"The good news is we're far away from those crazy flood waters," Billy Gibbons says. You can almost hear him shaking his head. The singer-guitarist, one third of ZZ Top, is one of Houston's most beloved musicians, but he hasn't been home since Hurricane Harvey displaced 30,000 of the city's residents. That will change on September 10th, when his band returns to nearby Sugar Land for a previously scheduled concert at the Smart Financial Centre. The show has become an impromptu fundraiser: ZZ Top are working with the venue to donate $100,000 from the show to assist flood relief.
Speaking on Thursday before a gig in Salt Lake City, Gibbons picked an apropos deep cut that the band might resurrect for the special show and relayed reports he's been hearing from friends in Houston. "It's just unbelievable," he says. "I can assure you, it's not a pretty picture."
What's been going through your head as you've watched this from out of town?
I think it would be safe to say that I shared in the initial rush of utter confusion. It's going to be a while before that calms down. The good news is that the rains have subsided, although I understand that the storm system itself is still manifested in an ongoing fashion. I think it's going northeast, but it's going to be a tough road to hoe to climb from the wreckage, so to speak.
How have you been getting news from the city?
We started out on the tour trail after returning from some dates in Europe, and we were far out on the West Coast when the news started to hit the media. As the storm started gaining strength it was still an uncertainty for a few days, and then it took that sudden turn toward land. It did not appear to be any small wind storm: This was a full-blown hurricane. We were fortunate to be able to contact most of our family, friends, associates, telling them what best we could from such a far distance. I don't think there was any way for them to prepare. As you know, they've never seen the likes of this kind of flooding on record. It's just unthinkable.
I've seen a few photos comparing the same spot before the storm and at the peak of it. I can't imagine what it was like on the ground.
Then as the storm returned out to the Gulf it took a swipe east, taking out a bunch of the small communities outside of Houston, as far as 90 or 100 miles out toward the Louisiana border. It really leaves you thinking, "How is this possible?" We've rallied a bit. We had already planned to make a tour date outside of Houston, right in an outlying community called Sugar Land, Texas. That was also hit hard. But the good news is that the water is receding. The plan is to stick to our guns, charge ahead and pull the show together the best we can. With the promoters and the sponsors of the event, we're going to make a $100,000 donation to the relief fund, just to get something started on that level.
As a musician from Houston, what is your role in a time like this? Is this a question you've been thinking about?
Yeah, and it's been somewhat frustrating being so far removed, out on the tour trail. The lines of communication were not totally disrupted, but it's still a mind-blower trying to imagine what's taken place in all the communities that were hit so hard. We're gonna charge ahead and head on in and see if we can make heads or tails out of it. The show had been sold out well in advance, so we're anxiously anticipating bringing a little joy to a hard-hit region.
I'm sure that will be a special show.
Oh, yeah. We've even thought about resurrecting one of our old songs, "Heaven, Hell or Houston." We're gonna leave out the middle part because it's already been there.
I'd heard that Dusty Hill's wife was still in Houston. Do you have other friends or family who are in the city?
Yeah, and so far there's nothing tragic. Nobody likes to lose their belongings, but we're fortunate. It says a lot about that Texas spirit that you see so many volunteers jumping in to lend a helping hand. It could have been a lot worse, in terms of loss of life, but that seems to have been kept to a minimum. It's no fun. I'm trusting that Texas spirit to bring everybody through.
What have people in Houston been telling you about what's going on?
They say it's a bit of a calamity. The street light system is not functioning. Several railroad crossings, the barriers have come down and lights are flashing. There is very little assistance in trying to determine what roads are open. When I say calamity, I can only imagine those that are trying to second-guess where to go or which way to take to get from A to B. It's gotta be frustrating. But so many have taken a moment to spread the good word that help is on the way. And I think what we're doing will be meaningful.