Take one look at ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons and you'll get the picture: This is a guy who likes to be different. As one-third of the legendary blues-rock band, Gibbons boasts a distinctive, cascading beard typically complemented by headwear resembling a tentacled sea creature — not to mention more than 45 years as the band's main lyricist and musical arranger. You'd think he'd have all the creative outlets he needs. Except that, as a solo artist, Gibbons has just released the Latin rhythm-infused boogie-rock LP Perfectamundo.
"What started this solo excursion was an invitation to appear at the Havana Jazz Festival," Gibbons explains of his first foray into solo work. "The unexpectedness of that just got the equally unexpected Cubano creative juices flowing. We thought, 'Why not?'... The originals were created during the course of the sessions [and were] mostly written, recorded, and wrapped in the course of a day. Of course, there are a few familiar ones that lubricated the sessions as well — 'Treat Her Right,' 'Got Love if You Want It,' and 'Baby Please Don't Go' becoming heavy-rotation favorites in the cerebral corner."
While several songs don't stray too far — those blues standards would fit just fine on any ZZ Top LP released during those past five decades — Perfectamundo's stylistic mesh of blues, rock, rap, Latin, and hip-hop often falls a bit beyond ZZ Top's parameters, with the inevitable result that it may catch some fans by surprise. Gibbons' fascination with Latin rhythms is particularly reflected on the tracks "Hombre Sin Nombre," "Piedras Negras," and "Quiero Mas Dinero."
"ZZ Top is abstract blues rock with a big backbeat and not to be mistaken," Gibbons asserts, while "Perfectamundo includes those elements with a very different approach. This Afro-Cuban idea called for a new design, and that's what transpired. Put another way, it's new but sounds familiar."
Given that he studied Cuban music as a kid, it's not all that surprising that Gibbons has seized on an opportunity to relish those roots. But with its combination of bilingual lyrics and a complex fusion of Latin sounds, the new album seems to suggest more than just a passing fancy. As for the rap interludes that punctuate "Sal y Pimiento" and the aforementioned "Hombre Sin Nombre," suffice to say Gibbons felt the freedom to explore a more diverse sound than he had been able to within the confines of his day job.
But have his ZZ Top bandmates been supportive of the new project? Gibbons says yes: "Oh, yes! Understanding? You bet! After all, I'll be working while they get a break," he chuckles.
Gibbons is confident fans will get onboard too, especially once they get the opportunity to experience the new music live. "We think they'll dig it or we wouldn't get on with it," he says. "It's getting on well-known what it is and what it ain't, so we're looking forward to bringing that live element into play. Not sure if we might do a ZZ Top song, but if we do, it won't be sounding the way you might already know it."
Of course, the major difference for this string of tour dates is that instead of sharing the stage as part of ZZ Top, Gibbons is the main event, with his BFGs serving as backup. "My dad was a band leader so, in a way, this revisits his ethic," the guitarist muses over his new solo role. "You're a reflection of what is elicited with the players, and the players here are more than way equal to the task. We selected our Austin-based buddy, Mike Flanagin, who appeared with us and his Hammond B3 at the Montreux Jazz Festival. He just released his new solo album, The Drifter. Alex 'Guitarzza' Garza handles percussion and is our resident hip-hop poet. We're taking two great drummers, both female, out on the road: Melanie DiLorenzo and SoZo D. Those two have got it nailed. And 'G.G.' Martine came in as our go-to piano guy, bringing his Argentina chops by way of Puerto Rico. That rounded out the lineup handily. They're the five to bring it alive, and we're the six to get our fix!"
Given his satisfaction with the way things have transpired, ZZ Top fans may wonder whether Perfectamundo signals the start of a more prominent solo career. Is Gibbons ready to break up the band?
"Not really," he assures us. "ZZ Top has been our thing for more than four decades, and ZZ is my main man. This Perfectamundo thing is something running fully astride with ZZ. The blues and the beat stand undisturbed!"
Billy Gibbons and the BFGs
8 p.m. Friday, November 27, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale 33304. Tickets cost $32.50 to $67.50. Call 954-462-0222, or visit ticketmaster.com.