Every musician has their favourite instrument. The greats often have a large array of specialised items for different tunings and song styles, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a musician, especially a guitar player, who doesn’t hold one axe above all the rest. Something about the feel and sound of your number one is intrinsically linked to the way you play.
Late ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill is no different. By his own estimation, when being interviewed by Fender back in 2012, Hill stated that he had “somewhere up around a couple hundred” bass guitars in his possession. But there was one, a Fender Precision Bass, that he used extensively throughout his career with the band and stood above the rest of his formidable collection.
As Hill tells it, the bass’ origin sounds like a classic tale of rock and roll bargaining. “Early in ZZ Top’s career, Billy [Gibbons] and I drove up from Houston to Dallas: this is one of those stories you always hear, but this really happened.” The two managed to land at Rocky’s Pawn Shop on the outskirts of the city, and there, hanging on the wall, was the P-Bass that Hill would use for the next 50-odd years.
Hill’s only problem? He wasn’t a terribly shrewd negotiator, so he allowed Gibbons to take the role of bargaining with the shop owner, something Gibbons took to with aplomb. “This guy truly had no idea what he had, and I get Billy to make the deal because he’s better at that than I am,” he said.
Just as Gibbons and the owner had come to a deal, Gibbons stopped and called it off. “He worked him and worked him, and I got the bass for $70. We’re leaving, and Billy goes ‘Nope, wait a minute, no deal. You have to throw in the case.'” The case was close enough to an original Fender case that Gibbons felt the need to haggle one final time for it.
The P-Bass would be a permanent addition to the ZZ Top recording and live circuit, and Hill had only recently retired it in 2012 due to road wear. But the music he produced from that bass, bought for $70 (plus case!) thanks to Billy Gibbons, is now part of rock and roll history, along with Hill himself.