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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The book is fantastic. Billy Gibbons is a car guy I would like to know.
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)
Dimensions: 10.1 x 1.1 x 11.6 inches