|A.K.A.||Joe Michael Hill|
|From||United States of America|
|Birth||19 May 1949, Dallas, Dallas County, Texas, USA|
|Death||27 July 2021, Houston, Harris County, Texas, USA (aged 72 years)|
Joseph Michael "Dusty" Hill (May 19, 1949 – July 27, 2021) was an American musician who was the bassist of the rock band ZZ Top. He also sang lead and backing vocals, and played keyboards. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of ZZ Top in 2004. Hill played with ZZ Top for over 50 years; after his death, he was replaced by the band's longtime guitar tech Elwood Francis, in line with Hill's wishes.
Hill was born in Dallas, Texas, on May 19, 1949. He and his older brother Rocky Hill (also a musician) were raised in the Lakewood neighborhood of East Dallas. He attended Woodrow Wilson High School (Dallas) where he played the cello. Like his future bandmates, Hill grew up listening to blues music, which was uncommon in white families; he recalled shocking the parents of his childhood friends when he brought records by Muddy Waters or Son House to their houses.
Hill began singing for money with his brother Rocky at the age of 8. After Rocky formed a band with a drummer, Dusty took up bass at the age of 13. Unlike many bassists, he did not learn to play guitar first. He said, "I kind of learned how to play on stage and whatnot, and embarrassment is a great motivator. If you don't play well, standing up there with lights on it really stands out, so it behooves you to get your shit up pretty quick."
Hill, his brother, and future fellow ZZ Top member Frank Beard played in local Dallas bands the Warlocks, the Cellar Dwellers, and American Blues. From 1966 to 1968, American Blues played the Dallas-Fort Worth-Houston circuit. In 1969, Hill was a member of a fake version of the British band the Zombies with Beard. Hill recalled, "Being a musician in Texas had its own set of risks ... and at that time we had long, blue hair – in the 60s in Texas. I got probably less shit about having blue hair than about having long hair, because I believe they thought I was crazy."
In 1968, American Blues relocated to Houston. At this time, Rocky wanted to focus on "straight blues", while Dusty wanted the band to rock more. Rocky left the band and Dusty and Beard moved to Houston, joining guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons of Houston psychedelic-rockers Moving Sidewalks, in the recently formed ZZ Top, just after they released their first single "Salt Lick", in 1969.
With the band's leader, Gibbons, as main lyricist and arranger, Hill played bass and keyboards and sang lead on some songs. With the assistance of manager Bill Ham and engineer Robin Hood Brians, ZZ Top's First Album (1971) was released and exhibited the band's humor, with "barrelhouse" rhythms, distorted guitars, double entendres, and innuendo. The music and songs reflected ZZ Top's blues influences. Following their debut album, the band released Rio Grande Mud (1972), which produced their first charting single, "Francine".
On 1973's Tres Hombres, ZZ Top perfected its heavy blues style and amplified its Texas roots. The boogie rock single "La Grange" brought the band their first hit, with it just missing the Billboard Top 40. In 1975 Hill sang lead vocal on "Tush", the band's first Top 20 hit and one of its most popular songs. On the 1976 album Tejas Hill took the vocal lead on "Ten Dollar Man" and duetted with Gibbons on "It’s Only Love".
The mid-1970s saw the band busy recording and touring extensively and toward the end of the decade the band took a break, during which Hill worked at Dallas Airport to keep himself active and grounded. In 1979, when the group returned with the album Degüello in 1979 Gibbons and Hill revealed their new image of matching massive beards and sunglasses. Their hit singles from this period, "Cheap Sunglasses" and "Pearl Necklace", showed a more modern sound.
Hill's on-screen appearances include Back to the Future Part III, Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme, the July 20, 2009 episode of WWE Raw and Deadwood, and as himself in the 11th-season episode of King of the Hill, "Hank Gets Dusted", in which Hank Hill is said to be Dusty's cousin. He also made an appearance on The Drew Carey Show as himself auditioning for a spot in Drew's band, but was rejected because of his attachment to his trademark beard which he refers to as a 'Texas Goatee'.
In 2000 he was diagnosed with hepatitis C and so ZZ Top canceled their European tour. Hill resumed work in 2002.
Hill was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of ZZ Top in 2004.
In 2019, Netflix released a documentary, ZZTop: That Little Old Band from Texas.
In July 2021, Hill was forced to leave a ZZ Top tour after a hip injury. The band performed without him at the Village Commons in New Lenox, Illinois, with the band's guitar tech Elwood Francis on bass.
On July 27, 2021, Hill died at his home in Houston, Texas, at the age of 72. The cause of death was not announced. Gibbons confirmed that ZZ Top would continue with Francis, per Hill's wishes. According to Gibbons, "Dusty emphatically grabbed my arm and said, 'Give Elwood the bottom end, and take it to the Top.' He meant it, amigo. He really did." Texas Governor Greg Abbott wrote on Twitter: "Today we lost a great friend and a remarkable Texan."
Hill cited Cream bassist Jack Bruce and jazz bassists Stanley Clarke and Charles Mingus as early influences. He said he used to play more complicated bass parts, but came to prioritize composition over complexity: "Sometimes you don't even notice the bass — I hate that in a way, but I love that in a way. 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." Michael Hann of The Guardian wrote that Hills' bass tone was "every bit as crucial to their sound as Gibbons' guitar". Hill sang lead or co-lead on several ZZ Top songs. The Guardian described his vocals as a "high, true" tenor contrasting against Gibbons' "radioactive growl".
Preferring the Fender Telecaster Bass, Hill used many different basses and amplifiers in different combinations. He maintained a large collection of vintage and custom basses by luthier John Bolin of Bolin Guitars USA. Hill designed uncomplicated basses with a single pickup with a single volume knob, with the occasional addition of a specially powered knob for tone control.
- American Blues
- American Blues 'Is Here' (1968)
- Do Their Thing (1969)