Dusty Hill and ZZ Top Put Texas Music on the Map
As you may have heard, the longtime bassist and founding member of ZZ Top Dusty Hill died in his sleep at his home in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 28th, according to fellow bandmates Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard. His death comes as the band continued to remain active and relevant, touring regularly and bringing their blues-based power trio sound to a new generation of fans, while also enjoying their status as rock & roll gods and Hall of Fame inductees. Dusty Hill was 72-years-old.
Despite some characterizations, Dusty was not just the “other guy” with a beard in ZZ Top along with guitarist Billy Gibbons. Dusty was the backbone of a band, and also was credited as a co-writer on most all of their songs. On their 1973 breakout album Tres Hombres, Dusty Hill co-wrote all but two of the songs. On their monster album Eliminator from 1983, he was credited on all of them. Dusty Hill also was the other singer of ZZ Top, spelling Billy Gibbons on a track or two each record, and often singing harmonies.
ZZ Top is given credit for a host of influences on American music, and rock & roll in general. But what’s often overlooked is how in the mid 70’s, ZZ Top was really the first band outside of country to make the State of Texas cool.
One of their first big opportunities came as their song “La Grange” was making a little racket on the charts. At some point, Mick Jagger heard the guys, and fell in love with them. Randomly and on somewhat short notice, he offered the band the opening slot on three shows the Rolling Stones were playing in Hawaii. Good ol’ Texas boys, ZZ Top had barely been out of the Lone Star State. But they accepted, and flew into Honolulu.
“We had cowboy hats on, and boots and jeans, and you could hear a pin drop,” Dusty Hill recalled in the 2019 documentary, ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas that currently streams on Netflix.
“When the curtains opened and they looked at Billy and Dusty, and the had the cowboy hats on, it was just a vale of horror fell over this entire arena,” says drummer Frank Beard. “They thought ‘Aw fuck, a country band.'”
But of course, ZZ Top brought the house down. Mick Jagger put on a hat, some coveralls, and held a broom on the side of the stage, trying to appear to be a janitor so nobody in the crowd would notice, and watched ZZ Top perform, getting his face rocked off.
At the time in rock music, the thought was you’ had to go to California or New York to make it. Or if you were country, you had to point your nose to Nashville. Rockers from Texas like Janis Joplin claimed to be from San Francisco if prompted. Texas was considered too square. Furthermore, ZZ Top wasn’t straightforward blues, or pure rock & roll, or country. They were a band without a home, aside from Texas.
“They lumped us up with all of the Southern rock bands,” Dusty Hill says. “They didn’t know what to call us. See, that “Little ‘ol Band from Texas,’ I don’t think was meant as much as a compliment when it first was said. We grabbed a hold of it. We thought it was a cool line. But I think it was really actually supposed to be kind of a cut.”
But instead of trying to hide their Texas roots and being deemed uncool, ZZ Top embraced them. Famous publicist Howard Bloom, and ZZ Top’s manager Bill Ham figured out that Texas is what made ZZ Top unique in the rock & roll landscape, and that it was time for a movement of Texas pride. “They grew up in a foreign country,” Howard Bloom says about ZZ Top. “They grew up in a country with its own founding fathers, and they were not George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Their founding father was Sam Houston.”
Dusty Hill concurs, saying in the ZZ Top documentary, “When I was a kid, you took Texas history before you took American history. That right there tells you something. I’m told I had an ancestor in the Alamo. The pride in Texas is a real thing, and I take it with me everywhere I go.”
So ZZ Top put together what came to be known as the “Worldwide Texas Tour.” It included a 75-foot wide stage in the shape of Texas, seven total semi-trucks worth of stage production, including four semi-trucks painted with a continuous diorama of Texas landscapes that drove in unison down the road. The production also included a live buffalo, a longhorn steer, rattlesnakes, and live buzzards perched on stage behind the drum set. The tour lasted for several years, culminating in the band’s album from 1977 Tejas.
At the same time Willie Nelson and others in Austin were making a second home for country music in the Lone Star State, ZZ Top was out there on the road bringing a little taste of Texas to the rest of the world. Where before being from Texas was a burden and made many of the state’s musical types flock to either of the coasts, now it was a skin on the wall—a bit of street cred—and it was all thanks to Dusty Hill and ZZ Top wearing their Texas pride on their sleeve, and showing the rest of the world that Texas was, in fact, cool.
RIP Dusty Hill.
Michael J Roy
July 28, 2021 @ 6:10 pm
I’m supposed to go see them August 4th. I hope they decide to carry on with the tour with Dusty’s tech Elwood Francis continuing to fill in for him instead of canceling it. I’m still devastated. Since Mike Howe from Metal Church and Joey Jordison from Slipknot, the rock world has been losing some great names since yesterday. Just heartbreaking.
July 28, 2021 @ 6:19 pm
Preliminary word from Billy Gibbons is that the show will go on, and that was Dusty Hill’s wishes. I’m supposed to see them at Born & Raised Fest in September.
July 28, 2021 @ 9:57 pm
I was hoping to see them at Born & Raised as well. I’m still in shock. Rest In Peace Dusty.
July 29, 2021 @ 9:55 am
A big part of my musical life.
They were the band that got me into rock n roll.
Saw the band eight times live.
R I P Dusty.My old friend.
July 29, 2021 @ 5:42 pm
Something about being from Texas that just makes you stand a little straighter, be a little prouder and be proud you’re from Texas. RIP: Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray, Bob Wills, Lightning Hopkins, Townes van Zant, Guy Clark, Waylon, Billie Joe, Janis and more than I know. God Bless Texas.
July 30, 2021 @ 5:34 pm
This is parody, yes? That anyone gives a shit about what state they are from is laughable. You could list great artists, or any profession/life’s journey from any state you choose. That part of your meaningful identity is where you are from…
July 28, 2021 @ 9:02 pm
Yes, it’s all about you Micheal Roy. (rolls eyes.) ZZ Top died today, regardless.
Michael J Roy
July 29, 2021 @ 7:18 am
I’m SO sorry that I offended you. Thanks for making yourself sound like it’s all about YOU when I wasn’t trying to. You’re so very welcome.
July 29, 2021 @ 4:26 pm
“I’m SO sorry that I offended you.”
Hahahahahah. I was far from offended. You were being a jerk-off and making it all about you, and I pointed it. Now go grab a box of tissues and dry your eyes.
Michael J Roy
July 29, 2021 @ 8:16 pm
Whatever. Stop being such a whiney bitch baby keyboard warrior and do something useful with your life.
July 28, 2021 @ 6:18 pm
One of my favorite bands. Sad day.
July 28, 2021 @ 6:37 pm
My musical journey leading to ZZ Top occurred later in my life. However, one of the benefits is that I can see their influence on other artists. With that said, I had Whitey Morgan & the 78s’ cover of Just Got Paid blaring through the stereo speakers while passing through Cincinnati today.
July 28, 2021 @ 7:39 pm
I am old. I can remember when “Eliminator” came out. They were, and are, a hoot. What they could do with their electric minimalist approach is beyond amazing.
July 28, 2021 @ 8:32 pm
I remember when “ZZ Top’s First Album” came out but im still not old. I hope you feel better.
July 29, 2021 @ 6:33 am
Ha. Trying to catch up with you. All is well. Best to ya’.
July 31, 2021 @ 5:44 pm
Loved that first album. I’m old.
July 30, 2021 @ 11:04 am
Dusty hill was a great player ,song writer,and rock and roller,I have seen zztop over a hundred times, from way back in 1979.may you have jesus on the bus traveling to the pearly gates,
July 28, 2021 @ 9:01 pm
I have a photo of me, Dusty, Billy and Frank. I will cherish it always. Dusty was unassuming and an all around cool guy. Sad to hear that Billy and Frank will continue on now that Dusty has passed. They’re wealthy, legendary and have nothing left to prove.
I read on another site someone defending the decision, saying the band has an obligation to their crew, fans, etc.; that the shows are already booked. I guess no one has ever heard of insurance. Regardless if they carry on, ZZ Top died today. Rest in Peace Dusty.
July 29, 2021 @ 6:25 am
what a stupid, selfish way to look at it. maybe they just like to play music. and they were already playing with their tech filling in for dusty, with his blessing.
July 29, 2021 @ 4:30 pm
When your musical brother of 50 years dies, you don’t continue to play because “you just like to.” You take time to reflect and maybe pay tribute to your fallen mate.
Billy himself always said if one of them died, the band would be finished. The tech filled in for what, one or two shows? Appears Billy and Frank now suffer from Don Henley disease.
Talk about stupid, You should change your handle to themental.
July 29, 2021 @ 4:46 pm
It seems like you’re a huge ZZ Top fan, and I’m sure you’re hurting right now. I also understand that you don’t think the band should continue on without Dusty. But I think you’re being a little unfair to other commenters who are simply questioning whether the band will continue on, which is a natural question. If you want to be mad at someone, be mad at Billy and Frank, but understand they also just lost a lifelong friend and collaborator. I’m sure they’re just trying to do what they can in the midst of a major loss.
July 29, 2021 @ 5:37 pm
you make the rules, huh? i’ll let everyone in a band know. clearly you were a really close friend.
July 29, 2021 @ 5:38 pm
sorry, meant for timmy.
July 29, 2021 @ 1:32 am
Very sad news. A great guitar driven band. Eliminator made them cool to a wide audience with classics like sharp dressed man,gimme all your lovin and legs. They also had some great videos and have stood the test of time..
July 29, 2021 @ 4:04 am
RIP Dusty, I agree they should soldier on, as Billy said. I just heard the story of Brett Farve playing in a game the night after his father died and put in a stellar performance, he said it was in his honor and that’s what he would have wanted, I think this may be similar.Just my opinion.
I got to see them in the mid 80’s and couldn’t believe the amount of sound coming out of three guys, it was awesome, and then about 3 years ago, I took my wife who was so-so about going, but after she was in awe, couldn’t believe how many hits they had and the power of the show!!
July 29, 2021 @ 4:21 am
I hate to tell, Texas was cool long before ZZ Top- not taking anything away from them.
In Japan, and the Philippines, while in the Navy, when somebody from a bar would learn those of us who hung out together were from Texas we became semi-celebrities. That was in the 60’s. In the early 70’s while on a job in Bahrain I attended a party with another man from Texas and we ere the center of attention we with everyone wanting to know if we knew Waylon or Willie. On a lay over, in the UK, I spent an couple of days and nights with a fellow employee from the UK. His kids and wife wanted to know if everyone owned a horse and wore a gun-
That “the world” caught onto Texas being cool is part of their story, shows just how little those who haven’t really traveled, world wide, rely on hyperbole for marketing purposes.
No offense Trigger. As I’ve said, many, many, many times you’re as fine a journalist as I’ve ever read.
I once flew back to Houston, on Southwest airlines, from New Orleans and they sat behind me. They were quite and very unassuming- that gained my respect- THAT is cool and WHY Texas is and has been cool since Santa Anna learned reneging on a treaty ain’t a good idea. Now, if national empty suits in the District of Criminals could be taught the same lesson I would consider the teacher, cool! Davy Crockett came to Texas because empty suits were already firmly entrenched in the District of Criminals- that was cool. Same with Sam Houston. DC is a cess pool and always has been- cool people want 0 to do with it.
July 29, 2021 @ 6:33 am
…this is a wendy’s, sir. 😐
July 29, 2021 @ 8:41 am
July 29, 2021 @ 2:00 pm
Let’s not be hasty; John Philip Sousa through Duke Ellington, Danny Gatton, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Brown, to Bad Brains–DC’s not just the government and Texas doesn’t have a lock on home pride!
August 1, 2021 @ 7:45 am
Not to mention three DC area based bands that are in the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame: The Country Gentlemen, The Seldom Scene and The Johnson Mountain Boys. Fella named Eddie Stubbs played fiddle in The Johnson Mountain Boys.
strait county 81
July 29, 2021 @ 5:30 am
Loved ZZ Top from the first time I heard them.
July 29, 2021 @ 5:52 am
I saw ZZ Top with Brooks & Dunn in 2008. Still one of my favorite concerts. Wild. The description of their “World Wide Texas Tour” could describe Brooks & Dunn in their prime. I remember one B&D show – more than likely the Neon Circus & Wild West tours – the party continued in the parking lot until security chased us out. A fleet of B&D’s rigs with red-eyed steers passed us in the highway.
July 29, 2021 @ 6:56 am
ZZ Top was one of my first concerts when I was a teenager in the late 70s. The ticket price was $7.50. They absolutely killed it, and I’ve seen them a few more times since. Anyone who would think Dusty was just the other guy isn’t really a ZZ Top fan, and I’m not sure seeing them again without him would be the same. RIP Brother
July 29, 2021 @ 7:35 am
ZZ Top is great. Years ago I took guitar lessons from one of their former guitar techs.
Does anyone know the story behind Billy Gibbons “Buck Owens” guitar? I’ve seen him play it a few times.
July 29, 2021 @ 8:09 am
The first song ZZ Top I ever heard was Tush, which Dusty Hill sings. Being a blues rock fan, that song definitely got my attention and I got the The Best of ZZ Top through Columbia House soon after. Thought he nailed that song and used to wonder early on why he didn’t sing lead on more of their songs.
July 29, 2021 @ 9:04 am
Didn’t want to say this in the article b/c I didn’t want it to come across the wrong way or insensitive. But the fact of the matter is Dusty Hill sang many of the band’s dirtiest double entendre songs, like “Tush” and “I Got The Six.”
July 29, 2021 @ 10:27 am
July 29, 2021 @ 10:30 am
Sad news, a great band indeed. I fell like r’n’r is in a way worse situation than country these days…rip, amigo.
July 29, 2021 @ 12:47 pm
All you have to do is look at bands like The Warning, Rolling Quartz, and Quarter After Three to realize that rock is still alive and well.
August 11, 2021 @ 11:45 pm
thanx buddy i’ll do it. Is there a site like SCM about r’n’r?
July 29, 2021 @ 6:19 pm
The first band outside of country to make the State of Texas cool ? What about Buddy, Joe B. and J.I.? (They were a trio, too.)
July 29, 2021 @ 8:00 pm
I’m crying. My Top 5:
5: Eliminator 1982
4: Tres Hombres 1973
3: Deguello 1976
2: La Futura 2012
1: Fandango 1974
RIP Dusty My Broom
August 1, 2021 @ 8:23 am
Speaking of Deguello, there was quote from Farah Fawcett in the booklet included in their Chrome, Smoke and BBQ boxset released in the early aughts where she said she loved ZZ Top since back in her UT days and that she was thrilled that “A Fool for Your Stockings” (one of her all time favorites) was included in box set. Kind of cool to know.
Like many ’70s blues rock kids, I wasn’t crazy about the Eliminator/Afterburner era songs that I either heard on the radio or saw on MTV (except for Gimme All Your Lovin,’ which I always liked). Still not my go-to songs, but I can enjoy them now.
August 1, 2021 @ 11:02 am
Well, I guess I was feeling chatty and was responding to your album list. But if you’re feeling a bit broken up by this (like I was recently about another artist), then maybe you don’t want to hear something about Farah Fawcett right now. Sorry.
July 29, 2021 @ 11:19 pm
So sorry to hear loved ZZ, i know how i felt when Rick Parfitt passed away STATUS QUO, but they are still going yes not the same but at least they still rocking and I hope ZZ Top do the same .Rip Dusty .
July 30, 2021 @ 4:39 am
My friend bought me your jersey in. 1980 & I looked you up & you’ve been My Favorite ,I had the privilege to see you 4 times & I’ll never Forget RIP Dusty very sad day.✌
July 30, 2021 @ 10:01 am
I was blasting their live concert film from a few years back last week.
July 31, 2021 @ 8:33 am
Well, I do give a shit. So fy.
August 1, 2021 @ 8:43 am
The ZZ Top groove rolls on per Dusty’s wishes with his handpicked successor his guitar tech of 30 years. RIP Dusty. The early ZZ Top records were the soundtrack of my youth some of the best Texas blues rock ever made.
August 10, 2021 @ 8:07 pm
Everyone has to be from somewhere. I just happen to be a lifelong Texan. Georgia’s REM had just started playing live up North. They were offended when told how well spoken they were for being Southerners. Probably people like Trigger telling them that…
Tres Hombres is a classic album and there is not one bad song on it. You can’t say the same for Rumours. If Secondhand News had been replaced with Silver Spring it would have sold 10M more copies.