HomeCar CultureCommentaryBook Review: Billy F. Gibbons – Rock + Roll Gearhead

Book Review: Billy F. Gibbons – Rock + Roll Gearhead

Love songs really can be about cars


There are a number of rock stars who are also serious car guys. Customs seem to lead the charge with a number of them. Think Jeff Beck, Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, Metallica’s James Hetfield, just to name a few. Then there’s Brit band Catherine Wheel’s Rob Dickinson (cousin of the Iron Maiden front man and British Airways pilot, Bruce Dickinson) who went from singer songwriter to starting Singer Vehicle Design that beautifully modifies Porsche 911s into amazing supercars.

ZZ Top

Then there is Billy Gibbons. The ZZ Top guitarist and front man has a style all his own. He introduced the entire MTV generation to hot rods as the ’33 coupe, Eliminator, became almost as famous as the band themselves.

ZZ Top
BFG polishes up his T-Bird, “Mexican Blackbird,” named for the Fandango! song.

But Billy’s roots run way deeper. As ZZ Top celebrates 50 years “with the same three guys playing the same three chords,” Gibbons has updated and re-released Rock + Roll Gearhead, a book about his life, his amazing collection of guitars and the many custom cars and hot rods he has amassed over the years.

ZZ Top
Flathead from a hot rod coupe

The original book was published in 2005, and if you missed it, you have been given another chance to experience it. Beautifully presented in hardback and protective sleeve, this artfully illustrated coffee table book tells the stories of the cars, guitars and career of the multi-platinum-selling musician. There are only three chapters, but wonderfully expanded on each subject, there doesn’t need to be any more.

ZZ Top
A 1935 National Resonator, complete with patina.

Gibbons’ career, beginning in Houston garage bands to the first regional commercial band success, The Moving Sidewalks, to the formation of the iconic power trio that became a household name. Throughout, you can hear BFG tell the stories in genuine Texas swagger, as the text is written like he speaks. It’s Texas guitar-slingin’ and rip-roaring automobiles that are gritty and polished at the same time, just like ZZ Top’s music.

ZZ Top
A 1961 Cadillac Custom

The guitars range from original to highly customized. Some in the collection are so way out there that I really wonder if they are playable. His main axe, an original, unmolested 1959 LesPaul Standard Sunburst called “Pearly Gates,” which he acquired just as ZZ Top formed, is his go-to. BFG says, “’Til this day, I have yet to find an instrument to equal its raw power.” That is an honest statement as the man has a whole lot of guitars, 60 of which are included in the book.

Billy Gibbons Gearhead, Book Review: Billy F. Gibbons – Rock + Roll Gearhead, ClassicCars.com Journal
Many from the MTV Generation will remember the fuzzy Gibson Explorer

They include Party Peelers John Bolin Customs, a Neiman Marcus BFG SG, a Nacho Telecaster, a 1929 National Resonator, a 1929 Dixie Ukulele and a 1939 Rickenbacker Frying Pan. The best part, just as the cars are driven, these instruments are played.

Billy Gibbons Gearhead, Book Review: Billy F. Gibbons – Rock + Roll Gearhead, ClassicCars.com Journal
“Pearly Gates” a 1959 Gibson LesPaul Standard, is Gibbons’ favorite

Then there are the 15 cars photographed for the book. Amongst the best known are Eliminator, CadZZilla, and Kopperhed, which all appeared in music videos in the day. But the 12 others are equally impressive. Those include The “Mexican Blackbird” a 1958 Thunderbird; the “Quintana” ’50 Ford custom; the El Camino “Grocery-Getter” custom; the “Whiskey Runner” ’34 Ford Coupe; and a ’51 Willys Wagon.

ZZ Top
The truck bed of the El Camino “Grocery Getter”

As I tore into this book and devoured its text and photos, I listened to pre-1976 ZZ Top including “Fandango!” (my personal favorite), “ZZ Top’s First Album,” “Rio Grande Mud” and “Tres Hombres.” Honestly, I personally preferred the Texas boogie-woogie and deep bluesy riffs inspired by Willie Dixon, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker and Bo Didley as opposed to the MTV-era pop. But always respect the band as they never truly let go of their roots.

ZZ Top

The book is fantastic. Billy Gibbons is a car guy I would like to know.

Five Stars

Billy F. Gibbons: Rock + Roll Gearhead

Author(s): Billy F. Gibbons with Tom Vickers and David Perry
Hardcover: 224 pages; Illustrated
Publisher: Motorbooks/Quarto; Reprint edition (June 2, 2020)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0760367973
ISBN-13: 978-0760367971
Dimensions: 10.1 x 1.1 x 11.6 inches

Tom Stahler
Tom Stahler
Tom Stahler is the Managing Editor of the ClassicCars.com Journal. Tom has a lifelong love of cars and motor racing – beginning with the 1968 USRRC race at Road America, in a stroller, at eight months of age. His words, photos and broadcasts can can be found on a myriad of media. He has won the Motor Press Guild’s Dean Batchelor Award and a Gold Medal in the International Automotive Media Awards.


  1. Billy, been a fan since you started, then I found out you were a Pinstriper..go figure. I have spent twelve years of my life restoring Von Dutch’s historic bus, and now it’s going to be sold.. you were one of the names that came up, I’m in Phoenix and so is his bus.

  2. I can’t for Billy Gibbons book, because I’m a hug fan of ZZ Top! His book has his whiskey runner and that is pure AWESOME! The eliminator and the whiskey runner are both coupe hot rods. Billy Gibbons is one sweet awesome guy, he knows about cars and his guitars as well.

    • You will certainly treasure this book as I have. Was quite a trip through the cars and guitars — and a life well led.

  3. Mr. Gibbons has done as much for the automobile hobby as he’s accomplished for music. I graduated highschool in Indianapolis, IN in ’78; ZZ Top (the lil ol’ band from Texas) was and is a huge part of my life’s soundtrack.
    He’s a preservationist of the best of the old stringed instruments, the techniques of their use, and the very best of the hot rod and “kustom car” kulture.
    Gots a rippin’ cool beard, too.
    How anyone could minimize this legend’s contributions to modern culture astounds me, but I work with youngsters that have never seen the Eliminator, nor heard anything related to that breakout, much less the blues driven early cuts. Sigh.
    “Heard it on the ‘X'”, “LaGrange”, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”- it’s like talking to dolphins.
    Best to ZZ.

    • You need to play those classics for them. For me, ZZ Top’s music is as fresh today as the first time I heard them.

  4. “A-how, how, how, how . . .”
    I’ll stick with my 2005 printing. 15 years on, the Reverend Willie G. and his alter boys remain favorites of mine, as they will, forever.


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