Dusty Hill, the bearded, thundering bassist for the legendary Texas blues-rock trio ZZ Top, died Tuesday. He was 72.
“We are saddened by the news today that our Compadre, Dusty Hill, has passed away in his sleep at home in Houston, TX,” the group wrote on Facebook. “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 statement signed by ZZ Top’s surviving members concluded.
Born in 1949 in Dallas, Texas, Hill was a prominent member of the Dallas rock scene in the 1960s, playing in numerous groups with future bandmate drummer Frank Beard. Strangely enough, he and Beard were also members of the bizarre fake version of The Zombies, formed in the wake of the band’s breakup to cash in on the Zombies chart success.
Hill joined ZZ Top in 1971, just before they recorded their debut album, the aptly-titled ZZ Top’s First Album. He wasn’t their first bassist, but Hill became a fixture of the band for the next 50 years. Over their career, Hill, guitarist-singer Billy Gibbons, and Beard became one of the most consistent lineups in all rock history.
Two years after their debut album, ZZ Top recorded their landmark LP Tres Hombres. Led by the single “La Grange,” the album was their first to crack the top 10 of the Billboard 200, peaking at number eight, and their first album to go gold. In addition, the album was called one of the 500 greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone.
The relentless schedule in the post-Tres Hombres years led to a three-year break when Hill took a job at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. “I just wanted to feel normal,” Hill later said. “I did not want other people to think that I thought I was full of myself, but the main thing is that I didn’t want to start feeling full of myself. So I did it to ground myself.”
While the rest of the 1970s were a quieter period for the group in mainstream success, the 80s made them more popular than ever. Thanks, in part, to their signature facial hair, the band became a staple on MTV with the release of 1983’s Eliminator. The album was a massive hit, boasting the classic singles, “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” and “Legs.” In August 1996, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified that Eliminator sold more than 10 million copies, making it the group’s only Diamond album.
Eliminator proved to be a mainstream high-point, but their follow-up albums continued to find success on rock charts. The synth-heavy Afterburner went platinum five times, selling more than 5 million copies.
Over the next thirty years, the band continued to find success on modern and classic rock radio. In 2004, Keith Richards inducted ZZ Top in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The band’s final studio album, 2012’s La Futura, peaked at number six on the U.S. charts.
Regardless of their fluctuating popularity with mainstream audiences, the band continued to tour relentlessly. Throughout their career, the trio played more than 3,000 shows. In 2016, the band, all in their 60s, played more than 130 concerts.
The troubadour mentality of los tres hombres took its toll eventually. In 2014, Hill fell and injured his hip while on tour. The bassist required a hip replacement, forcing the group to cancel dates. Earlier this week, Hill stepped back from playing with the group due to his hip. The group released a statement about his absence, stating that Dusty insisted, “The show must go on!”