Dusty Hill of ZZ Top Dies
Dusty Hill, ZZ Top bassist, who played with the Texas blues-rock trio for over 50 years, died Tuesday at age 72. He also sang lead and backing vocals and played keyboards. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of ZZ Top in 2004.
Born in Dallas, he’s renowned for his giant beard as much as his mastery of the bass guitar, and for his tremendous vocal talent. Hill started out playing with his brother, guitarist Rocky Hill, and Beard in bands such as the Warlocks, the Cellar Dwellars, and American Blues, along with a fill-in version of The Zombies along the way.
Moving to Houston in 1968, Hill and Beard joined forces with Billy Gibbons to form ZZ Top, and the rest is history.
Over the years, Hill has kept a relatively low profile when compared to frontman Billy Gibbons,
but he has appeared in several TV shows, most notably playing himself in an episode of the animated series King Of The Hill.
Perhaps the most notorious story surrounding Hill (seen below with Billy Gibbons in 1974) came in 1984 when he accidentally shot himself in the abdomen while taking off his boots. It’s still an incident that embarrasses him to this day. But Dusty is also renowned for his excellent sense of humor and fields questions about the incident with candid embarrassment and a touch of humor.
Billy Gibbons noted that Dusty did have some health problems including Bursitis and arthritis, and had been moving a little slower lately. He also noted that Dusty had bouts with ulcers in recent years.
On July 30, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, ZZ Top made a live performance with the band’s new bassist. In the show, the band was joined by the crew’s two-decade member guitar tech Elwood Francis.
According to the band, the band will continue its shows with the guitar tech Elwood Francis. “The choice to put Elwood in Hill’s was a direct directive from Mr. Dusty Hill,” says Gibbon.
“When he grabbed my arm and said, “I think I’m due to go visit the physician to see if I can bounce back,” he said, “In the meantime, I want you to grab our guitar technician, Mr. Elwood” — Elwood Francis — “and take him out of that tech station and strap him up with my guitar and make him carry on with every single note.” And I said, “Well if that’s your wishes, I’ll respect that.” And sure enough, we’ve been very, very fortunate to have a stalwart standby to fill in.
The band will continue on, despite their heartfelt grief.
Even well prior to Dusty’s passing, people have marveled that ZZ Top was the longest-standing band with the original lineup intact. On the one hand, it seems like it shouldn’t be that impossible if people are pros and in good health and the money is still coming in. But history shows it just doesn’t happen, even at half your tenure.
ZZ Top was formed after the demise of Moving Sidewalks, Gibbons’ previous band. Within a year, the members signed with London Records and released ZZ Top’s First Album (1971). Subsequent releases, such as Tres Hombres (1973) and Fandango! (1975), and those albums’ singles “La Grange” and “Tush“, gained extensive radio airplay. By the mid-1970s the band became renowned in North America for its live act, highlighted by its performances during the Worldwide Texas Tour from 1976 to 1977, which was a critical and commercial success.
After a hiatus, ZZ Top returned in 1979 with a new musical direction and image, with Gibbons and Hill wearing sunglasses and matching chest-length beards. With the albums Degüello (1979) and El Loco (1981), they experimented with instruments including clavinets, saxophones, and synthesizers. They established a more mainstream sound and gained international favor with Eliminator (1983) and Afterburner (1985), which integrated influences from new wave, punk, and dance-rock. The popularity of these albums’ music videos, including those for “Gimme All Your Lovin’“, “Sharp Dressed Man“, and “Legs“, helped propel them onto the television channel MTV and made the band one of the more prominent artists in the 1980s pop culture.
The Afterburner Tour set records for the highest-attended and highest-grossing concert tour of 1986. After gaining additional acclaim with the release of their tenth album Recycler (1990) and its accompanying tour, the group’s experimentation continued with mixed success on the albums Antenna (1994), Rhythmeen (1996), XXX (1999), and Mescalero (2003). They most recently released La Futura (2012) and Goin’ 50 (2019), the latter of which is a compilation album commemorating the band’s 50th anniversary