The Country Star That Inspired Billy Gibbons’ ZZ Top Hit
Inspiration might come when you least expect it, but sometimes it might precisely be where you look. For instance, when Axl Rose was looking for inspiration while composing ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine,’ he knew what to search for. The frontman had already written a poem for his then-girlfriend Erin, while Slash randomly jamming also inspired him.
Furthermore, the muses knocked on his door when he went out and bought some good old Lynyrd Skynyrd albums and began listening to them. He was from Indiana, and his home state worshipped the old Southern band to the point where Axl even thought they were a bit overplayed. But in the end, as a true Indianan, he was inspired by Lynyrd Skynyrd while composing ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine.’
So, a similar process happened when Billy Gibbons and his bandmates were making the ZZ Top album, ‘La Futura.’ It wasn’t just another ZZ Top album; it was a work of dedication and commitment, with producer Rick Rubin leading the way. Thus as they started composing some songs for the album, Gibbons and his beloved bandmates drew inspiration from a country star.
While trying to compose and find the right sound for the record, the band had been playing numerous materials. Yet, it was a game changer when they stumbled upon an old album. While chatting with Music Radar in 2012, Gibbons revealed how Gillian Welch inspired them while producing the ZZ Top hit ‘Chartreuse.’
“We have a ZZ Top recording studio in Texas called Foam Box Recordings,” explained Billy as he recalled producing the song. “It’s a humble little place to gather. After our months in Malibu, we reconvened at Foam Box to get some work done. Dusty asked me about the stuff I’d done with Rick and the Black Keys, we had seized a golden opportunity when we were all together, and he said, ‘Could we do one of those songs?’”
The guitarist continued, “And I said, ‘Why not?’ He happened to have one of the tracks on the CD player, but when he hit play, it wasn’t the Black Keys; it was a completely different thing. It was a song that Rick [Rubin] had suggested we take a stab at, a Gillian Welch composition; ‘It’s Too Easy,’ that’s the original title.”
The band was eager to learn the composition. Gibbons said, “It’s a very complex composition. Frank and Dusty kind of shy away from getting too academic; they don’t like to read charts. So they said, ‘Let’s just learn it.’ And I said, ‘Guys, this is complicated. It’s gonna take a lotta, lotta practice. They were like, ‘Aw, no, we can get through it.’ Well, it took two hours just to get the first verse.”
And the rest was history as they produced ‘Chartreuse.’ Billy Gibbons shared, “That was the first inkling that it was going to work, and it became the song ‘Chartreuse.’ I stuck around and expanded on it. The next day the guys returned, and they wanted to take another stab at it. Dusty asked, ‘Well, what do we call this thing?’ to which Mr. Moon said, ‘Call it ‘Chartreuse.’ First off, it’s a liqueur, and secondly, it’s an oddball color, and that’s what you guys are.’”
Thus, Gillian Welch became an inspiration for the band. Billy noted, “So it was born out of us trying to play the Gillian Welch song. There’s an abrupt ending, which is one of the few things a perfectionist might want to take issue with – ‘Can’t you guys get a more elegant stop point?’ But we left well enough alone and kept the excitement value.”
The band was actually looking for another work when they came across an old Gillian Welch record. It had such a powerful impact on them that they decided to learn it. Even though their first few tries were a bit challenging, they made it in the end, and the recording inspired them to compose a hit song.