Billy F Gibbons is having a whale of a time in Mumbai. The 67-year-old musician, actor and founder of ZZ Top, a rock band he started in 1969, has been hanging out at Colaba Causeway (“It looks like old London”) and getting lost in the labyrinthine lanes of a slum. “I was listening to music and walking and, after a while, realised that I was lost. My surroundings were very unappealing. I met a local man, who offered to help. We got talking and he said, ‘One day, this slum will be gone.’ I took that as a message of hope,” says Gibbons, who returned to his hotel room and painted a scene of a slum in Mumbai, which is abandoned for a better place.
Gibbons is in India to play at the seventh edition of the Mahindra Blues Festival at Mehboob Studio, Bandra. He is supporting the Supersonic Blues Machine, a trio featuring bassist and producer Fabrizio Grossi, guitarist Lance Lopez and drummer Kenny Aronoff. The band’s debut album, West of Flushing, South of Frisco, released last year and is studded with some of the most accomplished blues artistes of these times — Walter Trout, Chris Duarte, Robben Ford, and Eric Gales, who is also joining the band’s maiden performance in India. “We’re probably going to finalise another song with Billy this weekend because we’re always touring and can’t find the time,” says Grossi.
“Billy wrote the book and we’re all just trying to figure it out,” says Lopez, who cut his teeth playing in bars in Louisiana and Florida. He would later go on to play with blues masters Bobby “Blue” Bland, Lucky Peterson, and Gibbons, too. In fact, Supersonic Blues Machine would have never come to exist if it hadn’t been for Gibbons — he recommended that Lopez and Grossi meet and a match was made.
“It was love at first sight,” says Grossi, as Lopez guffaws. “Lance came to my studio in Los Angeles and we thought it would be for a few hours, to see the work I’d done on the tracks his manager had sent me. He stayed for three days, wrote four songs and that’s the beginning of the Supersonic Blues Machine,” says Grossi.
Gibbons would even deliver the first song, Running whiskey, which was initially written for ZZ Top’s 2012 album, La Futura, but not used. “We’ve not just been making music with great musicians but also very good friends. There’s no ego involved, we’re always listening to each other’s suggestions, no matter how whacky they are,” says Grossi.
So how would they describe Supersonic Blues Machine? “Fabrizio’s Italian, so we’ve got pasta; Lance and I are from Texas, so we’ve got the hot sauce, the barbecue, and the cars,” says Gibbons. And what about his famous beard? Will he ever cut it? “Not as long as I’m lazy.”