Billy Gibbons Discusses Prince’s ‘Sensational’ Guitar Playing
Prince's guitar brilliance, as evidenced on hits like "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy" and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," won him the admiration of many of his fellow axemen, including Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. In a new interview, Gibbons talked about his friendship with Prince and recalled a lengthy conversation where they talked shop.
"'Sensational' is about as close a description of Prince’s guitar playing as words might allow," he told the Washington Post, "I believe that the feeling one was left with, if afforded the luxury of actually seeing Prince perform ... we’d be looking for other superlatives. Because it’s almost got to the point of defying description."
Gibbons and Prince, who died on Thursday at the age of 57, ran into each other at New York's Tiger Bar in 2009 after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th anniversary concerts. For two hours, they sat at a corner table and "we really dove into the depth of his intent, interest and focus toward technique and tone. I left that evening even more mesmerized than I’d previously been, just knowing the sincerity that Prince kept toward his playing, his performing and his all-around showmanship."
Despite "a legion of Brazilian carnival dancers" that began dancing on the bar, Prince's focus was entirely on what Gibbons was saying. But as prodigious as Prince was on his instrument, he seemed at a loss when trying to explain where his talent came from.
"He said, 'I’ve really enjoyed some of the work that showed up on that monster hit of yours, Eliminator, the sound of 'Gimme All Your Lovin'.' He went on to cite a number of titles. I said, ‘Okay, I could give you some amplifier settings; I could give you some guitar strings.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you tell me about ‘When Doves Cry'? He just smiled. ‘That one gets me too.’"
The duo also commiserated on how their respective styles affected their ability to play. "He asked me, ‘Does your beard get in the way like some of my costumes?’ And I was stunned momentarily and I thought about it and said, ‘You know, perhaps so.’ But then he grabbed my arm and said, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with it.’"