LOS ANGELES — For those who have not heard his Latin-infused solo debut Perfectamundo, Billy Gibbons offers this warning: “For the uninitiated, I’ll leave it with one word — beware.”
Gibbons’ musical departure from rock band ZZ Top mixes Cuban rhythms with hip-hop and blues, congas, bongos and the Hammond organ.
“You can mosh to it or mambo to it,” the 65-year-old guitarist and vocalist said in an interview.
It all began with a phone call asking Gibbons to play at the Havana Jazz Festival in 2014. The gig fell through, but inspired the new album and Afro-Cuban sound.
“We have about five or six additional — call them records — in the can, however, they were so predictably ZZ Top-like, ZZ Top-esque,” said Gibbons. “This was so off-the-wall, so weird and out of the ordinary that it just kind of took precedent.”
The gravel-voiced singer is preparing to hit the road with his new band, The BFG’s. They start on Friday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Gibbons recently took a break from rehearsals at his studio in Los Angeles to chat about making Perfectamundo, released this month, the staying power of ZZ Top and finally getting to Cuba:
Associated Press: What was the recording process like for Perfectamundo?
Gibbons: It was basically gathering a bunch a very talented guys and gals in the studio to make a lot of loud noise. We are surfing the web in the meantime, smoking cigarettes, drinking wine — basically a private club with no time clock running and no real thought of: ‘Let’s make a record.’ We were just making experiments in music that just happen to have an Afro-Cuban twist.
AP: How do your ZZ Top bandmates feel about your solo effort?
Gibbons: ZZ Top is three guys and two of those three guys are sitting back smiling. They’re going: ‘Yeah, you go out on the road. You take a new band out there. We’re gonna have a nice holiday.’ By the time we have some breathing room [from the solo album], I’ll be able to go back into the studio with Frank Beard, the man with no beard, Dusty Hill.
AP: How have you managed to stay together for more than 45 years?
Gibbons: We’re often asked: ‘Well, how does it work? How can you possibly keep ZZ Top going for this long? It’s longer than most marriages.’
At the same time, we all concur that we enjoy getting to do what we go get to do. No. 2 is we don’t know which guy is going to make the first mistake, so that keeps us on our toes. It’s a constant challenge.
AP: What can you tell me about the upcoming tour?
Gibbons: Billy Gibbons and the BFG’s are headed for the road. It’s off to Cuba [Dec. 17, 18, 20] and then back to shores and points beyond. My one request is that we don’t need to go into an arena. That is not a Cuban lounge experience. We want the real deal.
AP: What was it like to study Latin percussion with Tito Puente?
Gibbons: My dad — I credit — who was an orchestra leader and happened to be friends with Tito Puente, decided if I was going to continue banging on things around the house I better learn how to do it right. So off to Manhattan we go. I was 13 and when he heard me hitting this and hitting that he said: ‘OK, you got it.’ He said: ‘Now we are going to place it.’ And that was the magic. I hadn’t picked up a timbale stick to beat on a timbale since those days. It’s probably best [described] like riding a bicycle, something you don’t want to forget. You may not be doing it every day, but let’s get on and ride.
AP: What do you think is the future of blues?
Gibbons: It’s in a state of flux. It’s changing. The originators may be gone, but the legacy and impact of what they invented has ignited a new generation of admirers. I had the pleasure of working with [singer] Shemekia Copeland, best gal in the blues field. I did a track with Buddy Guy So we’re not treading water. It’s moving ahead. It’s full steam ahead.