‘Defying description’: Man, what a thoughtful WaPo interview with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons on Prince’s ‘sensational’ guitar playing & it includes a captivating Prince story.
Prince’s guitar-slinging skills were no secret. Whether at the Super Bowl, stealing a Rock Hall all-star jam or on his records, he could play it all. But to hear ZZ Top’s legendary frontman Billy Gibbons tell it, Prince wasn’t just a great guitar player. He was downright otherworldly. Gibbons spoke to The Post Friday about the guitar player who could stump even him.
So much has been said about Prince but I do think it’s important to remember that his guitar playing was, I don’t know, just sensational. Tell me how you’d describe it.
Well, to borrow your word, sensational is about as close a description of Prince’s guitar playing as words might allow. I believe that the feeling one was left with, if afforded the luxury of actually seeing Prince perform … we’d be looking for other superlatives. Because it’s almost got to the point of defying description.
You had an interesting encounter with Prince.
It was following the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th anniversary celebration [in 2009]. They had a two night grand hurrah at Madison Square Garden and I was invited to perform with Jeff Beck. And following that appearance, I found myself back at the hotel and I wandered off in search of some late-night grub and my favorite 24-hour joint was shut down for unknown reasons. I tiptoed across the street to the Tiger Bar. I was just standing at the front and I was approached by a rather large gentleman and he said, ‘You’re wanted at the corner table.’ And there was Prince sitting all by his lonesome. And I gave him a brief tip of the hat and sat down and said, ‘Hey man, it’s so good to see you.’ He said, ‘It’s so good to see you. Let’s talk about guitar playing.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ And in the next two hours we really dove into the depth of his intent, interest and focus toward technique and tone. I left that evening even more mesmerized than I’d previously been, just knowing the sincerity that Prince kept toward his playing, his performing and his all-around showmanship.
You’re a little bit older, you come from Texas and I’d imagine you first learned about Prince in the early ’80s, when you were both MTV stars.
As you may remember, he began bubbling up without a lot of advance fanfare. There was just this vague knowledge of this new guy on the scene called Prince. And then, of course, we all got our world rocked when “Purple Rain” showed up at the theaters. Even today, I’m struggling to try and emulate that guitar introduction to “When Doves Cry.” It’s just a testament to his extraordinary technique.
Wait. When you say emulate — you mean you try to play it and you can’t?
I continually come back to attempting to piece together each and every one of those segments. And it’s very short. It’s not an extended solo by any means. But the way it is delivered. There’s certainly no way to write it. You’ve just got to dive in and feel it to see if you could come close. This might be a little off the subject, but just this morning, Andy Langer sent me a link to Prince on YouTube performing “Honky Tonk Woman.” I had never seen it. I don’t know if there’s a fixed date that could be attached to it. I would encourage you to check it out. Here, within the four minute time span, you really get a sense of urgency that was behind his dedication to playing.
Technique. You’ve said that a few times.
That’s a very particular word. Prince is somebody we always thought of as flash, beautiful, almost touched by something otherworldly. But when I hear the word technique, I think of practice, intellect, study.
Yes, and we can only surmise that there were a great number of hours in private where he was developing ways to approach the guitar that ultimately led to his prowess over the instrument. I bring this up over the years. My friendship with Prince was made known. There was hardly a day that went by if Prince’s name came up in the conversation, little did they give credit to his guitar playing. It was more about the flash. The showiness. There are a few repeatable examples that were fortunately caught on film or record that will settle the score once and for all. When I sat down with Prince that fateful evening in Manhattan, he was really touched by the fact that I knew quite a bit of his guitar playing … It was so funny because there was a legion of Brazilian carnival dancers that had invaded the club and they had taken over the bar. They were dancing on the bar … this was all going on in the background. Prince was unfettered. He just wanted to talk about playing.
I wonder if because he had so much style, whether he ever felt that his playing was overshadowed.
Oh yeah. In fact, that entered the conversation. He asked me, ‘Does your beard get in the way like some of my costumes?’ And I was stunned momentarily and I thought about it and said, ‘You know, perhaps so.’ But then he grabbed my arm and said, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with it.’
Last thing. That night, two hours of guitar talk. Is there anything specifically you remember telling him or him telling you about basically how to play?
I don’t know about anything that specific. I was quite flattered that he knew specific song titles that had a specific guitar sound. He said, I’ve really enjoyed some of the work that showed up on that monster hit of yours, “Eliminator,” the sound of “Gimme All Your Lovin’” He went on to cite a number of titles. I said, ‘Okay, I could give you some amplifier settings, I could give you some guitar strings.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you tell me about ‘When Doves Cry’? He just smiled. ‘That one gets me too.’
I didn’t know how to take that. Was he was suggesting he stumbled upon it by accident or he didn’t have words to describe it? I’m just happy to know that he took it as a compliment.
As I have been wanting to make this blog more fandom diverse, I thought I should make a list of fandoms I am willing to write for. If you don’t see a fandom on here that you like then just shoot me an ask and I’ll see what I can do for you!
Once Upon a Time
The Walking Dead
Game of Thrones
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Star Trek (reboot)
The Vampire Diaries
*If you want anything specific that you don’t see here, feel free to ask*
“Sixteen-year-old Daria Morgendorffer knows the importance of fashion. After all, she’s a high school student – by definition immersed in a highly competitive, extremely clothes-conscious environment.Starring in her own hit cartoon before she’s old enough to join the army or drink a glass of champagne could be overwhelming, but Daria doesn’t get caught up in the hype of being a star on MTV. After all, she got her start as a minor character on “Beavis and Butt-head” before branching out into her own series last year, so she can hold her own with the best of them. Her brand of brainy, sarcastic humor and her laid-back look of oversized eyeglasses, short skirt, jacket and boots, have touched a chord with viewers across the country.Daria took time out from her busy tapings, homework, and hanging out at the pizza parlor to share her opinions on fashion.
WWD: You act blasé about fashion, but we know you’re smarter than that. What’s your opinion about fashion and its role in society?
Daria: I believe fashion has a very important role in society, allowing us to capture the attention of potential sexual partners while signaling our social status to potential sexual rivals. It serves roughly the same function as the brightly colored pads on a mandrill’s buttocks.
WWD: Even people who profess not to have an interest in fashion end up making a statement with their clothing choices. How does your signature look reflect who you are and what you believe in?
Daria: My signature look reflects my belief that you should not be judged by your clothes. And if you are going to be judged by your clothes, try to pick clothes that don’t believe in the death penalty.
WWD: How did you put your signature look together?
Daria: I choose dark colors to reflect my general dark outlook and camouflage pizza stains. I wear a jacket loose enough to pull up over my ears and zip closed when my parents are talking. My boots send a clear message: “I can kick you.” And my skirt is pleated so that it flares nicely when I’m ballroom dancing and my partner whirls me.
WWD: Why do you think smart people often feel they cannot have an interest in fashion?
Daria: It’s not that smart people feel they can’t have an interest in fashion. It’s just that, like Superman, they often feel compelled to use their powers for good instead of evil. So they think it’s more important for them to ponder the human condition, than, say, what’s going to replace itty-bitty handbags next year.
WWD: Your style seems like a cross between Carrie Donovan and The Spice Girls. Who has influenced the way you dress?
Daria: Oh, Eva Peron, Imelda Marcos, Lucrezia Borgia… the usual role models. And in the area of color, Gumby.
WWD: What’s your opinion on school uniforms for teens? Do you think they would reduce the pressure to be “fashionable” or would this just be another example of adults imposing their will on teens?
Daria: My mother told me that when she was in high school, the students staged a walkout over the right to wear jeans. They felt oppressed by rigid dress requirements. Now school uniforms are coming back because students feel oppressed by rigid stylishness requirements. Something seems to have gone very, very wrong in the last 30 years, but at least we got rid of Nixon.
WWD: When asked by fans why you never change your outfit, you mentioned that on cable you don’t have the kind of budget they have on the big networks. If you had an unlimited clothing allowance, what would you wear and why?
Daria: If I had an unlimited clothing allowance, I would wear exactly what I do now and spend the money equipping my private army. Oops, I was going to keep that a secret.
WWD: How do you reconcile your skepticism about our consumer society and aversion to rampant consumption with the fact that your own image appears on a number of licensed products?
WWD: Your hair has just the right combination of bounce and hold. Share your styling secrets.
Daria: Well, I try to eat at least two slices of pizza a day to give my hair shine. I read a lot of books because it promotes blood flow to the scalp. I have my split ends trimmed biannually without fail. And, because I believe you’re only as beautiful outside as you are on the inside, I never go to bed angry unless I have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to exact my revenge.
WWD: Do you know who Manolo Blahnik is?
Daria: Sure, she was the star of “Blossom.” Good show!”
(Interview with Daria from Women’s Wear Daily June 1998)