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October 24, 2017

A Q&A with rock legends ZZ Top

A stomach bug kept Dusty Hill from performing Sunday at the Tower Theatre

The only band that has never changed personnel in nearly half a century is ZZ Top. 

The potent blues-rock trio, which is comprised of vocalist-guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard, have been together since the days of Woodstock. 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, which postponed its show at the Tower Theatre Sunday due to Hill's stomach ailment, have sold more than 50 million albums during an incredibly consistent career. During an interview with PhillyVoice, Gibbons reveals how the band stays together, what’s up next for the little ol’ band from Texas and what heartthrob he would pass for if he ever shaved.

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Q: How have you guys stayed together since 1969?

A: That’s a good question and, to paraphrase the late, great Philadelphian Sun Ra, “space is the place.” We give each other enough so we’re usually happy to reconnect on stage or in the studio. We travel separately and lead individual lives, but when we get together on tour or at sessions it’s something of a joyous reunion, and then, of course, we become a three-headed monster.

Q: Why continue to do it and how will you celebrate your 50th anniversary?

A: Why not? It’s a good time and we aren’t interested in getting off the party train we’ve been on all this while any time soon. Why stop when you’re still going places? Our 50th will, most likely, be along the lines of our 10th, 20th, 30th and 40th: more rockin.’ Not stoppin.’

Q: Will you release another album of new material?

A: We’ve been working on some new stuff and the current thinking is to release forthcoming material in some sequential way... like subscribing to a magazine (or, in this case, a comic book).

Q: How difficult is it to put a setlist together?

A: Much has to be considered: tempo, pacing and checking the boxes to please the fans. We do have quite a bit of material to choose from and we like to throw a Hendrix, Elvis or Buck Owens song in every now and then to remind people who inspired us. It’s not rocket science, but it’s certainly a calculation.

Q: Did Depeche Mode’s synth-driven early ‘80s tunes impact your commercial breakthrough, 1983’s “Eliminator?”

A: We became aware of contemporary electronics inspired much by their outfit and sought to incorporate some of the technology in what we wanted to do. It still comes out as based in the blues but with some refreshing touches. Again, at the root, it’s still the blues.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: Gotta go with not just induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards, the man, the legend, the friend, the rollin’-est of Stones.

Q: What haven’t you accomplished?

A: We are forever in search of the recipe for the perfect enchilada. We’ve mastered guacamole, so that’s another culinary mountain to climb.

Q: When you look back at the ‘80s, it would have been easy for you to thumb your nose at videos, but you embraced it. Was that difficult and how much fun was it making those clips?

A: We stand by the work, especially the pretty girls and the little red car. We endeavored to make sure that we were, in essence, guests in our own videos, on the periphery in terms of visual presence but front and center in terms of musical presence. Like that set list..the concern was balance.

Q: What’s something that someone doesn’t know about you?

A: If I were to shave off this beard, you wouldn’t be able to tell me apart from George Clooney.

Q: You've had a number of unforgettable shows in Philly. Can you reveal some of your favorite Philly memories?

A: The obvious answer is cheese steaks at an ungodly hour at Pat's and/or Geno's.