Remembering ZZ Top Bassist Dusty Hill

by Jim Casey

ZZ Top’s bearded bassist, Dusty Hill, 72, died in his sleep at home in Houston on July 28.

The band’s Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard announced the news in a statement on ZZ Top’s official website.

“We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, TX,” noted Billy and Frank. “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.”

Five days before Dusty passed, the band revealed on July 23 that Dusty was “on a short detour back to Texas to address a hip issue,” and that longtime guitar tech Elwood Francis would temporarily fill the void on stage. Unfortunately, the void is now permanent.

Along with Billy and Frank, Dusty was the third leg of the ZZ Top tripod for more than 50 years. Like few bands in the history of music, they operated as a collective for more than five decades. Together, Billy, Frank, and Dusty released 15 studio albums. Run down a list of their most well-known songs—”La Grange,” “Tush,” “Cheap Sunglasses,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” and “Legs,” among others—and you’ll notice that they co-penned each song together.

Dazed by Dusty Hill

I’m sure I heard ZZ Top songs during my formative years, but the first one I owned was featured on the CD soundtrack to 1993’s Dazed and Confused. I was 13. “Tush” was the song. Of course, I was hooked. Yeah, I know, at that point, “Tush” had been out for 18 years. But it was new to me, dammit.

The Dazed soundtrack also turned me on to War (“Tuesday’s Gone”), Alice Cooper (“School’s Out”), Fog Hat (“Slow Ride”), and more. What a rockin’ soundtrack.

Interestingly enough, “Tush” is one of the few ZZ Top songs that featured lead vocals from Dusty, instead of Billy. For me, ZZ Top started with Dusty Hill. After “Tush,” the ZZ Top floodgates opened. To this day, I still “haw” along to “La Grange.”

Fast forward to 2015. I was in attendance as ZZ Top performed at Nashville’s recently opened Ascend Amphitheater. I was actually there to write an article about Blackberry Smoke, the night’s opener. Blackberry Smoke crushed it.

After the literal Smoke cleared, ZZ Top played what seemed like a 20-song set on a beautiful September night. Highlights included “Gimmie All Your Lovin’,” “Cheap Sunglasses,” “Legs,” and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” among others. Then, the guys encored with “La Grange” and “Tush.” That’s the last time I saw ZZ Top perform live. It was a memorable show, to say the least.

While ZZ Top wasn’t a “country band,” it wasn’t out of the norm to see them connected to industry events over the years, like the CMT Awards, ACM Awards, or Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam. Of course, ZZ Top influenced a countless number of country stars. In fact, check out the 2002 ZZ Top tribute album, Sharp Dressed Men, which features Brooks & Dunn, Dwight Yoakam, Alan Jackson, and more.

Dusty Hill, you will be missed.