Billy Gibbons met his musical heroes at a very young age. His mother took him and his sister to an Elvis Presley performance when they were five years old, and his father took him to a BB King recording session when he was seven years old. The musician overheard their maid listening to blues radio, and this influenced their musical preferences. Later, Presley and King came to dominate Gibbons’ musical taste and had a big impact on him when he founded ZZ Top.
When Billy Gibbons spoke with Classic Rock in 2018,
“One day when I was about seven years old, my dad took me to ACA Studios in Houston, where he had some business. There was a recording session in progress, and my dad put me in there, sat me on a chair, and said: ‘I’ll come back for you in a little while.’ It turned out that the session was by none other than B.B. King. And what BB was doing with the guitar, I remember thinking: ‘This is for me.’”
When asked if this was a pivotal moment in his life, Billy Gibbons responded,
“It sure was. Also, my younger sister and I got to tag along with my mom to see an Elvis Presley concert. And those two events, to this day, loom large in my mind. Those two events were doubly responsible for taking my life in a certain direction; between Elvis and BB King, I was done.”
Although the artist was awestruck by Elvis Presley’s songs, BB King was really more responsible for shaping the musician’s taste in music. Gibbons had the opportunity to learn from him because they were together for such a long time. Even some of the distinctive methods that Gibbons had been keen to acquire were performed by the blues legend. But King also gave him the finest guidance he could have received:
“Learn to play what you want to hear.”
Billy Gibbons did, however, owe B.B. more than just coaching and tuition in the guitar. King. After being inspired by the renowned bluesman, Gibbons gave his band the moniker ZZ Top in his honor. Earlier in the conversation, Gibbons had noted that many of the names of blues performers begin with repetitions. They have a collection of blues performers’ concert posters. He thought about it before settling on the stage name ZZ King, a combination of BB King and ZZ Hill. He changed the original to ZZ Top after realizing it was too similar to BB King.
“We had a collection of posters for upcoming blues artists that were swinging through town,” Billy Gibbons explained. “We’d go around and yank these posters off the telephone poles. And I kept noticing the repetition of initials in the names: BB King, OV Wright, ZZ Hill… We were going to call ourselves ZZ King, but it was too much like BB King. Then I said: ‘King is at the top; maybe it should be ZZ Top.’ And we went with it.”
In light of his early musical career, it is evident that Billy Gibbons was introduced to the blues through BB King and Elvis Presley, and that this exposure helped him develop his own style. Billy Gibbons was influenced by BB King in many ways than only his own guitar-playing style. He appears to have drawn inspiration from King when naming ZZ Top.