Dusty Hill: 1949–2021
ZZ Top's legendary bassist dies at 72 after more than a half century as the steward of Texas Boogie.
When Dusty Hill passed away on July 28, 2021, the world lost an icon of American music. It's hard to encapsulate the enormity of ZZ Top's impact on the canon of American rock music, but there's a moment in the 2019 Banger Films documentary, ZZ Top:That Little Ol' Band from Texas, where the band's early producer, Robin Brians, perhaps puts it best: "ZZ Top plays the blues, but they don't sing the blues. They turned blues into party music."
The magnitude of that singular act can be traced directly to bands like Van Halen, the Anglo-American versions of Whitesnake, and countless others—that's how deeply embedded in popular music ZZ Top's influence has become. Not only are they quite possibly Texas's most successful musical export—with more than 50 million records sold worldwide and more than 50 years as a band—they are one of America's, too.
ZZ Top - Sleeping Bag (Official Music Video)
Hill's role in ZZ Top has always been understated and underrated. Upon hearing the news of his untimely passing yesterday, a colleague asked if I'd ever met him, to which I replied, "Only through his bass lines." Though I never got to interview him personally, there's an intimacy in learning someone else's music and bass parts. Dusty's Texas groove was undeniably delicious, and an exercise in restraint. It's tempting to want to overplay, but his bass lines represent a masterclass in the age-old musical mantra, "less is more." His performances are seemingly simplistic, but copping his indelible feel is another matter entirely. His deep-pocketed, hard-hitting grooves on now-classic tunes like "La Grange," "Tush," "Cheap Sunglasses," and "Tube Snake Boogie," were based on a simple, yet effective strategy.
"Sometimes you don't even notice the bass," he said in a 2016 article by Gary Graff in For Bass Players Only. "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." Ultimately, his spin on the blues, and attitude about bass, created the perfect foil for Billy Gibbons' masterful guitar playing and Frank Beard's rock-infused Texas Shuffle.
Born Joseph Michael Hill on May 19, 1949, in Dallas, Texas, Dusty grew up a self-professed Elvis Presley fanatic. He retells the story of his musical origins in the Banger documentary, recalling that he got into music by singing along to an Elvis record his mother brought home from the diner where she worked. When he was 8 years old, he decided to sing a song in public, at a restaurant presumably, which resulted in the patrons at a nearby table giving him change. That was it—he got money in exchange for singing and essentially never looked back. He played cello for a bit in high school but switched to bass at the behest of his older, guitar-playing brother, Rocky Hill, who decided that their band, in which Dusty was solely a vocalist at the time, needed a bassist. And so, from 1966 to 1968, along with future ZZ Top drummer Frank Beard, the Hill brothers played locally in Dallas with the Warlocks, the Cellar Dwellers, and American Blues.
ZZ Top's bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist Billy F. Gibbons played together for 52 years. Atop Hill's shoulder is his main bass at the time this photo was taken in 2013: a John Bolin-built chambered slab body with a Seymour Duncan stacked P-bass pickup for Texas blues tone with a dash of nastiness.
Photo by Ken Settle
In 1968, tired of the straight blues, and wanting to embrace a bit more of the British Invasion-style rock music that was infiltrating America at the time, Dusty and Beard moved to Houston, where they subsequently teamed up with guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons of psychedelic-rockers Moving Sidewalks. Together, the trio took their combined Freddie King, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf influences, cranked up their amps, imbued them with a rock 'n' roll attitude, and ZZ Top was born.
They released their first album, the cheeky-titled, ZZ Top's First Album, in 1971, which captured their fledgling rock-infused blues sound. But it was their third album, Tres Hombres, released in 1973, featuring the songs, "La Grange," "Waitin' for the Bus," and "Jesus Just Left Chicago," that cemented their reputation as innovators. Perhaps it was Hill's early foundation in singing that allowed him to hone a bass skill set that embodies the instrument's most fundamental role: supporting the melody. His vocal ability, best represented on the 1975 Fandango! single, "Tush," the band's first Top 20 hit, and one of their most enduring songs, seems to have placed emphasis on indelible feel, rather than technical prowess. He used that same approach when playing bass. Check out any of the aforementioned tunes for a sample of his nasty grooves and dynamic tone. What he's playing may seem simple, but try to capture that feel. That's not something you just pick up. That comes from being steeped in a particular lifestyle and culture, comprised primarily of incessant touring, and growing up provincially, in Texas.
Dusty Hill circa 1975 playing the cornerstone of his sound: a vintage 1970s Fender P bass he bought in a Dallas pawnshop.
Photo by Phil McAuliffe / Frank White Photo Agency
ZZ Top had a successful '70s run before taking a three-year hiatus and reemerging in the early '80s with long beards and new records into a burgeoning, yet welcoming, MTV music-video era. If Tres Hombres put them on the map as musical innovators in 1973, it was 1983's Eliminator that turned them into cultural icons a decade later. Though the production was chastised by blues purists for having synthesizers and drum machines, the band's authentic blues roots still undergird the material, and tunes like "Legs," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Gimme All Your Lovin'" solidified their place within the annals of pop culture. And, after all, as Dusty Hill says himself in the Banger documentary: "We never said we were a blues band. We are interpreters of the blues." In 2004, ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
It appears the band will carry on with longtime guitar tech Elwood Francis taking over bass duties, as he did on July 23 at the Village Commons in New Lenox, Illinois, when Dusty was forced to sit out due to a hip injury.
Guitar Center Presents: Holiday Gift Guide
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
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Les Paul Desert Burst Satin
Fender Classic Series 5 Guitar Case Stand Tweed
Fender Holiday Guitar Cable Keychain
Fender Limited Edition Holiday Sweater
Harbinger MLS1000 Personal Line Array Speaker System
Sterling Audio P10 Dynamic Instrument Microphone
Sterling Audio Harmony H224 USB Audio Interface
Apogee BOOM 2x2 Audio Interface
Railhammer Reveals New Billy Corgan Z-One Pickups
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Mono Releases the M80 Vertigo Ultra Case
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
MONO Vertigo Ultra Electric Bass Gig Bag - Black
For more information, please visit monocreators.com.
Gibson Unveils the Generation Collection of Acoustics
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
Gibson Acoustic Generation Collection G-Bird Acoustic-electric Guitar - Natural
For more information, please visit gibson.com.