ZZ Top's Billy F. Gibbons says that his band's "long-awaited record is still long and awaiting," but he also makes it sound like the wait is nearly over. "It's down to seeds and stems," Gibbons tells Billboard.com, "just picking through the good stuff."
The Texas trio has been working on its first studio album since 2003's "Mescalero" with producer Rick Rubin, who Gibbons says is part of a braintrust that's keeping ZZ Top from getting too bogged down in the process of making its new music. "As a couple of friends of ours said, 'You really don't have to get that much better; your big job is really holding it down and not making too many drastic changes,' which I kinda like," Gibbons explains. "And back to our buddy Rick Rubin, he said, 'It's just pretty much straight-ahead. I don't see any major changes. If we stumble into something drastic, fine. If it works, we'll know it."
Gibbons did predict that the end result will be more modest than "Mescalero's" 16 tracks, however. "In today's game that's a bit overwhelming," the guitarist notes. "You're in this netherworld of trying to guess what the next move is in the record business, but I think by and large a 10-song offering is par for the course. Any more than that is a little overwhelming, any less than that somebody says, 'Where's my 10th song?' So it's probably going to be a game of pick and choose."
Gibbons couldn't predict if the album would be finished by the time ZZ Top's Gang of Outlaws tour -- with 3 Doors Down and Gretchen Wilson -- hits the road on May 25, but fans are likely to hear one of the new songs, "25 Lighters," which will be part of a marketing campaign for Jeremiah Weed whiskey. "It's a good product, so I thought, 'Why not...?' " says Gibbons, who himself is rolling out a line of BFG barbecue and hot sauces, as well as a beer and a designer pocketknife. "So their marketing campaign includes ZZ Top as kind of an aside. We wrapped up a TV commercial for them that will feature ('25 Lighters'), which will probably be a good starter piece to let out of the bag."
Gibbons and ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill are also on tap to induct the late Freddie King into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14 in Cleveland.