Billy Gibbons Biography

Guitarist (1949–)
Billy Gibbons is the bearded lead guitarist for blues/rock band ZZ Top.


Born in Texas in 1949, Billy Gibbons started his first band in his mid-teen years. Around 1970, Gibbons formed ZZ Top, with the first album following in 1971. Their breakthrough came after the members parted ways around 1976, then grew long beards and reemerged with a newfound energy on 1983's Eliminator, which spawned several hits. Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top continue to make music, and Gibbons has branched out into television and culinary endeavors.

Early Years

Billy Gibbons was born December 16, 1949, in Houston, Texas. Right after his 14th birthday, for Christmas in 1963, Gibbons got his first guitar, an electric guitar. Soon after, he formed his first band, called the Saints, with his second band, the Coachmen, following a couple of years later.

The Coachmen's sound was inspired by the Rolling Stones and other blues-infused bands of the time, but they began to get interested in the psychedelic movement of the time, soon changing their name to the Moving Sidewalks. With the name change came a hard turn into the psychedelic sounds of the time, featuring experimental songs and varying effects. The new band caught the attention of Jimi Hendrix, and Moving Sidewalks began touring with the legendary guitarist in 1968 on the "Are You Experienced" tour.

ZZ Top

As the 1960s came to a close, so did the Moving Sidewalks. In 1969, Gibbons sought to form a more blues/rock-based band, and it was ZZ Top. The band soon cut its first single, "Salt Lick," and started playing live gigs, with Gibbons the band leader and lead vocalist.

In 1971, ZZ Top released their first album, appropriated (and humorously) called ZZ Top's First Album. The success of the album is likely attributable to the success of the band's live shows leading into it, because their second album, Rio Grande Mud (1972), didn't catch on, and neither did the tour that followed.

Success Finds the Band

Tres Hombres, the band's 1973 album, was full of bluesy rock songs that stuck with the listening audience, and it put the band on the map. The album made the top 10 on the album chart and also contained ZZ Top's first top 10 single, "La Grange." The success of the tour led the band to start recording songs for a live album, and Fandango! was released in 1975. Fandango! made the top 10 as an album, and the song "Tush" reached number 20 on the Billboard singles chart.

With the band's star on the rise, they released Tejas in 1976, but it was met with critical and popular indifference.

The Comeback

After Tejas, the band decided to take a short break, which turned into a three-year hiatus. During that time, the band members drifted apart. When they finally reunited, they realized a funny thing: Both Gibbons and bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill had grown beards that went down to their belts. With their new look, ZZ Top hit the studio and then released Deguello, which contained two big hits: "I Thank You" and "Cheap Sunglasses." The album was a hit, and it led ZZ Top into its first-ever European gig.

Their 1981 album, El Loco, featured three hit songs but still proved to be only a warm-up for the next one: Eliminator.

'Eliminator' and Beyond

Eliminator came out in 1983 and hit several genre charts with an array of songs, propelled by added exposure for the singles on MTV. The album sold 10 million copies and paved the way for Afterburner, which also was a commercial success (although on not such a grand scale) and rose to near the top of the charts.

Six more albums followed, but none could ever reach the heights attained by Eliminator. The band continues to record and play, and Billy Gibbons individually has had some interesting events to add to his resume. He played on Conan O'Brien's last show on NBC in 2010 (with Will Ferrell, among others), has had a recurring role on TV's Bones and has launched a line of hot/barbecue sauces called BFG Brand.

He has also kept very busy musically, playing with the likes of the Raconteurs, Jeff Beck, Kid Rock and Queens of the Stone Age.

In 2004, ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2006 Gibbons married longtime girlfriend Gilligan Stillwater. In 2011, Gibbons was ranked at number 32 on Rolling Stone's list of top 100 guitarists of all time.

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