Just a couple of weeks ago, ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons visited John Fogerty at his Los Angeles home studio to discuss their upcoming co-headlining tour and jam a little. They started out by rocking out on familiar songs like “Fortunate Son,” “Tush” and “Bad Moon Rising,” but before the meeting wrapped up Fogerty played a brand-new riff and asked Gibbons to join in. “We went straight to work,” says Gibbons. “It was an exercise in just absolute joy.”
The untitled composition may be introduced into one of their sets on the Blues & Bayous Tour, which kicks off May 25th in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and wraps up June 29th in Welch, Minnesota. We spoke to Gibbons and Fogerty (separately) about their shared history, mutual admiration and what fans can expect from the tour. Hint: It includes a lot of guitar battles.
John, tell me your first memory of ever hearing ZZ Top.
Fogerty: I don’t believe I’ve ever seen them live. I’ve seen them on TV a lot. I think [1973’s] “La Grange” is the song that first caught my attention. I remember that back then nobody had a beard beside Frank Beard. There was such a groove to that song, such a feel. A couple of years later, “Tush” came out. I remember seeing the ad for it in Billboard before I actually heard it, so that means they were already having some sort of success. A little later, there was a big tour where they had all sorts of barn animals onstage. Nowadays, you couldn’t get away with that. There would be an sort of animal-rights groups or something to stop you.
Billy, what struck you about Creedence Clearwater Revival when you first heard them?
Gibbons: It was a fascinating juxtaposition of a band from northern California that played blues from the bayou and struck a chord that resonated throughout the rest of the country. I think it would be fair to say that the recordings that popped up in that auspicious time continue to resonate. There is something magical about what that sound contained and, of course, it would be fair to say that John Fogerty’s singing style is a gift from the heavens.
It always amazes me that their entire run was, basically, three years from 1968 to 1970.
Gibbons: Isn’t that amazing? I can only compare it, perhaps, with the short run of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, 18 months. There are very few examples of such timeless expressions that can lay claim to so-called “short-lived,” but can claim a lifelong run.
John, when did you first meet Billy?
Fogerty: I ran into Billy down at the New Orleans Jazz Fest when they still had the boat. Somebody tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around, but I wasn’t quite sure. He said, “Billy Gibbons.” I went, “Oh! Where’s your beard?” He had a beard, but not the beard. He had tucked it into his shirt so it wasn’t a dead giveaway.
How did this tour come together?
Fogerty: I’ve been wanting to kind of hook up with Billy or ZZ for a long time. I think we’ve traded emails. I ran into him down somewhere and I was playing and Billy was playing the next night. I had him come into my show and we did “Sharp Dressed Man.” It was a lot of fun. He sent me a couple of emails. I think he even gave me a CD or two that he labelled “Big Ol’ Blues.” There was a whole bunch of great old songs on there. We’ve been trying for a while and it finally has fallen into place, which I’m delighted about.
Who will play last each night?
Fogerty: We’re going to flip each night. It should make everybody happy.
Gibbons: We were tossing the coin. Who is going to start, who is going to stop and do we have to stop? That was the real question. I think it’ll work out nicely. It’s a collaboration experience, which I think makes a lot of sense, not only for both bands, but for the fans and followers.
I take it you guys plan on playing together.
Fogerty: Hopefully we’re going to have a little cross-pollination. That’s the plan. Something like that needs a tad bit of, if not rehearsal, at least a tad bit of discussion to make it seem worthwhile to the audience, anyway. Selfishly, this is just a bucket list thing for me. I’m really looking forward to jamming and becoming intimately aware of their music and all the little things that happen during their set.
What ZZ Top songs do you want play with them?
Fogerty: I’m sure I would want to do all the big ones. They may want to save those for when they are onstage alone, you might say. I’d love to do “La Grange” and “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Tush” and “Sleeping Bag” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide.” I don’t know if they do that all the time, but that’s kind of a recent one they did.
What do you hope to play with John?
Gibbons: “Fortunate Son” or “Down on the Corner.” When we got together, he was pulling up titles like “Pearl Necklace” and “Tube Snake Boogie.” Those are both very popular ZZ Top songs. I said, “OK, throw those into the pot.” And then I rattled off a half a dozen titles from the heyday of Creedence. He was grinning. He said, “You gotta remind me. I gotta re-learn all that stuff I’m supposed to already know.” I said, “Yeah, that’s the way it goes, man. We gotta get to work.”
Fogerty: I imagine that “Keep on Chooglin'” would be quite the rave-up, or “Born on the Bayou.” Anything, really. It’s all kind of fair game, I suppose. I don’t think we’d be cheating the audience if we spoil “Proud Mary” by having a Billy solo in the middle – I’m kidding about the spoil part – but I think the audience would tolerate that because they know they are coming to a show where both of us are there. This is a new set of rules.