As ZZ Top’s founding member, Billy Gibbons is recognized as a master guitarist, singer, and performer, but in Nashville this week, he was celebrated for his songwriting.
At a star-studded private event at its headquarters on Music Row, BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc) paid tribute to Gibbons, a member of its songwriting community since 1970.
In kicking off the event, BMI’s Nashville VP of Creative Clay Bradley described Gibbons as, “A man who’s dedicated his life to writing, playing, producing, and performing all over the world.”
Later Bradley said, “BMI has been fortunate enough to have Billy as part of our family for decades and his contributions to ZZ Top’s enduring success solidified their status as rock legends. His songwriting and artistic style transcends through many decades.”
For more than an hour, Gibbons sat front and center as singers and musicians surprised him with performances of many of his songs.
Keith Urban told Gibbons, “It’s such an honor to be here tonight and honor your majesty, your creativity, your inspiration. As somebody said earlier, it’s because you’re curious. Your curiosity is number one, it’s key. It’s like that Da Vinci expression, ‘He turns not back who is bound to a star.’ And that’s you, bound to a star.”
Urban then launched into “Rough Boy,” a song he remembers playing in his cover band years ago “because the bones of it are so good.”
Earlier, before the ceremony started, Chris Isaak noted that among Gibbons’ many talents, “He’s not only a better guitar player than everybody else, he’s a better singer.”
On stage, Isaak said what an honor it was to perform in front of Gibbons. Then, wearing a signature suit to back it up, Isaak did his version of “Sharp Dressed Man.”
Elle King sang “Gimme All Your Lovin’” and Kingfish performed “Waitin’ for the Bus.”
As the final music performer, Robert Earl Keen addressed Gibbons saying, “It’s an honor and a privilege and I love your music. Then, he launched into a rousing rendition of “La Grange” that had everybody moving.
In addition to artists who performed, others in the audience included John Oates, Kix Brooks, Jamey Johnson, Molly Tuttle, Oliver Anthony, and more.
Throughout the night there were congratulatory videos featuring Gibbons’ longtime friends and collaborators such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Vaughan, Van Wilks, and others. Common themes centered on Gibbons’ ability to stay “cool, current, and relevant” with his music, while, on a personal level, despite his superstar status remaining a regular guy who never “puts on airs” and is as “real as dirt.”
In accepting the award, Gibbons thanked everyone for attending, then went on to say, “I think everybody in the room knows it’s about the song.” And yet, he went on to say, the creative part of the songwriting itself, is often difficult to explain. “It really is about the song. How we get to the song is often kind of a mystery.”
The award comes on the 50th anniversary of ZZ Top’s groundbreaking album Eliminator. Gibbons has maintained continued success for more than five decades, not only as a member of the legendary rock group, but as a solo artist, as well. His most recent solo album is Hardware.
As the newest recipient of BMI’s Troubadour Award, Gibbons joins the ranks of previous winners including John Hiatt, the late John Prine, Lucinda Williams, and Robert Earl Keen.
BMI represents the public performance rights in over 20.6 million musical works created and owned by more than 1.3 million songwriters, composers, and music publishers. The company negotiates music license agreements and distributes the fees it generates as royalties to its affiliated writers and publishers when their songs are performed in public.