Dusty Hill and ZZ Top Put Texas Music on the Map
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Photo: Ralph Arvesen

As you may have heard, the longtime bassist and founding member of ZZ is Top Dusty hill died in his sleep on Wednesday, July 28, at his home in Houston, Texas, according to bandmates Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard. His death comes as the band continued to stay active and relevant, touring regularly and bringing their blues-based power trio sound to a new generation of fans while also gaining their status as rock and roll gods and inducted into the Hall of Fame Person enjoyed. Dusty Hill was 72 years old.

Despite some characterizations, Dusty wasn't just the "other guy" with a beard in ZZ Top along with guitarist Billy Gibbons. Dusty was the backbone of a band and was also named as a co-writer on most of their songs. On her 1973 breakout album Tres Hombres, Dusty Hill wrote all but two of the songs. On her 1983 monster album, Eliminator, he was credited on all. Dusty Hill was also the other singer on ZZ Top, who spelled Billy Gibbons on one or two tracks per record and often sang harmonies.

ZZ Top is credited with a variety of influences on American music and rock & roll in general. But what is often overlooked is that ZZ Top really was the first band outside of the country to make the state of Texas cool in the mid-1970s.

One of her first big opportunities came when her song "La Grange" made a little noise in the charts. At some point Mick Jagger heard the boys and fell in love with them. By chance and at short notice, he offered the band the opening slot at three shows that the Rolling Stones played in Hawaii. Good old Texas boys, ZZ Top had barely gotten out of the Lone Star State. But they accepted and flew to Honolulu.

"We had cowboy hats on, boots and jeans, and you could hear a pin drop," recalled Dusty Hill in the 2019 documentary ZZ Top: That Little Ol ‘Band from Texas, currently streamed on Netflix.

"When the curtains opened and they looked at Billy and Dusty and had their cowboy hats on, just a valley of horror fell over the entire arena," says drummer Frank Beard. "They thought, 'Oh damn it, a country band'."

But of course ZZ Top brought the house down. Mick Jagger put on a hat, overalls and held a broom to the side of the stage to appear as the caretaker so no one in the crowd would notice, and watched as ZZ Top stepped on and had his face rocked.

Back then, in rock music, you thought you had to go to California or New York to make it. Or if you were a country you had to turn your nose on Nashville. Texas rockers like Janis Joplin have said they are from San Francisco when asked to. Texas was considered too square. Plus, ZZ Top wasn't straightforward blues or pure rock & # 39; n & # 39; roll or country. They were a band with no home other than Texas.

"They lumped us in with all the southern rock bands," says Dusty Hill. “They didn't know what to call us. See that "Little & # 39; ol Band from Texas", I think, wasn't meant as a compliment so much when it was first said. We picked it up. We thought it was a cool line. But I think it should actually be some kind of cut. "

But instead of trying to hide her Texan roots and be considered uncool, ZZ Top hugged her. Famed publicist Howard Bloom and ZZ Top manager Bill Ham found that Texas made ZZ Top unique in the rock and roll landscape and that it was time for a movement of Texan pride. "You grew up in a foreign country," says Howard Bloom of ZZ Top. “You grew up in a country with its own founding fathers, and they weren't George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Their founding father was Sam Houston. "

Dusty Hill agrees and says in the ZZ Top documentary: “When I was a kid, you took Texas history before American history. That tells you something. I was told I had an ancestor in the Alamo. Texas pride is a real thing and I take it with me everywhere. "

So ZZ Top put together what is known as the “Worldwide Texas Tour”. It comprised a 75-foot-wide Texas-shaped stage, a total of seven semi-trailers for stage productions, including four semi-trailers painted with a continuous diorama of Texan landscapes that drove together down the street. Production also included a live buffalo, longhorn bull, rattlesnakes, and live buzzards behind the drums on stage. The tour lasted several years and culminated in the band's 1977 album Tejas.

At the same time that Willie Nelson and others found a second home for country music in Austin in the Lone Star State, ZZ Top was out bringing the rest of the world a taste of Texas. Where it used to be a strain being from Texas and many of the state's music types flocked to one of the coasts, it was now a skin on the wall – a bit of street belief – and all thanks to Dusty Hill and ZZ Top wearing it put their Texas pride on their sleeve and showed the rest of the world that Texas was actually cool.

RIP Dusty Hill.

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