One of the most iconic men in classic rock has died. Dusty Hill, the bass player for ZZ Top, passed away in his sleep at age 72. Here’s what we know.
“We are saddened by the news today that our compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, Texas,” Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard, the surviving members of the blues-rock trio ZZ Top, said in a statement posted to Facebook on Wednesday (July 28). “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.”
The news of Dusty’s passing comes less than two weeks after the band kicked off their 2021 U.S. tour, per Consequence. A few shows ago, ZZ Top played a concert without Dusty, and his longtime guitar tech Elwood Francis filled in on bass. “The members of ZZ Top, Billy, and Frank, would like to share that Dusty, their fearless Bass player, is on a short detour back to Texas to address a hip issue. They await a speedy recovery and have him back pronto,” the band said in a Facebook post on Friday “Per Dusty’s request, ‘The show must go on!’’ Dusty’s cause of death was not immediately made known. As the world mourns the loss of this beloved bassman, here’s what you need to know:
1. Dusty Hill Was A Founding Member Of ZZ Top.
Born Joseph Michael Hill on May 19, 1949, the Dallas, Texas native grew up in the Lakewood neighborhood. He first started playing his brother, Rocky Hill, and Frank Beard in bands like Warlocks, the Cellar Dwellars, and American Blues, per For Bass Players Only. In 1968, Dusty and Frank moved to Houston, met up with Billy, and formed ZZ Top.
Fifty years later, the band was still going strong. When asked what the “secret” was for the same three guys to stay in the same band for half a century, Dusty told FBPO, “I don’t know that there is a secret. But you gotta hit it with the fun part. We enjoy what we do. They’re other people that enjoy what they do for a living; Turns out to be the same for us. That’s as close as I can come to answering the question. There’s a lot of different factors, I guess, but the main thing is we just enjoy playing together.”
“I started singing for money when I was about eight with my brother, and by the time I was 13, my brother played guitar, and we had a drummer, and so my brother said, ‘You need to play the bass. We need a bass,’” he told FBPO. “Most bass players are guitar players first. 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. If you don’t play well, standing up there with lights on it really stands out, so it behooves you to get your shit up pretty quick.”
2. He Was Inducted Into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame In 2004.
Dusty clearly got his act together. ZZ Top released their debut album – ZZ Top’s First Album – in 1971. The group would start building a buzz with their third release, Tres Hombres, the album that contains one of the band’s signature songs, “La Grange.” The track reached No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100.
During the downtime following 1976’s Tejas, Dusty and Billy decided to grow the long beards that would define the group’s image for four decades. Their 1979 album, Degüello, scored a major radio hit with “Cheap Sunglasses.” However, the group really broke through the mainstream with 1983’s Eliminator. With songs like “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs,” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” not only did they become staples of rock radio, but they found themselves in heavy rotation on MTV. As of 2021, Eliminator has been certified Diamond. In 2004, Keith Richards inducted ZZ Top into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
3. Dusty Appeared In ‘Deadwood,’ ‘King Of The Hill,’ And ‘Back To The Future Part III.’
By the mid-1980s, Dusty and ZZ Top had solidified their places in the pop-culture pantheon. The group would make noted cameos in television shows like The Drew Carey Show and King of the Hill, where the band played themselves. In 1990’s Mother Goose Rock ‘n’ Rhyme, ZZ Top played the Three Men In A Tub, and Dusty had an uncredited role on a 2006 episode of Deadwood. However, the group’s biggest on-screen role came in 1990’s Back To The Future Part III. ZZ Top portrayed a band playing a local party(keep an eye out for when they spin their instruments), and they contributed the song “Doubleback” for the movie’s soundtrack.
4. Dusty Once Shot Himself — By Accident.
Not too many men can shoot themselves in the stomach with a derringer and live – but that’s the kind of man Dusty Hill was. On December 16, 1984, Dusty was with his then-girlfriend, per Ultimate Classic Rock, when she went to pull off his boot. His derringer dropped out, discharging upon hitting the floor. Dusty took a bullet to the abdomen and was rushed to Houston’s Memorial City Hospital. The doctors were able to get the bullet out before too much damage was done. He recovered in time for ZZ Top to record Afterburner, the follow-up to their seminal album, 1983’s Eliminator.
“My first reaction was: ‘Shit!’ And then ‘Ouch.’ I couldn’t believe I’d done something so stupid,” he told Classic Rock in 2010. “To this day, I don’t know how I could do it. But I didn’t really feel anything at the time. All I knew was that I had to get myself to a hospital straight away, so I got in the car and drove there. It was only when I arrived at the hospital that the seriousness of what I’d done hit me, and I went into shock.”
5. Dusty Lived Live With A ‘Positive’ Attitude.
Despite that accidental self-shooting, Dusty said he had no regrets in his life. “I think life is there for you to grab it and be positive. Just look for the good everywhere. If you walk around expecting shit to happen, then it will,” he said, before adding that he was most proud of his band “and also of my wife and family. They are constants, and to have these people in my life does give me immense pride.”