ZZ Top have returned to the stage for the first time since bassist Dusty Hill's death. Hill, who died aged 72 last week, was replaced onstage once more at the Tuscaloosa, Alabama show by long-serving guitar tech Elwood Francis, who has handled bass duties since the middle of July.
Indeed, it was a decision Hill made himself in one of his last acts with the Texan blues-rock superpower. In an interview with Variety, guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons revealed that Hill has made it perfectly plain that the band must carry on while he took time out for health issues, with Francis the natural choice to sit in for him.
“He was adamant,“ Gibbons explained. “He said, 'The show must go on. Don’t forget it.' And he was pointing his finger and shaking it. It was a direct directive from Mr Dusty Hill.“
Hill had played the first two shows of the tour before taking some time out. He had been dealing with a number of health issues, including ulcers, and a broken shoulder followed by a broken hip. No official cause of death has been released, with Hill's funeral expected to take place over the next week or two. ZZ Top cancelled their forthcoming 3 August show at Little Rock, Arkansas, to attend a memorial service.
Onstage, it was in some ways business as usual, just as Hill would like it, with Francis well acquainted with the material, holding down the groove with drummer Frank Beard, Magnatone amps giving Gibbons' electric guitar that super-hot tone, and Gibbons placing Hill's stage hat over his mic stand in tribute.
Gibbons did admit that when Francis first sat in for Hill, he felt compelled to offer evidence for all in attendance that the newly installed bassist's whiskers were genuine.
“I had to stroll over and grab him by the chin to give him a yank, just to show the audience – I said, 'Folks, this is the real deal here.' [Laughs.] But he’s honouring Dusty’s wishes, and I know that, wherever Dusty may be, he’s probably smiling, just knowing that all the notes are in place and that the fierceness rolls on.“