The big inspiration for me was when I saw the January 1959 issue of Rod & Custom. The issue was almost entirely devoted to custom pickup trucks. The fact that someone actually customized a utility vehicle seemed really cool-I particularly loved the ones with the exhaust stacks. About the same time, I got hooked on hot rods, watching the "Kookie Car" on 77 Sunset Strip. Seeing that car really did it for me.
Over the years, I really wanted to build something that reminded me of the days of traditional customs. I got to know Jimmie Vaughan when he was in The Fabulous Thunderbirds. I knew he was a big custom car guy, and when I saw the '60 Chevy he designed for Mike Young, I knew that was it I wanted in. Jimmie always told me to keep it simple; he loved traditional custom cars. I reconnected with that aspect of hot rodding and decided to build a truck.
I started looking for a good candidate in 1993. Initially, I wanted a Ford F-100, but later on I fell in love with the '55-56 Chevy Stepside and finally found one in 1995-only 5 miles from my house! I had been looking all over California and the Southwest ... even as far as Portland, Oregon. One day I picked up a magazine called The Recycler and saw the ad. There it was, in primer gray, straight body, and basically great overall condition. It had a 350 Chevy small-block engine, a Ford 9-inch rearend, and a Volare front clip, which I retained along with the rest of the existing drivetrain.
In the beginning, I did some of the early bodywork, smoothing and shaping the rough spots and stripping the bed of all the coats of paint. But then Jimmie turned me onto the man who customizes his cars. His name is Gary Howard. The truck went out to him in 1998, where it spent the better part of the next eight years as it was transformed. Gary's specialty is custom paints, and he came up with a light green pearl metallic that literally made my jaw drop. This color reminded me of the colors that I would spray on my model cars in the early 1960s.
I became buddies with Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top in the late 1990s. He reinforced the notion of traditional customs with me. When I wanted to do a certain modification, Billy would weigh in and tell me what he thought. Billy became my custom guru. Billy and I have collaborated on all the ZZ Top catalog issues that have come out on Warner Bros. through Rhino Records, where I work.
When the paint and bodywork were completed, it went to the Austin Speed Shop to be rewired. While it was there, Sean Johnstun (Fat Lucky's Upholstery in the Austin Speed Shop) did the upholstery. When it was completed in 2006, it was delivered to me. I took the truck to Wheeler's Speed Shop to do some work that I decided to complete while it was back in Southern California. Brian Wheeler painted the engine block black. I had no idea what a difference that would make. He also worked on the doors to enable them to shut better. Doors that close properly on any custom car make a huge improvement-and Brian dialed them in. He also relocated the gas tank under the bed.
When that work was completed, I had the truck in a storage facility in Chatsworth, California. In November 2007, a large piece of air-conditioning duct blew off the roof of the unit. The owner was negligent, letting a crew work on the roof when there were severe Santa Ana winds. The truck suffered major scrapes to the paint on the hood and fenders. I told Billy about my dilemma getting the paint matched properly. He contacted Pete Chapouris personally. Pete said that SO-CAL Speed Shop could do the job (this is a three-stage paint and very difficult to match). Mick Jenkins, the painter at SO-CAL, had to respray the entire truck (except for the roof)! It was a nightmare dealing with my insurance company, but in the end, they came through, paying for all the paint and bodywork. (A bit of advice: Make sure you get the proper coverage for your vehicle. Don't skimp. You may regret it later.)
I dubbed the truck "El Peyote." Peyote grows naturally in Texas, and so did my truck. Oh, hell, I just really like the name!