Joseph Michael’ Dusty’ Hill, the longtime bassist for Texas blues-rock icons ZZ Top, has died at the age of 72.
The band’s other two members, guitarist Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard, confirmed the news on social media. In a statement, the two say: “We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, TX. 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.”
The last part of the statement refers to the first song that Beard, Gibbons and Hill ever played together, a simple twelve bar blues shuffle in the key of C. No lyrics, nothing fancy, just a blues shuffle. Despite its simplicity, the chemistry felt between the three musicians carried on the shuffle for nearly an hour and solidified their musical bond. It’s hard to think of a better metaphor for the unbreakable shuffle that ZZ Top went on for over 50 years.
Hill and Beard originally played together in a number of Texas garage bands before being recruited to play in a fake version of the British rock group The Zombies. Upon moving to Houston, Beard quickly joined up with The Moving Sidewalks, which featured Gibbons on guitar, and when that band splintered, Gibbons recruited Beard into his new band ZZ Top. Beard, in turn, recommended Hill after the original bassist quit, and the lineup remained together for over five decades.
ZZ Top released Tres Hombres in 1973, featuring the band’s signature song ‘La Grange’, and their live show, which incorporated live animals and various southern iconography, brought the group to fame as That Little O’l Band From Texas. It was during this time that Hill and Gibbons began growing out their iconic chest-length beards. Throughout the band’s career, Hill was the lead vocalist on a number of the band’s most prominent songs, including ‘Tush’, ‘I Got the Six’, and ‘Delirious’.
The band became MTV stars thanks to the album Eliminator and subsequent hits ‘Legs’, ‘Sharp Dressed Man’, and ‘Gimme All Your Lovin”. Hill and Gibbon’s almost-identical looks, which included sunglasses, cars, and fuzzy guitars, were some of the most identifiable and iconic images of the early ’80s.
The band continued to tour and record after their ’80s heyday and gradually returned to the blues-rock sound as they transitioned to elder statesman of rock and roll. Along with his ZZ Top bandmates, Hill was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
The band had embarked on their 2021 US only two weeks ago. At the band’s most recent show, guitar tech Elwood Francis filled in for Hill, who was said to have been dealing with a “health issue” at the time.