While Carol and I were touring New Zealand in May 2007, one of our hot rod Kiwi pals, Geoff Mitford-Taylor, suggested we make a return trip in 2009. One idea led to another and the next thing I know, the Marineland Street Rod & Kustom Klub is hosting an event celebrating the anniversary of the ’34 Ford. After many calls, I decided I was going. Then I get another call from Geoff speculating if ZZ Top front man, Billy F. Gibbons (the original rock ‘n’ roll gearhead), might like to attend-nothing short of an act of God. After much negotiations with ‘management’, Billy’s on board as well and the event becomes ‘A Cabaret Evening with Billy F. Gibbons’.
I’ve known Billy since 1976 when, by chance, we were both in Winston-Salem, NC, for the NSRA Nats East. We’ve built a lot of hot rods over the years and done some touring on the side, but nothing could have prepared us for the stunning journey ahead.
We arrived at LAX on Wednesday both a bit beat down; Billy from studio sessions and me from producing a new SO-CAL catalog. After check-in, we hit the Air New Zealand lounge for a little R&R and a chance to catch up. We got a VIP treatment from the Regional Lounge Manager-Americas and good friend, Stasia Jenkins. Traveling with an international ‘rock star’ doesn’t hurt either!
It’s a 12-hour plane ride to Auckland, and thankfully we got some sleep for the day ahead. We arrived Friday at 5:00 am to discover a police escort ready to help us find Greg Stokes. We loaded up for the five-hour drive south to Napier and hit the road.
Friday’s first stop was Greg’s dad’s place for an at-dawn, live-feed TV broadcast and a few cool ‘stage stops’ along the way. I hadn’t forgotten the beautiful NZ countryside, especially the quality of the roads; it’s like touring the States back in the 1950s. The cars ran perfectly, and we arrived in Napier as scheduled, well fed and ‘over-served’. Next stop was a press conference at the local music shop and watching in awe as Billy gave Geoff’s son, Jim Mitford-Taylor, a private guitar lesson-lucky boy!
Saturday found us on a rod run to some great, out-of the-way sheds (garages). In the afternoon we found ourselves at the National Tobacco Co. building doing a sound check for the cabaret. Billy agreed to play two songs with the house band and to help me with a slide presentation. All went well and on Sunday, Billy spent the day with fans signing everything from posters to dashboards.
We finally got a day off to tour the local wineries, and then it was off to Auckland for three days of sightseeing and back to L.A. The trip was a whirlwind but extremely rewarding. Traveling with Billy is the best; he opens doors like only a rocker can. More important, though, is the friendship we’ve come to realize over the years, with good times spent with families and the building of some pretty cool cars and bikes along the way.