The lifelong bassist for ZZ Top was 72
ZZ Top is my son Benjamin’s favorite band. At least it was when he was in 1st grade.
These days, my now-third grader is more into stuff like Marshmello and Travis Scott. But he will still rock out to them when they come on the radio (do you remember radio?). My goal has been for ZZ Top to be his very first rock concert–a plan I ensure will happen as the legendary Texas trio continue down the road on their first American tour since the pandemic. I’m just very sad to know the band will not be joined by their lifelong bassist Dusty Hill, who passed away at his home today in Houston, Texas, according to his bandmates, Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard.
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“We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston,” they wrote in a statement. “We, along with legions of ZZ Top fans around the world, will miss your steadfast presence, your good nature and enduring commitment to providing that monumental bottom to the ‘Top’. We will forever be connected to that ‘Blues Shuffle in C.’ You will be missed greatly, amigo.”
VIDEO: ZZ Top “Legs”
ZZ Top was never one of my most favorite bands, yet they were an incredibly essential part of my rock ‘n’ roll education growing up. At 48, they’ve been around all of my life, especially by the time Eliminator had come out in 1983, and the videos for “Legs,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” and “Sharped Dressed Man” were omnipresent on radio and MTV.
1985’s Afterburner and 1990’s Recycler–coupled with that choice cameo in Back To The Future III (including the fantastic video for “Doubleback”)–kept them in my purview throughout middle and high school as well, while my uncle schooled me on their earlier albums like Tres Hombres and Fandango! (he also loved to riff on “Tush” on his Gibson Les Paul when I was little).
VIDEO: ZZ Top “Doubleback”
ZZ Top are also one of the bands I’ve yet to see in concert, although 30 years ago I did try to sneak into their show at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Middletown, NY, while the band was on tour supporting Recycler. Sadly, I was never the best at scaling fences, so we had to abort the mission or face contending with the security guards in our midst. For the record, however, Recycler is quite arguably the Top’s most underrated album outside of 1976’s excursion into psychedelic country rock Tejas. Revisit ASAP. In his wonderful eulogy to Hill in Rolling Stone, Rob Sheffield suggested that 1985’s synth-heavy (and also way better than you remember) Afterburner was ZZ Top’s equivalent to Rush’s 1986 hit album Hold Your Fire. If this is the case, Recycler is easily their Presto.
ZZ Top will remain on tour heading up into the fall, and I undoubtedly plan on seeing them this time around (hopefully with Benjamin in tow). Elwood Francis, the group’s longtime bass technician, has been filling in for Dusty on the road following a recent hip injury that put him out of commission (no word at press time if it was a catalyst to his passing). There probably isn’t another man on Earth who could fill Hill’s shoes in ZZT than Elwood. But dammit if there isn’t a lump in my throat thinking about all the times I missed out on seeing these guys whenever they came around these parts over the last 30 years. Like Steely Dan sans Walter Becker and The Allman Brothers Band without Gregg, it’s just something I’m going to need to reckon with regards to my inability to seize these moments.
But then again, I wasn’t expecting Dusty Hill to die today. The news hit Facebook like an atom bomb, and nobody was expecting the bassist’s brief sabbatical from this current tour to take such a dire turn.
There isn’t another American band to my memory that has carried on with the same lineup they started out with than ZZ Top. I’m not even sure we are going to see another run like that from a rock group in our lifetimes.
We lost a good one today. RIP Dusty.