST