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DUSTY HILL 1949–2021
Guitarist was saddened to hear of the passing of ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill on 28 July, aged 72. The Texan played with the legendary blues-rock trio for more than 50 years after joining in 1969. He previously played alongside his brother Rocky and future ZZ Top bandmate Frank Beard in the Warlocks, the Cellar Dwellers and American Blues.
Hill became an integral part of ZZ Top’s sound, with both his bass playing and backing vocals. His keen sense of economy in the band’s brand of boogie blues was very much by design after being influenced early on by the busier playing of Jack Bruce and Stanley Clark.
“When I started playing in a three-piece, I realised that you have to do the song, not your personal performance, so you have to be tasty with it and enjoy the playing,” he told ForBassPlayersOnly.com in 2016. “Writing the song helps a lot. If I’m involved in the writing process, it comes to me… Sometimes you don’t even notice the bass – I hate that in a way, but I love that in a way. That means you’ve filled in everything and it’s right for the song, and you’re not standing out where you don’t need to.”
The trio certainly needed Hill as they blazed a trail through Texas and further afield as a huge live draw. They struck blues-rock gold with breakout third album, Tres Hombres, in 1973 and 1975 follow-up, Fandango!, before their gamble with a streamlined, synth-incorporating sound paid off in the early 80s. It was an era that found Hill taking on keyboard duties, too. “The reaction was like when Dylan went electric,” Dusty told Texas Monthly magazine in 1996 of the band’s new approach.
“It’s a cliché and sounds so simplistic, but it’s down to the three of us genuinely enjoying playing together,” the bassist once revealed to Classic Rock. And the secret to ZZ Top’s same-lineup longevity? “We still love it and we still get a kick out of being on stage. We also have enough in common to maintain a bond between us but sufficient differences to keep our individuality.”
As per Hill’s wishes, the band will continue with tech Elwood Francis taking on bass. “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’,” said Hill’s surviving bandmates Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard in tribute. “You will be missed greatly, amigo.”