ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill Dead At 72
Dusty Hill, longtime bassist for the great Texan rock trio ZZ Top, has died. Hill’s ZZ Top bandmates Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard tell TMZ that Hill died in his sleep while at home in Houston. Last week, the band announced that Hill was on a “short detour” back home to address a “hip issue” and that the band’s guitar tech would fill in for him on tour. No cause of death has been reported. Hill was 72.
For more than 50 years, ZZ Top kept the same three-man lineup intact, with no changes. Hill wasn’t just the band’s bassist; he also played keyboards and sang backup vocals. The image of Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill, dressed identically and with twin voluminous beards, is one of the defining sights of the early MTV years.
Joseph Michael Hill grew up in Dallas, and he and future ZZ Top bandmate Frank Beard both played in ’60s garage bands like the Warlocks and the Cellar Dwellers. For a short period, Hill and Beard were also in a fake version of the Zombies; when the British Invasion act broke up, American promoters assembled a bunch of kids, called them the Zombies, and sent them out to play Zombies songs on tour.
Hill, Beard, and Hill’s brother Rocky were all in a band called American Blues together, but when the group moved from Dallas to Houston, Rocky left the group. Instead, Hill and Beard paired up with singer and guitarist Billy Gibbons, and they formed ZZ Top in 1969.
ZZ Top played their first show in 1970, and they released their first album, helpfully titled ZZ Top’s First Album, a year later. From the beginning, ZZ Top specialized in a suave and horny version of swaggering biker-bar blues-rock. Powered by their single “La Grange,” the band’s third album, 1974’s Tres Hombres, broke through, making the top 10 and going gold. In the ’70s, the band made hits like “Tush” and “It’s Only Love.”
While most of ZZ Top’s blues-rock peers faded away in the ’80s, ZZ Top thrived. Inspired by their time sharing a studio with Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, ZZ Top added glassy synth textures to their rumbling shuffle. They also steered into the silliness of their image and made proudly goofy videos for songs like “Legs” and “Sleeping Bags.” Those songs then became top-10 hits. ZZ Top hit entirely new commercial highs in the ’80s. Their 1983 album Eliminator went diamond, and their 1985 follow-up Afterburner sold five million copies.
ZZ Top never hit those commercial heights again, but they remained a part of popular culture for years afterwards. They made a cameo appearance in an Old West scene from 1990’s Back To The Future Part III, and they played the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 1997. More importantly, ZZ Top kept touring. The band’s last album was 2012’s Rick Rubin-produced La Futura, but even when ZZ Top weren’t recording, they were playing shows. Just last week, ZZ Top were touring across the South and the Midwest.
Below, watch Dusty Hill at work with ZZ Top.