Dusty Hill, Long-Bearded Bassist for ZZ Top, Dies at 72
Dusty Hill, the bearded and silent bassist who made up a third of ZZ Top, among the best-selling rock bands of the 1980s, has died at his home in Houston. He was 72 years old.
His bandmates Frank Beard and Billy Gibbons announced the death on Wednesday via Facebook and Instagram. They did not provide a cause or indicate when he died.
Beginning in the early 1970s, ZZ Top racked up dozens of hit records and filled hundreds of arenas a year with their powerful mix of boogie, southern rock and blues. But the band really took off in the 1980s, when Mr. Gibbons, the lead singer and guitarist, and Mr. Hill grew their 20 inch beards and the band released a series of albums that added new synthesizers. Wave – often played by Mr. Hill – to their powerful guitars, producing MTV-friendly hits like “Legs” and “Sharp-Dressed Man”.
The group paired their grungy sound and innuendo-laden lyrics with a geek, at times comical stage act – Mr. Hill and Mr. Gibbons, wearing matching sunglasses and Stetson hats, swayed in unison, rotating their instruments on mounts attached to belts. (Despite his name, Mr. Beard, the drummer, only has one mustache.) Their sets can include run over cars and even cattle.
Although in public Mr. Hill and Mr. Gibbons were often mistaken for twins, their musical styles differed – Mr. Gibbons a sighted virtuoso, Mr. Hill a precise and squeaky musical mechanic.
Mr. Hill rarely gave interviews, preferring to let Mr. Gibbons speak for the group. And he gladly accepted his supporting role for his bandmate’s masterful guitar playing.
“Sometimes you don’t even notice the bass,” he said in a 2016 interview. “I hate it in a way, but I like it in a way. It is a compliment. This means you’ve filled it all in and it’s right for the song, and you don’t stand out where you don’t need to be.
Joseph Michael Hill was born in Dallas on May 19, 1949. He began his musical career singing and playing the cello, but changed instruments at age 13, when his brother, Rocky, who played guitar, moved on. said his band needed a bass player. One day, Dusty came home to find a bass on his bed; that night he joined Rocky on stage at a Dallas beer bar.
“I started playing that night putting my finger on the fret, and when the time came for a change my brother would hit me on the shoulder,” he said in an interview in 2012.
In 1969, Dusty was living in Houston and working with blues singer Lightnin ‘Hopkins when Mr. Beard, a friend from high school, suggested he audition for a vacant position in a trio called ZZ Top, recently founded by Mr. Gibbons. . They performed their first show together in February 1970.
The humor of the band was evident from the start: they named their debut album “ZZ Top’s First Album”. Real success came in 1973 with their third release, “Tres Hombres”, which broke into the Billboard top 10. That same year, they opened for the Rolling Stones in Hawaii.
Many of their early songs relied heavily on sexual innuendos, although sometimes they skip the innuendo altogether. “La Grange”, their big hit on “Tres Hombres”, was about a brothel.
In 1976, after a string of successful albums and nearly seven years of consistent touring, the band took a three-year hiatus. Mr. Hill returned to Dallas, where he worked at the airport and tried to avoid being identified by fans.
“I had a short, normal-length beard, and if you take off the hat and sunglasses and wear work clothes and put ‘Joe’ on my work shirt, people don’t expect to see you. “he said in a 2019 interview.” Now a few times a few people have asked me, and I just lied, and I said, ‘No! Do you think I would be sitting here? ‘ “
The band reunited in 1979 to release “Degüello”, their first album to go platinum, and the first time Mr. Gibbon and Mr. Hill have grown beards. It was also the first sign that they were going beyond their Texan roots by adding a New Wave flavor to their sound, with Mr. Hill also playing the keyboard.
They achieved superstar status in 1983 with “Eliminator,” which featured hit singles like “Legacy”, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Give Me All Your Lovin”.
In 1984, Mr. Hill made headlines when he accidentally shot himself in the stomach. As a girlfriend took off her boot, a .38 Derringer slipped, hit the ground, and drove off.
The group’s success continued throughout the 1980s, and although subsequent albums – in which they returned to their Texan blues roots – did not climb the charts, the trio still filled the stadiums. And despite their scorching styles, they began to earn reluctant respect from critics, who often singled out Mr. Hill’s subtly masterful bass playing.
“My sound is big and heavy and a bit distorted because it has to overlap the guitar,” he said in an interview in 2000. “Someone once asked me to describe my tone, and I said it was like farting in a trash can. What I meant is it’s gross, but you got to have the tone in it.
ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
Mr. Hill married his longtime girlfriend Charleen McCrory, an actress, in 2002. He also had a daughter. Information on the survivors was not immediately available.
In 2014, he injured his hip after falling on his tour bus. He had to be operated on and part of the tour had to be canceled. On July 23, he left their last tour, citing hip problems. It is not known if this had anything to do with his death.
Contrary to their image – and the harsh party their music seemed to encourage – Mr. Hill and his band mates have kept a low profile and relatively sober. And they have remained close friends, even after 50 years of almost constant touring.
“People ask how we stayed together for so long,” he told the Charlotte Observer in 2015. “I’m saying separate tour buses. We had separate tour buses at the start, when we couldn’t. probably wouldn’t afford it. That way we were always happy to see each other when we got to the next town.
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