By Cliff Rhys James
“Well I was rolling down the road in some cold blue steel,With a bluesman in the back and a beautician at the wheel.”
Like a fully immersive experience; like blazing images on a colossal IMAX screen; bigger than the sky, bad as can be, brighter than a thousand suns and twice as hot. That’s how I see it. That’s how I feel it. And you do too. WHAT? Oh yes you do, and don’t pretend otherwise: Go ahead, take a look over there – see that rooster tail of dust headed our way? Hear the approaching roar of American muscle – that big block V-8? Hear those snarling blues riffs? Watch out now, it’s coming fast through the dusty desolation and gold shot sparkle with flames and smoke and it’s bearing down on us. VROOOM. Whoa! See that? Did you feel it? There he goes through the wind and the light and the heat into the teeth of the world. That was him: Spellbound Billy Gibbons, resolute as ever in his shade hat sombrero leaning back in the front seat of some heavy big tucked and rolled two tone convertible with chromed up grill, rear skirts and a wide load of attitude because don’t you know Billy loves big skirts hugging the rear wheels of smokin’ hot cars the way he likes little skirts hugging the rear ends of smokin’ hot ladies – especially Lucky Strike smoking ladies – not to mention all this rumblin’ tumblin’ low slung glory pounding across those Texas plains with the killer blues blasting and that magnificent old bluesman hunched over in the back seat playing the sides off that tortured, tattered, bruised and battered axe like the days of rapture coming down fast and….
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Once more from the top. LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION – ON THREE, TWO, ONE: Like a low slung wash of adrenaline unspooling at high speed straight for the promised land because it MUST be done not later today or tomorrow or the next day but right here right now in this one and only soul stirring moment because that’s how the Reverend Willy G. rolls – especially when he’s got a hot tip on a vintage guitar that he absolutely MUST see, MUST hold and MUST play which is why I MUST warn you never to get between the Right Reverend Gibbons and the sizzling axe he covets. Have Mercy! Can you say, “Pearly Gates?”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“Did you ever hear of a guy named Monty Alexander?”
“No,” Billy pauses for a moment, then says, “I can’t say as I have.”
“He was originally out of the Caribbean, was in Bob Marley’s back-up band, performs with a jazz ensemble and now plays a kind of swing jazz fused with other styles.”
“Now that you mention it, I was thinking and the Monty Alexander I know is a pianist.”
“Yes – that’s the one. I once interviewed him for an article and I only throw that name out if you’re searching for knowledgeable sources of music from that part of the world.”
“And I have a great amount of respect for him. You know there’s another example of crossing a wide range of expressions because as you point out he might have started out centered on Caribbean music but went on to many other musical destinations with a full – fledged swing band kind of thing.”
“We’re going downtown in the middle of the night, We was laughin’ and I’m jokin’ and we feelin’ alright”
For how many years have I watched Billy Gibbons play a slow burn guitar slung low in that effortless down tempo style of his? For how long have I heard him growl low in that lived in voice he possesses? You know what I’m talkin’ about. The man’s a living breathing “effects unit”, the kind that alters the listener and reshapes the moment into a melodious stalker that haunts you like a fever dream.
While nobody knows for sure, as best I can tell there are at least three Billy F. Gibbons: the bearded flesh and blood bluesman, the iconic myth, and the elusive reality that hovers somewhere in between. I’ve seen it a thousand times – this guitar slinging, cheap sunglasses wearing, sharp dressed man with his head tilted back wearing the serene smile of someone lost in the bliss of his own making. And while I can’t prove it I just know his eyes are shut tight behind those shades as he channels the muse and communes with the ghost of Lightning Hopkins or Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Listen now – the pinch harmonics
He works it close to the bone
Listen now – the notes melodic
The man is one with tone
Listen now – the deep groove rhythm
This sonic riff is good
He even calls it easy
“Just meat on metal on wood.”
This I suppose is how Billy Gibbons remains just out of reach but not out of sight. Okay, fair enough. I conducted parts of this phone interview with my eyes closed to let that gravel intonation carry me away into the shadow of the valley of the badland blues and that was when I realized what a thoroughly decent and friendly guy he is. Did I say he was thoughtful, unpretentious and possessed by a generous spirit? Yeah – that too. Righteous dude, bad ass bluesman, nationwide riff master – Billy F Gibbons is a piece of work – a baffling combination of preacher, prophet and pilgrim with some mystic medicine-man thrown in for good measure. Some even believe he’s the re-incarnation of a famous pirate, but more on that later.
“To the deserts go prophets and hermits, through deserts go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape reality but to find it.” ……… Paul Shepard (Man in the Landscape)
For reasons that remain unclear no one knows for sure if the Reverend Willy G is a Pentecostal Preacher, an ordained minister, neither, both or something else entirely. Nor do we know which if any sectarian denomination lies at the roots of his theological training. Some half crazed disciples swear that back in the early 60’s he became a man of the cloth in a shack like seminary just outside La Grange, Texas. You know what I’m talkin’ about. Still others insist he once had a burning bush encounter with a peyote plant deep in the heart of Texas, or off in the wilds of the Mexican desert – no one knows for sure. My point is that regardless of Reverend Gibbons’ ecclesiastical background, he, like all great religious figures, knows his way around the desert’s vast wilderness where he retreats from time to time in search of reality. And who are we but amazed onlookers as his scintillating reality fills up fast with hot cars, hot blondes and furry rotating guitars. Yes, I’ll admit, it’s the case here as it is with all prophets before their time that skeptics can be found. Are we not after all the present day descendants of doubting Thomas? But let me ask a simple question that cuts right to the heart of the matter: if Billy Gibbons isn’t loaded to the rocker panels with supernatural gifts and spiritual endowments then just how on earth did he know with complete confidence that Jesus was bound for New Orleans after he pulled up stakes and left Chicago? Answer me that. Or that our Lord took a jump through Mississippi turning muddy water into wine. See what I mean? Can you say divine inspiration? So ahead, say it. And I thank you.
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