News Segment


November 30, 2005

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Guitar geeks and car freaks of all (pin)stripes turned out en masse Tuesday night at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles as ZZ Top’s lead beard Billy F. Gibbons signed copies of his new autobiography/obsessionography “Rock + Roll Gearhead.”

A line of middle-aged, appropriately hirsute fanboys (and a handful of fangirls) stretched from the door to Fairfax Avenue; many waited more than two hours for a signature. One supplicant wheeled in 30 copies of “Gearhead” and two Epiphone guitars on a handtruck. Gibbons scribbled patiently at a table positioned in front of one of the gnarlier-looking vehicles from his massive car collection: a rusted-out 1935 Ford pickup he bought in Kentucky this year.

Co-written with longtime amigo Tom Vickers, Gibson’s MBI Publishing coffee-table tome offers a flavorful illustrated history of “that little ol’ band from Texas,” but the guts of the book focuses on the barnburning guitarist’s passion for collecting hot axes and customized street steel. It contains mouth-watering pictures of Gibson’s chopped, channeled rides — the Eliminator Coupe, CadZZila, Kopperhed, Slampala — and his flamboyant guitars — Miss Pearly Gates, the Billy-Bo, the Lone Star Slim Special, the Dizzy One.

The way Gibbons tells it in his wonderfully discursive way, his twin fixations were intertwined in the 1968 acquisition of Miss Pearly, his famed ’59 sunburst Gibson Les Paul.

“One of our crew was a rather attractive blonde named Renee Thomas,” he recalls. “She had been invited to try out for a part in a picture that was in the works. The caveat was she had to get to Hollywood from Houston. As admirers of her, uh, physical presence, we donated our pass-around car, a 1939 Packard, which on a good day was running.”

The beater, which was nicknamed Pearly Gates, got Thomas to Hollywood, and she won the part. So when Gibbons needed money to buy the prized Les Paul, she sold the car and gave him the money for the ax. He remembers, “She said, ‘There’s one condition — you shall name the guitar Pearly Gates and play divinely connected music.”‘ Done deal.

Gibbons has been hoovering up guitars ever since. Ask him how many he owns, and he says, “600 — and then there’s the next room.” His love of street rods is no less fanatical or long-lived. “My first words were, ‘Ford,’ ‘Chevrolet’ and ‘Cadillac,”‘ he says.

When he’s not on the road, Gibbons devotes plenty of care and feeding to his collections. He says, “We have some henchmen and wrenchmen that have the same notion — that these cars, guitars, etc., et al., are like babies. They require fluids and attention.”

Gibbons’ strain of collectoritis is not limited to instruments and automobiles. One two-page spread in “Gearhead” displays part of his dice collection. (He is a notoriously enthusiastic crapshooter.) He has also acquired a disease shared by this observer: record collecting.

“It came to my attention that in order to play favored selected tracks, doing it 24-7 it would probably take about 20 more years,” Gibbons says. But he notes that record collecting — like any kind of collecting, really — is a rarefied mnemonic pursuit: “Records, they’re deep, and part of the depth allows you to time travel.”

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