ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill, who played with the Texas blues-rock trio for over 50 years, died Tuesday at age 72. His rep confirmed the musician’s death, but said a cause of death was currently unknown.
“We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, Texas,” surviving members Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard said in a statement. “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.’ You will be missed greatly, amigo.”
More from Rolling Stone
John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival tweeted a remembrance of his own: “We are devastated to hear about Dusty’s passing. We were so blessed to share the stage with the great Dusty and ZZ Top many times, and if that wasn’t rock & roll heaven, I don’t know what is. The show we did together just last week would be his last. So heartbreaking.”
Hill wasn’t ZZ Top’s original bass player, but he joined shortly before they cut their debut LP, ZZ Top’s First Album, in 1971, and remained a pivotal part of the group through their most recent albums and tours. Throughout all that time, the lineup stayed just Hill, Gibbons, and Beard, making them one of the most stable acts in rock history.
“It’s a cliché and sounds so simplistic, but it’s down to the three of us genuinely enjoying playing together,” Hill explained to Classic Rock in 2010. “We still love it, and we still get a kick out of being onstage. We also have enough in common to maintain a bond between us but sufficient differences to keep our individuality. And after all this time, we all know what winds up the others and what makes them the people they are.”
Hill grew up in Dallas, Texas, and began playing bass when he was 13. “Most bass players are guitar players first,” he told writer Gary Graff in 2016. “I wasn’t. I was a singer and I came home from school and there was a bass guitar there, and I played a bar that night. It wasn’t very good, but I kind of learned how to play on stage and whatnot, and embarrassment is a great motivator.”
He joined ZZ Top shortly after they signed a deal with London Records. Early records ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud failed to generate much traction, but they finally connected in 1973 with Tres Hombres thanks to the hit single “La Grange.” That same year, they opened up for the Rolling Stones in Hawaii. “People would look at us onstage, drop their jaws, and moan,” Hill told Rolling Stone in 1974. “In the end, though, we’d just blow them away and they’d scream for us to come back. We’d feel kind of funny with the Stones watching us from behind, waiting for us to finish.”
The follow-up albums weren’t as successful and the band took a three-year break following the release of 1976’s Tejas, during which Hill took a job at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. “I just wanted to feel normal,” Hill said in 2019. “I did not want other people to think that I thought I was full of myself, but the main thing is that I didn’t want to start feeling full of myself. So I did it to ground myself.”
During the downtime, Hill and Gibbons grew long beards. And when they remerged in 1979 with Degüello, they scored a massive hit with “Cheap Sunglasses.” But it was 1983’s Eliminator that turned ZZ Top into MTV superstars. Singles “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” and “Legs” were inescapable and remain classic rock radio staples to this day. And even though their success began to fizzle out in the Nineties, the band never stopped touring and always maintained a huge following. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 by Keith Richards.
Hill remained a quiet presence through it all, rarely granting interviews and letting Gibbons serve as the group’s mouthpiece. When he did talk to the press, he hinted at a darkness that few fans saw. “There have been any number [of low points in my life], but I never discuss them in public,” he said in 2010. “They’re not for the public to pick over and dissect. All I will say is that you have to have the right attitude to these downturns. You have to go through the low points to appreciate the highs in life.”
Over the past few years, Hill endured a hip replacement surgery and a shoulder injury. The group was forced to cancel a few shows, and they played with a replacement earlier this month when Hill was forced to head back to Texas to deal with a hip issue.
While his cause of death is unknown, he did say in 2010 what he’d like to see written on his tombstone. “It may sound morose, but you never get younger,” he said. “I’ve come up with some ideas, and then rejected them all. There’s an inscription on a wooden marker over a grave in Boot Hill that says: Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a .44. No Les. No more. I like the humor in that.”
ZZ Top – “Tush”
ZZ Top – “Gimme All Your Lovin'”
ZZ Top – “Sharp Dressed Man”
Best of Rolling Stone