ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons talks Berry, Haggard and Prince before Biloxi shows

Billy Gibbons performs at the concert ‘Sing me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard’ at the Bridgestone Arena on April 6 in Nashville, Tenn.
Billy Gibbons performs at the concert ‘Sing me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard’ at the Bridgestone Arena on April 6 in Nashville, Tenn. Al Wagner/Invision/AP

Billy Gibbons is nothing if not prolific. The venerable ZZ Top guitarist continues to tour with the band on the Tonnage Tour, which kicked off Feb. 18 at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile, as well as playing shows with rock royalty Kings of Chaos and the Merle Haggard tribute show in Nashville.

Gibbons, along with bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard, will be returning to Biloxi for a two-night stand at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, May 18-19. Tickets, available at Ticketmaster.com, start at $59 for the shows that begin at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

In an interview with the Sun Herald, Gibbons, pays tribute to the late Chuck Berry and Haggard, and gives some major props to Gulf Coast native Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie.

You’ve said Chuck Berry is a guitar hero. Do you remember the first Chuck Berry song you heard and how it affected you?

The high spots remain to be found on Chuck’s album release, “Berry Is On Top.” It’s all killer-diller stuff.

Did you ever perform with Chuck?

Yes, one of ZZ Top’s first paying gigs was with a traveling show featuring both Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley.

What’s the favorite Chuck Berry song?

“Jo Jo Gun.”

You also played the Merle Haggard tribute in Nashville. Were you a fan of his guitar playing?

Merle Haggard made absolutely everything look easy, which is one of the marks of a real, true genius. Merle avoided overplaying on the arrangement side of composition, which is one of the appeals of his approach; might be a result of his upbringing during the Depression — never to waste any guitar playing sense of power and economy.

What’s your favorite Merle Haggard song and why?

Well, there are many favorites! One of which I was recently invited to interpret is the hard-hitting, “The Bottle Let Me Down.” Additionally, Warren Haynes and I delivered a fresh and funky approach to “Workin’ Man Blues” and revealed the song to be just what the title implies: a real blues number. That, too, remains a favorite. There are so many greats the selection is subject to change without notice.

Were you a fan of Prince’s guitar playing? Would you do a Prince tribute show if you were asked?

Absolutely. Prince was truly a gifted individual, and we enjoyed discovering our mutual admiration of entertaining and most of all, our attention to guitar playing. Of course, at any time, I’d be first in line to deliver a tribute to Prince, keeping in mind his subtle guitar stylings demand a real focus on technique, which is sometimes a bit tricky. Would be difficult to narrow down a song selection but maybe “Let’s Go Crazy” ’cause it’s a terrific sentiment and conveys a sense of urgency. The wicked guitar intro to “When Doves Cry” still remains a mysterious technical mind-blower.

You played some shows with Jeff Beck — did you get to do anything with my friend Jimmy Hall when you played with Jeff?

Oh, yeah! Jimmy Hall, as the super-shoutin’ sidekick to Jeff, made for an energetic combo. We’ve enjoyed a long-standing friendship with Jeff from way back and with Jimmy Hall dating back to the days with Wet Willie. Jimmy’s a terrific, soulful singer and an accomplished blues harp player, adding a depth to the Jeff’s searing guitar work. We were delighted to spend time on deck with Jeff and Jimmy as the compliment of ZZ Top and Jeff Beck’s outfit together made a romp around the world.

ZZ Top

Tonnage Tour

Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, 875 Beach Blvd., Biloxi

8 p.m. May 18 and 19

Tickets start at $59 and are available at Ticketmaster.com.