By: Jim Ryan
Outside his role as ZZ Top frontman of nearly fifty years, Billy Gibbons has put together one of the more unique Christmas music resumes in rock, standing as one of the few artists able to claim the distinction of recording seasonally appropriate fare with unique characters like Motörhead singer/bassist Lemmy Kilmister and Star Trek actor William Shatner.
I caught up with Gibbons, who celebrated a birthday this week, to get the stories behind his teaming with Lemmy and Dave Grohl on a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run,” working with Shatner on the new album Shatner Claus and his favorite holiday cocktail.
Gibbons hosts ABC Radio’s “Rock and Roll Christmas Playlist” and a lightly edited transcript of our email exchange follows below…
Q. Where do you stand on Christmas music? Growing up in Texas, are there any holiday cuts that stand out to you as particular favorites or any artists you feel have handled the genre particularly well?
Billy F. Gibbons: We’re all in favor of Christmas music and are most thankful that you get to hear it one month out of the year and thankful that you don’t hear it during the other eleven months.
You know, of course, the most popular Christmas song of all time, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” was a hit for Gene Autry who — yes! — was a Texan. He also gave us “Frosty The Snowman” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
Those are pretty eternal, as is the entirety of the Phil Spector Christmas album, not to mention Elvis’ “Blue Christmas.”
We dig the R&B take on Christmas – especially Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa” and James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto.”
Q. Given that your birthday is in mid-December and Lemmy’s birthday was Christmas Eve, your take on the Chuck Berry classic “Run Rudolph Run” with him and Dave Grohl is seasonally appropriate on a number of levels. Not to short Dave but Lemmy is one of the more unique characters in the annals of rock. I know you guys weren’t in the studio together but how did that track come together and what’s it like being captured for posterity alongside Lemmy on it?
BFG: Lemmy and I were good friends and had a sincere mutual admiration of many things across many subjects. We always enjoyed it when he came to hang out with ZZ Top and vice versa. Any time with Lemmy — on tape or in person — was time well spent.
Q. More recently, you also collaborated with William Shatner on his Christmas debut Shatner Claus, teaming up on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” You’re in the video as well. Had your paths crossed previously? What was it like working with him on that track?
BFG: It was an unexpected surprise getting to take the stage with William Shatner. He beamed us up and we dug the experience.
Mr. Shatner has that special something to make someone feel right at home — very especially his role on “The Twilight Zone” back when he saw monsters on the wing of a plane. Still a frightening concept to this very day.
Q. Music for many is the perfect form of escape. It’s also something that brings people together during divisive times. How important is music at the holidays?
BFG: How would you really know it’s the holidays if you didn’t hear bell-heavy music? It’s all part and parcel of the season’s enjoyment elements at this time of the year.
Our favorite beverage on these cold nights is “The Gibbons.” (Yes, they named a drink after yours truly.)
Here’s how to make it…
· In a shaker with ice, combine 1.5 ounces of Pura Vida Reposado Tequila, juice of 1 lime and 1 lemon wedge.
· Shake to combine.
· Pour into a highball glass filled with ice.
· Top with Topo Chico mineral water.
· Add two fresh jalapeño slices.
It’s cold but it’ll keep you warm.
*** Billy Gibbons released his second solo album The Big Bad Blues in September and presents the third staging of “The Jungle Show” December 28 and 29 (alongside Mike “The Drifter” Flanigin, Chris Layton, Sue Foley and Jimmie Vaughan) at Antone’s in Austin, Texas.
*** ZZ Top will hit the west coast in January 2019, a tour which includes a Las Vegas residency at The Venetian beginning on January 18, and embark upon a 50th anniversary European tour in June.
(For all tour dates, click HERE)