Despite Bassist Dusty Hill’s Passing, Texas Trio Have No Plans To Slow Down
Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
While their 2004 induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame solidified their now 50 plus years in the industry, it was their 1970’s and 80’s iconic music that garnered ZZ Top legions of fans and worldwide acclaim. With help from the early MTV generation Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard, and the late Dusty Hill became one of the most recognized and respected power rock trios of all time, blending blues, boogie, and Texas roadhouse sounds.
Since they first popped on the scene in late 1969 the Houston based threesome have been a force to be reckoned with especially as one of the top drawing concert bands. Although they had chart success during the 70’s clearly the 1980’s belonged to ZZ Top. They began the decade with ‘El Loco’ including the singles ‘Tube Snake Boogie’ and ‘Pearl Necklace’.
By the mid 1980’s they were in full stride riding the success of 1983’s ‘Eliminator’ including four Top 40 hits ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’, ‘Legs’, ‘Got Me Under Pressure’, and ‘Sharp Dressed Man’. All received heavy MTV video rotation. They would score multi-platinum status again in 1985 with ’Afterburner’, with ‘Velcro Fly’, ‘Rough Boy’, ‘Stages’, and ‘Sleeping Bag’ adding to their arsenal of hits.
Fast forward to 2021, and the boogie woogie Texas trio are out on the road in support of their Celebration of ZZ Top Tour. While many of their fans have long retired, lead singer, guitarist, and founding member Billy Gibbons says even after the death of bassist Hill, ZZ Top have no plans to slow down. 30 year ZZ Top guitar tech Elwood Francis has stepped in to fill Dusty’s shoes, and even grown the facial hair to complete the look.
However, with the passing of his long time friend and founding member Hill, Gibbons admits the last couple of months have been somewhat bumpy. “A rollercoaster ride to say the least. We were quite excited to feel the curtain rise and get back to performing for folks which came to a tragic halt when Dusty passed away.” But Gibbons says Hill wanted the band to move forward. “Following his wish, we got back out there and started up again and that certainly is the bright spot.”
Keeping the ZZ Top vibe alive is not only important to Gibbons, but key to keeping Hill’s legacy intact. “The energy is right up there as were aimed to come through for our friends and fans, and of course, “The Dust”. It’s still about rockin’ out for everyone who haven’t felt the exposure to our brand of loudness, or anybody else’s for such a long time.” Gibbon’s analogy is rather refreshing. “It’s like drinking a gallon of cool water after crossing the scorch of the desert for months.”
Gibbons likes to stay busy and says new music is on the way from him and the band. “Just completed and released the third installment in the solo realm: ‘Hardware’. We’ll see about what comes next. Fortunately, there’s a new ZZ Top album was recently completed with the familiar sound of Billy, Mr. Beard, and Dusty to be heard in classic form.”
Asked how the tour’s going with a new member in the line up, Gibbons remains positive. “It’s going full steam. Frank’s got the beat and Elwood Francis is holding down the bottom, leaving plenty of space to step in and fill in the top. The real bonus is seeing lots of old friends and making new ones, too.”
While ZZ Top is his claim to fame, Gibbons has found time to work on solo projects. In 2018 Gibbons won Blues Rock Album of the Year for ‘Big Bad Blues’. “Blues is the root of it all.” It was another blues icon that put the fire in Gibbons’ belly. “I attended a B.B King recording session, thanks to my entertainer Dad, when I was about eight years old. It was, as they say, a “eureka’ moment. I just thought, that’s it. That’s what I’m gonna do, and spent the next few years figuring out how to do it.”
Musicians and car lovers would no doubt be envious of his two collections. “There’s a whole book about this titled ‘Rock + Roll Gearhead’ (2005) by yours truly. I kind of shine a light on parts of those respective collections (cars & guitars).”
One hotrod & axe stand out. “Obviously, the Eliminator car, our co-star or, really the other way around, for many of our videos is an eternal favorite. No guitar has ever surpassed “Pearly Gates,” the ‘magic’ 1959 Les Paul Standard that the Gibson folks replicated a few years ago.”
More than 50 years since their start, ZZ Top are still rockin’ out in 2021 with Gibbons admitting he sees no reason to slow down. “No end in sight. Playin’ them blues is its own reward, and we’re keen to maintain and move it on down the line.”
Gibbons doesn’t try to figure out what is it that keeps classic rock bands (bands from the 60’s 70’s & 80’s) just as popular in 2021 as they were in any of their heydays. “Great question of mystery! We just go out and do what we get to do to the best of our abilities.” Adding, “And that is, simply stated, to be the best ZZ Top possible.”
ZZ Tops albums as well as the art work on the albums have become a part of Americana. Their most recent album is 2019’s ‘Goin’ 50′ a 50 song 3-CD collection spanning the Texas trio’s half century recording career. Among the tracks are ‘La Grange’, ‘Tush’,” ‘Cheap Sunglasses’, ‘I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide’, ‘Pearl Necklace’, ‘Velcro Fly’, ‘Sleeping Bag’, as well as rare cuts ‘Waitin’ For the Bus’, and ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’.
Having performed many times in Charleston with ZZ Top and as a solo artist, Gibbons a noted foodie, has a few spots he likes to hit while in the Holy City. “Looking forward to chowing down at Rodney Scott’s and Leon’s Oyster Bar, followed with a few hundred other fine dining destinations.”
Billy Gibbons offers diehard fans in the low country these final thoughts. “Come on out and see the ZZ Top thing. It’s gonna be a good time for all!” ZZ Top make a tour stop at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center at 7:30pm Tuesday September 28th. For more on the show and tickets visit https://www.northcharlestoncoliseumpac.com/events/detail/zz-top-1
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