Dusty Hill, bassist and secondary lead vocalist for legendary Southern blues-rock trio ZZ Top, has died, according to a post on the band’s official Facebook page by his bandmates of the past 52 years, Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard. Hill was 72 years old.
“We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, Texas,” read the band’s 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.”
While no cause of death was given, the sad news comes just five days after Hill was forced to pull out of a ZZ Top concert in New Lenox, Ill., due to an injury (the group’s longtime guitar technician, Elwood Francis, filled in). At that time, the band released a statement saying their “fearless bass player” was on a “short detour back to Texas, to address a hip issue,” but they expected a “speedy recovery” and to “have him back pronto,” adding, “Per Dusty’s request, ‘The show must go on!’” This was reported to be the first time that ZZ Top had ever played without Hill since 1969.
Joseph Michael “Dusty” Hill was born May 19, 1949, in Dallas, Texas, and he started off playing cello before transitioning to bass. He played with his brother Rocky Hill and future ZZ Top drummer Beard in local bands the Warlocks, the Cellar Dwellers, and American Blues before he and Beard moved to Houston, where they linked up with guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons, then of psych-rockers Moving Sidewalks.
Hill, Gibbons, and Beard joined forces in a new incarnation of ZZ Top (which had recently released their first single with a different lineup featuring bassist/organist Lanier Greig and drummer Dan Mitchel) and released their full-length debut in 1971; they quickly became known for their sexual-innuendo-laden humor and blistering live shows driven by the signature “barrelhouse” sound of rhythm section Hill and Beard. This classic lineup remained in place for the next half-century and went on to release 15 studio albums and sell 50 million albums worldwide. In 2004, ZZ Top entered the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards delivering the ceremony’s induction speech.
ZZ Top were first known as a more traditional, heavy Texas blues/boogie band with classic rock radio hits like “La Grange,” “Tush,” and “Cheap Sunglasses,” but they enjoyed their most commercially successful period in the 1980s as unlikely MTV superstars — with Gibbons and Hill’s signature long beards, ever-present sunglasses, and furry guitars as ubiquitous on the new channel as Duran Duran’s pastel suits, Madonna’s peek-a-boo bra, and Boy George’s braids. 1983’s Eliminator album, which incorporated synthesizers and was reportedly influenced by Depeche Mode, spawned three massive pop singles (“Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Legs,” and “Sharp Dressed Man”), sold more than 10 million copies, and spent a whopping 183 weeks on the Billboard album chart.
This crossover was largely thanks to high-rotation MTV airplay of those tracks’ cheeky, colorful Tim Newman-directed videos, which starred some of the channel’s earliest and most iconic video vixens. “Legs” won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Group Video, and “Sharp Dressed Man” won a Best Direction VMA. The follow-up album, 1985’s Afterburner, was also an MTV success, with the music video for “Velcro Fly” choreographed by future MTV star Paula Abdul.
ZZ Top remained screen stars over the years with a performance at the 1997 Super Bowl XXXI halftime show alongside James Brown and the Blues Brothers, a performance on the American Idol Season 7 finale with winner David Cook, and a career-spanning taping for VH1 Storytellers in 2009. Hill also acted in Back to the Future Part III, Mother Goose Rock ‘n’ Rhyme, and Deadwood, and played himself on an episode of King of the Hill and in a Drew Carey Show sketch. This year, the ZZ Top documentary That Little Ol’ Band From Texas was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Music Film.
In April 2020, Billy Gibbons told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he, Hill, and Beard had “a lot in the can” and were “cooking up another round of wicked sounds” for ZZ Top’s 16th album, with a tentative late 2021 release date. On Wednesday afternoon, Gibbons told SiriusXM Volume radio host Eddie Trunk via text, “As Dusty said upon his departure, ‘Let the show go on!’ and…with respect, we’ll do well to get beyond this and honor his wishes.”