It’s the debut solo album from Billy Gibbons, ZZ Top guitarist/vocalist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who is backed by a handpicked group of musicians dubbed The BFG’s on this unique outing. As the title may suggest, the album takes on a bit of an Afro-Cuban flavor that may come as a surprise to some Gibbons fans and followers.
Even before the blues-rock/hard-rock great’s first recordings back in 1967 with the Moving Sidewalks, his legendary pre-ZZ Top Houston psyche-punk garage band, Gibbons studied Latin percussion in Manhattan with none other than its preeminent virtuoso, “Mambo King” Tito Puente, a friend of Billy’s bandleader dad. Puente taught the young Gibbons the essential Latin rhythms via conga, bongo, maracas and, most importantly, timbales. “Banging away on ‘em came back like riding on a lost bicycle,” Gibbons relates of his return to the genre by way of Perfectamundo.
But the concept for Perfectamundo, which was produced by Gibbons and Joe Hardy and recorded in Houston, Los Angeles, Austin and Pontevedra, Spain, originated with Gibbons’ invitation to perform at the 2014 Havana Jazz Festival, delivered by his Argentine-born, Puerto Rico-raised friend and musical collaborator Martin Guigui. While he was unable to make it to Cuba, Billy did commence exploring the potential for an Afro-Cuban inflected album project at his Houston studio. Soon after presenting his engineering crew with a business card from a newly opened Cuban eatery called Sal Y Pimienta (salt and pepper), the first track finished for Perfectamundo took its title from that card.
He followed this with a “Spanglish” version of Louisiana swamp blues maestro Slim Harpo’s classic “Got Love If You Want It” and an Afro-Cubanized take on the Lightnin’ Hopkins blues staple “Baby Please Don’t Go,” thereby fully merging Gibbons innate Houston blues tradition with Cuban rhythms. With the first three tracks ready to go, he sought further guidance from Guigui as well as Chino Pons, a Cuban friend who heads his own quartet in New York. “Chino, so to speak, sprinkled holy water on our efforts and expressed confidence that we were headed in the right direction—and that bit of affirmation gave us the impetus for more forward motion,” says Gibbons.
BFG & Co., then, includes Guigui on piano and B3, B3 player Mike Flanigan (who has joined with Guigui in backing Gibbons on recent solo dates), vocalist/bassist Alex Garza and drummer Greg Morrow, with co-producer Hardy offering additional guitar, keys, bass and vocals, and Gary Moon also supplying additional guitar play. Besides guitar and vocals, Gibbons himself contributes bass guitar, B3 and piano parts as well as Timbales and other percussion instruments. Chino appears, too, as part of the seasoned Cubano Nationale Beat Generator percussion ensemble. Altogether, the group displays a rare understanding of Cuban music of the pre-revolution 1950s, and is also learned in the rock and metal exemplified by the likes of ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin—all of which is uniquely reflected in Perfectamundo.
There’s even some hip-hop courtesy of Houston’s Garza, a/k/a Alx Guitarzza, which surfaces on the title track, “You’re What’s Happenin’, Baby” and “Quiero Mas Dinero.” Other standout cuts include “Pickin’ Up Chicks on Dowling Street,” which is pure Billy Gibbons; the mysterious “Hombre Sin Nombre,” the hard rock “Piedras Negras,” and the smoking B3-stoked, almost instrumental album closer “Q-Vo.” And Gibbons turns to a Houston classic of another sort in his simmering and slyly percussive cover of Roy Head’s horns-fueled 1965 hit “Treat Her Right.”
Perfectamundo, indeed. And while the album is in fact his first solo release, Gibbons has been quite active of late apart from his continuing endeavors with ZZ Top comrades Dusty Hill and Frank Beard—though it must be made clear thatPerfectamundo is accompanied by the blessings of both.
The musical genius of Billy Gibbons is to be heard on his first ever solo album, refreshingly unexpected but most predictably.. Perfectamundo. ¡Escuchemos!