Dusty Hill Dies: ZZ Top Bassist Was 72
Dusty Hill, the longtime bassist for rock band ZZ Top, has died in his sleep at home in Houston. He was 72.
His death was announced today by bandmates Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard.
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“We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, TX,” the two wrote on the band’s Instagram page. “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.'” See the post below.
Hill had suffered a hip injury that prompted his departure from the band’s recent post-lockdown concerts. The shows are thought to be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band’s first ever with him. It had booked a sprawling 2021-22 tour of North America that is set to include a Las Vegas residency.
Long considered the rock band with the longest-tenured original lineup, ZZ Top was formed in 1969 in Houston, with bassist-singer-songwriter Hill playing alongside guitarist Gibbons and drummer Beard. They went on to become one of rock’s best-loved trios — and bands — with their massive success driven by signature videos that then-nascent MTV played in heavy rotation. And Hill and Gibbons’ signature beards.
ZZ Top has released 15 studio albums during its career — including half live/half-studio album Fandango! — selling more than 25 million records in the U.S. alone, per the RIAA. Seven of their LPs, including two hits compilations, are platinum or multiplatinum, with four others going gold. The group was featured in the 2019 documentary ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas, which scored a Grammy nom for Best Music Film.
The boogie-blues trio released ZZ Top’s First Album as they built a name playing Texas clubs. The 1972 follow-up Rio Grande Mud was their first to hit the charts and expanded their popularity.
Their fortunes changed in 1973 with Tres Hombres, which spawned “La Grange,” an ode to that shack “out on the range.” The song was a minor pop hit, just missing the Billboard Top 40, but expanded the group’s fan base and drove the album into the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 album chart. The track remains a staple on rock radio.
ZZ Top’s momentum continued to build with 1975’s Fandango!, which also made the Top 10, fueled by the single “Tush,” which peaked at No. 20 on the Hot 100 and also became a radio mainstay.
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The group continued to record and tour — with venues getting larger. The trio was all over rock radio in the late ’70s and early ’80s with tracks including “It’s Only Love,” “Cheap Sunglasses,” “I Thank You” and FM smash “Tube Snake Boogie,” but everything would change for the band as the mid-’80s dawned.
Eliminator, its eighth album, was released on March 23, 1983, and was an out-of-the-box smash — and the band became MTV favorites with the video for “Gimme All Your Lovin’.” It featured the “Eliminator coupe” and the long-bearded, shades-sporting Hill and Gibbons watching as a local kid working at a gas station gets a surprise visit from a trio of women who whisk him away.
Topmania was born.
That single and video were followed by rock smashes “Got Me Under Pressure” and “Sharp Dressed Man” — and minor hit “TV Dinners,” but as Eliminator continued to ride the album chart, its fifth single would send the band into the stratosphere.
“Legs” featured a decidedly mid-’80s synth sound, but this time pop radio took notice. MTV played the video extensively, and the song hit No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming ZZ Top’s biggest AM success. It revitalized Eliminator‘s sales and helped the disc eventually become the band’s biggest by far, earning diamond status for sales of 10 million units in the U.S. It would spend a remarkable 187 weeks — or 3 1/2 years — on the Billboard 200.
ZZ Top’s 1985 follow-up album, Afterburner, couldn’t match Eliminator‘s long-tail sales success but became — and remains — its highest-charting LP, peaking at No. 4. It featured the Top 10 single “Sleeping Bag” and went on to sell more than 5 million copies in the U.S. Recycler followed in 1990, reaching No. 6, but it would be the Top’s last Top 10 record for a dozen years.
The band’s discography includes a massive reissue of its early studio albums that was released as The ZZ Top Six Pack, a three-CD set that streeted in 1987. Covering the debut disc through 1981’s El Loco — but sans 1979’s Degüello — it featured an unfortunate remaster of “La Grange” that ’80s-up a signature drum fill, among other tweaks.
The group later was featured as an Old West party band in Robert Zemeckis 1990 film Back to the Future III, which became that year’s sixth-highest-grossing movie.
ZZ Top earned three career Grammy nominations, for the documentary and two for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for Eliminator (1983) and Afterburner (1986). The trio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004
Joseph “Dusty” Hill was born on May 19, 1949, in Houston and played in various local bands before teaming with Beard in the Dallas-based group American Blues. They eventually recruited guitarist Gibbons from the Dallas psychedelic-rock outfit Moving Sidewalks — which had opened for Jimi Hendrix a year earlier — and ZZ Top was on its way.
Hill was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2000, which forced the cancellation of the group’s planned European tour. He rejoined his bandmates in 2002.
The band’s music has been featured in dozens of films and TV shows — from An Officer and a Gentleman and Knight Rider to Twin Peaks and I, Tonya — and Hill had a voice role as Hank Hill’s rock-star cousin in a 2007 episode of King of the Hill.
The band continues to enjoy regular airplay on classic rock radio, with other still-popular tracks including “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” “Just Got Paid,” “Pearl Necklace” and “My Head’s in Mississippi.” Gibbons has said that its 16th studio album was in the works.
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