The quiet, bearded bassist Dusty Hill, who made up one-third of ZZ Top, one of the best-selling rock bands of the 1980s, died at his home in Houston. He was 72 years old.
Starting in the early 1970s, ZZ Top recorded dozens of hits a year and filled hundreds of arenas with its powerful mix of boogie, Southern rock and blues. But the band really took off in the 1980s when lead singers and guitarists Mr. Gibbons and Mr. Hill grew their signature 20-inch beards, and the band released a series of albums that added New Wave synthesizers often played by Mr. Hill — their hardcore guitars, “producing MTV-friendly hits like”legs” and “stylishly dressed man”
The band paired their grungy voices and suggestive lyrics with a familiar, sometimes hilarious stage act—Mr Hill and Mr Gibbons, in matching sunglasses and Stetson hats, swaying their hips in unison, spinning their instruments on straps attached to them. belts. (Despite his name, drummer Mr. Beard only has a moustache.) Stage sets can include smashed cars and even animals.
Although popularly Mr. Hill and Mr. Gibbons were often perceived as twins, their musical styles were different – Mr. Gibbons is a flamboyant virtuoso, Mr. Hill is a grinder, a sensitive music mechanic.
Mr Hill rarely gave interviews, preferring to let Mr Gibbons speak for the band. And he happily accepted his bandmate’s supporting role in masterfully playing the guitar.
“Sometimes you don’t even notice the bass,” he said. 2016 interview. “In a way I hate it but in a way I love it. It’s a compliment. It means you fill in everything and it’s right for the song, and you don’t stand out where you shouldn’t be.”
Joseph Michael Hill was born on May 19, 1949 in Dallas. He began his musical career by singing and playing the cello, but at the age of 13 his older brother, CliffThe guitar player said his band needed a bassist. One day Dusty came home to find a bass in his bed; that night, he joined Rocky on stage at a Dallas pub.
“I started playing with my finger on the curtain that night, and when the time came, my brother would hit me on the shoulder,” he said. 2012 interview.
In 1969 Dusty was living in Houston and working with blues singer Lightnin’ Hopkins, when a high school friend, Mr. Beard, suggested that he audition for an open spot in a trio called ZZ Top, recently formed by Mr. Gibbons. . They played their first show together in February 1970.
The band’s humor was evident from the start: They named their debut album “ZZ Top’s First Album”. Real success came with their third album, “Tres Hombres,” which broke the Billboard top 10 in 1973. They opened for the Rolling Stones in Hawaii that same year.
Many of his early songs were heavily sexually suggestive, though sometimes they set aside allusions entirely. “La Grange”, their big hit in “Tres Hombres” was about a brothel.
In 1976, after a string of hit albums and nearly seven years of continuous touring, the band took a three-year hiatus. Mr. Hill returned to Dallas, where he worked at the airport and tried to avoid being identified by his fans.
“I had a short beard, normal length, and if you take off the hat and sunshade and put on a work suit and put ‘Joe’ on my work shirt, people don’t expect to see you,” he said. 2019 interview. “Now, several times several people asked me and I just lied and said, ‘No! Do you think I’ll be sitting here?”
The band reunited to release their platinum debut album “Degüello” in 1979, and Mr. Gibbons and Mr. Hill grew beards for the first time. It was also the first sign that they had gone beyond their Texas roots, adding a New Wave flavor to their sound, where Mr. Hill also played keyboards.
They reached superstar status in 1983 with “Eliminator”, which included hit singles like “Legs”, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Sharp Dressed Man”.Give Me All Your Love.’It sold 10 million copies and stayed on the Billboard charts for 183 weeks.
Mr. Hill made headlines in 1984 when he accidentally shot himself in the stomach. While a girlfriend was taking off her boot, a 38 Derringer popped out, hit the ground, and was gone.
The band’s success continued into the 1980s, and while their later albums – a return to their Texan blues roots – didn’t climb the charts, the trio still filled stadiums. And despite their sensual style, they reluctantly began to draw. respect from critics, often opting for Mr. Hill’s masterful bass playing.
“My voice is big and heavy and a little distorted because it has to match the guitar,” he said in an interview in 2000. “Someone once asked me to describe my tone of voice and I said it was like farting in a trash can. I mean, it’s raw, but you have to have your tone there.”
ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
Mr. Hill married his longtime girlfriend, actress Charleen McCrory, in 2002. He also had a daughter. Information about survivors was not immediately available.
He injured his hip after falling on a tour bus in 2014. He had to have surgery and part of the tour had to be cancelled. He left his final laps on July 23, citing issues with his hip. It is unclear whether this has anything to do with his death.
Mr. Hill and his bandmates kept a low, relatively sober profile, as opposed to the hardcore parties their image and music seemed to promote. And even after 50 years of almost continuous touring, they remained close friends.
“People ask how we stayed together for so long,” she told The Charlotte Observer in 2015. “I mean separate tour buses. We took separate tour buses when we probably couldn’t afford it. So we were always glad to see each other when we got to the next city.”
Alex Traub contributed to the reporting.