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ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill dies aged 72: "We will forever be connected to that 'Blues Shuffle in C'"

Dusty Lee of ZZ Top
(Image credit: Rick Kern / Getty)

Dusty Hill, ZZ Top bassist for more than half a century, has died at the age of 72, confirmed a statement from bandmates Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard.

We will miss your steadfast presence, your good nature and enduring commitment to providing that monumental bottom to the ‘Top’

Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard

“We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, TX," reads the 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.”

No cause of death has been confirmed at this time, though earlier this month Gibbons and Beard performed without Hill for the first time in more than 50 years, issuing a statement citing "a hip issue" and continuing "Per Dusty’s request the show must go on!"

It’s a cliché and sounds so simplistic, but it’s down to the three of us genuinely enjoying playing together

Hill was the bassist in the trio since 1970 and he gave few interviews in recent years but told Classic Rock in 2010 why he though the band managed to stay together for so long.

"It’s a cliché and sounds so simplistic, but it’s down to the three of us genuinely enjoying playing together," he said. "We still love it, and we still get a kick out of being on stage. 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." 

Born Joseph Michael Hill in Dallas on 19 May, 1949, he played the cello during high school before playing alongside his brother Rocky and future ZZ Top drummer Frank Beard in bands The Warlocks, Cellar Dwellers and American Blues. 

When American Blues split, Hill and Beard – now located in Houston – eventually pursued their rockier ambitions by joining Billy Gibbons of the Moving Sidewalks in his new band ZZ Top, following the release of their first single Salt Lick with the lineup of Gibbons, bassist/organist Lanier Greig and drummer Dan Mitchell. 

With Beard and then Hill in the new lineup as a power trio, ZZ Top set about earning their reputation as a live draw. By second album, 1972's Rio Grande Mud they had their first charting single with Francine.

When I started playing in a three-piece, I realised that you have to do the song, not your personal performance, so you have to be tasty with it and enjoy the playing

Hill's role of secondary vocalist is easily overlooked in the band but it was integral to the sound that came into its own on 1973's Tres Hombres. The minimalism to his bass playing was very much by design too. 

"It took me awhile, because early on I just learned the fundamentals," he told For Bass Players Only in 2016 about how his style evolved. "And then I was heavily influenced by Jack Bruce with Cream, and he plays a lot. Even Stanley Clark or Charlie Mingus, a little jazz. So I used to play a lot. But when I started playing in a three-piece, I realised that you have to do the song, not your personal performance, so you have to be tasty with it and enjoy the playing. 

"Writing the song helps a lot; if I’m involved in the writing process, it comes to me. I think one of the best bass players in the world for that is Paul McCartney; he played the perfect part for everything, in every song. Sometimes you don’t even notice the bass — I hate that in a way, but I love that in a way. That’s a compliment. That means you’ve filled in everything and it’s right for the song, and you’re not standing out where you don’t need to be."

It was a philosophy that helped power ZZ Top as the boogied through the changing trends of the American musical landscape, and huge success in the '80s the the streamlined tones and sharp dressed hooks of the Eliminator and Afterburner albums in 1983 and 1985.  

As Dusty said upon his departure, 'Let the show go on!

Billy Gibbons

The band were said to be working on the follow-up to 2012's La Futura earlier this year and began a tour two weeks ago in Iowa before cancelling their 21 July gig in Evansville, Indiana due to health issues within the band. Their next scheduled show is due to take place on 30 July in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 

It was Hill's wish that the band would continue with longtime tech Elwood Francis on bass. "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,"Billy  Gibbons told SiriusXM radio host Eddie Trunk in a message confirmed by ZZ Top's publicist Bob Merlis.

"Dusty emphatically grabbed my arm and said, 'Give Elwood the bottom end, and take it to the Top,'" Gibbons explained to Trunk. "He meant it, amigo. He really did."

Hill's legacy is now forged in blues history. When Classic Rock asked the bassist what his philosophy in life was, his reply was as brilliantly succinct as his band's take on the blues; "I think life is there for you to grab it and be positive," he said. "Just look for the good everywhere. If you walk around expecting shit to happen, then it will."