The Untold Truth Of Dusty Hill

Singer and guitarist Billy Gibbons formed what would become one of rock's most beloved bands, ZZ Top, in 1969 with drummer Frank Beard. Shortly later, they added bassist Dusty Hill (who had previously worked with Beard in the group American Blues) to the lineup, according to All Music. Thus began one of rock's most popular three-piece bands. ZZ Top dropped its first album in 1971, and before long, they were playing their music in large arenas, a testament to their popularity.

In the 1980s, they joined the MTV revolution and attracted a new crowd of fans, luring them in with their songs about booze and sex, such as "Tube Snake Boogie" and "Pearl Necklace." Some of their other popular songs included "Cheap Sunglasses" and "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide." They kept churning out hits like "Legs," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Got Me Under Pressure."

ZZ Top is renowned for their memorable beards, despite the fact that Beard, ironically, chose to don a mustache instead. The tightly knit group has been inseparable for decades. Unfortunately, after more than 50 years together, Hill died in his sleep at the age of 72 on July 28, 2021. And while he was an integral part of the group, ZZ Top continues to perform without him per his request. Read on for some interesting facts about the bass player that you may not know.

Dusty Hill had long, blue hair in the 1960s, and people thought he was weird

Dusty Hill and his musical co-pilot Billy Gibbons were often mistaken for one another because they both sported epically long beards. In addition to their physical resemblance, they looked similar when performing basic dance moves on stage during their performances, so fans would commonly mistake one for the other. But you can be assured that they're two different people. After all, Hill got his start playing music in the '60s, and his style — especially back then — not only made him an outsider in his native Texas, but also a bit of a risk, he told The Guardian.

Hill played with a band called the American Blues, and the members had long, blue hair, which was not something you saw in Texas during those days. "I got probably less s**t about having blue hair than about having long hair, because I believe they thought I was crazy," he said. "But however much crap you got about it, you got tenfold back in experience, because there's so much music down there."

His hair wasn't the only thing that made him stand out. Hill's mother was a fan of the blues, and Hill followed suit, which set him apart from other white kids. When he shared his musical tastes with his friends — as well as albums such as those from Muddy Waters – his friends' parents would "almost freak out" about it. It surprised Hill because he thought everyone listened to that kind of music.

He accidentally shot himself in the stomach

Texans are known for their love of firearms. In 2021, Texas had the highest number of registered weapons in America with 1,006,555 firearms, according to Statista. Texan Dusty Hill also had a penchant for firearms and was involved in an incident in 1984 in which he accidentally shot himself. The event occurred after his girlfriend took off one of his boots, and a derringer, which is a very small handgun, dropped out and accidentally discharged. The bullet hit Hill in the abdomen, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. The bass player was admitted to Houston Memorial City Hospital, and doctors were able to take care of the problem before the bullet caused too much damage to his internal organs.

Hill was embarrassed by the incident, recalling in 2014 that he couldn't believe he did something so stupid. "But I didn't really feel anything at the time. All I knew was that I had to get myself to a hospital straight away, so I got in the car and drove there. It was only when I arrived at the hospital that the seriousness of what I'd done hit me, and I went into shock."

He wasn't very good when he started playing the bass guitar

Before Dusty Hill became a bassist, he was a singer. He started performing for money when he was just 8 years old, according to For Bass Players Only. In his early teens, he was in a band with his brother, who played guitar. They also had a drummer, but they lacked a bass player, so his brother suggested that Hill pick up the instrument. 

He explained, "It wasn't very good, but 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 s**t up pretty quick." He became known for his minimalist style of playing, and he both loved and hated that sometimes people don't even notice the bass in music: "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."

Hill even had more to say during a 2000 interview (via The New York Times), calling his sound "big, heavy and a bit distorted." But he didn't just stop there, coming up with far more creative ways to describe his "raw" tone; in his own words, his playing sounded "like farting in a trash can."

He was a terrible student in school

While music became a passion for Dusty Hill, he hated going to school as a child, and his grades were "terrible," the bass player told Louder Sound in 2010. Hill was just 13 years old when he started performing in local bars, and school work "got in the way" of his music, which is something the musician resented. However, he wasn't completely opposed to the institution: "I wasn't a total loss academically. I loved history, and that's something I've kept up an interest in."

While Hill wasn't exactly proud of his lack of academic achievements, he had "immense pride" for ZZ Top, his wife, and his family, and he enjoyed sharing his life with those he was close to. That said, it seemed like he wanted his family to take a different path than he did. He had a daughter, Charity Hill, and the bassist told the Charlotte Observer (via Celebrity Mirror) that she enjoyed playing the keyboard. However, instead of pursuing a music career like her father, she chose to focus on academics and go to law school. While Dusty didn't find fulfillment in education, his daughter certainly did. 

He (and his bandmates) starred in several TV shows and films

It's not uncommon for musicians to dabble in acting and vice versa, and the members of ZZ Top, including Dusty Hill, were no exception. The bass player and his bandmates appeared in several TV programs and films over the course of two decades, according to Loudwire. Some of the shows he appeared in included "King of the Hill," "Two and a Half Men," "Deadwood," and "The Drew Carey Show." He also made an appearance in "Back to the Future Part III" in 1990.

In the movie, which starred Michael J. Fox, the three members of ZZ Top appeared as a party band in the Old West frontier town. While they weren't featured in the closing credits, they were easily recognizable for their roles. From 2009 to 2015, Hill and Billy Gibbons also hosted several "WWE Raw" episodes on Monday nights. However, it was Gibbons who really got to show off his acting chops, playing Angela's father on the Fox series "Bones." He played a "different version" of himself on the show over the course of several episodes, according to He was so convincing, people thought he was the actress's actual father (he isn't). 

Dusty Hill thought about his own death

Some people ignore their mortality, while others tend to think about what would happen to them and those who love them when they die. When he was asked by a journalist what he would like to have written on his tombstone, Dusty Hill didn't have to think much about the question and wasn't surprised by it, even though a lot of people don't think about their legacies before they die. But in 2010 when Hill was 61 years old, he admitted that he had started contemplating his own death.

"It may sound morose, but you never get younger," he told Louder Sound, adding that he had some ideas of what he would like to see on his tombstone but hadn't settled on any one in particular. He recalled seeing a grave in Boot Hill cemetery that read: "Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a .44. No Les. No more." Hill was amused by that inscription, and while he had a few epitaphs in mind, he hadn't made a final decision. Over the years, the bassist battled health issues involving his hip and shoulders, and he had some ulcers, according to Metal Castle. He died in his sleep on July 27, 2021, but no official cause of death has been revealed.

He worked at an airport during a ZZ Top hiatus

In 1976, ZZ Top released the album "Tejas with Deguello" and decided to take a break that wound up turning into a three-year hiatus, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. By that time, the band had received three gold records and had been involved in several arena tours. The main reason why they shut down was because drummer Frank Beard was struggling with substance abuse problems. In addition, the members were exhausted from touring so much. Feeling worn out, they decided to take some time off. 

Instead of being idle, Dusty Hill got a job at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. "I just wanted to feel normal," he said of the work. "I've been a singer since I was eight and I've been a musician since I was 13 and pretty much on the road since I was 14." Hill felt that he needed to ground himself, and the airport job was the opportunity for him to do so. "I did not want other people to think that I thought I was full of myself, but the main thing is that I didn't want to start feeling full of myself," he added. Plus, at that point Hill still had a short beard, so it wasn't hard for him to blend in. When someone did recognize him, he simply denied who he was.

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He and Billy Gibbons inadvertently grew long beards during the band's hiatus

ZZ Top is one of the world's most recognizable bands due, largely, to their beards (ironically, drummer Frank Beard doesn't sport one). So what's the story behind the facial hair? Hill had a "regular" beard early on during the band's career, but when ZZ Top went on hiatus between 1976 and 1979, they went their separate ways, according to Hot Press. Hill and Gibbons didn't see one another for about 15 months while Hill was in Mexico and Gibbons was in Europe.

Hill spent a lot of time in a small fishing village without electricity, so he decided to stop trimming his beard. "I mean, what for? And I came back, and my beard was getting rather long, and Billy's was too! I definitely didn't think it would turn into a look," he said of what would become the band's signature trademark. And following his death, beards are still integral to the band.

The group's guitar tech, Elwood Francis, took over as bassist after Hill passed away. He decided to grow a beard during the COVID-19 pandemic. After lockdown, the band was pleasantly surprised by Francis' transformation, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. Francis' new look also delighted fans, and Gibbons said of one show: "Everybody was kind of giving each other the elbow, and they were pointing up and said, 'Look, the ZZ Top circus still rolls on. There's another freak up there.'"

He let TV creators cut off his beard

In 2007, a man saved Dusty Hill's life by cutting off his beard — on TV, that is. In the Fox animated series "King of the Hill," the lead character, Hank Hill, spends the episode dealing with the wild ways of his rocker cousin, Dusty. At one point, Dusty competes in a demolition derby driving Hank's Cadillac. Unfortunately, he smashes it, and it catches on fire. Dusty tries to flee the vehicle, but he realizes his huge beard is caught in the safety belt. Hank is able to free his cousin, but only after cutting off part of his facial hair.

Hill told Ultimate Classic Rock that he wasn't exactly keen on the scene, at least at first. He explained, "I so identified with my animated self that I protested. 'You can't snip his beard!'" However, he finally agreed to the storyline, explaining: "I realized it was a cartoon and they could just draw his (my) beard back. I really bought into it!" At the end of the episode, Dusty apologizes for destroying Hank's car, and Hank apologizes for chopping off the beard, to which Dusty's animated self responds: "Oh, she'll grow back." This prompts Hank to respond, "Your beard's a girl?"

He remained close friends with his bandmates for 50 years

There are not too many bands that stay together for decades without breaking up or swapping out members. However, ZZ Top made new music and toured regularly for over 50 years without any (at least outward) drama. They lasted longer than most marriages. With the exception of a three-year hiatus in the 1970s, they were thick as thieves and close friends for half a century, up until to Hill's death in 2021.

According to Hill, the band was frequently asked how they were able to maintain such a relationship over the years. He told The Charlotte Observer in 2015 (via the New York Times): "I say separate tour buses. We got separate tour buses early on, when we probably couldn't afford them. That way we were always glad to see each other when we got to the next city."

He also told Louder Sound in 2010 that the three of them simply liked playing music together and performing on stage. They had things in common that bonded them together, but they also had differences that allowed them to have their own individual lives: "And after all this time, we all know what winds up the others and what makes them the people they are."

Dusty Hill insisted that the band continue after his death

When news circulated that Dusty Hill passed away in his sleep, some fans were probably concerned that the group would break up. After all, Hill was an integral part of the three-piece band, so how could they go on without him? Not only did they continue to perform, but they did so just three days after Hill's death. This was all with Hill's permission, of course. Guitar tech Elwood Francis took his place on stage at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater in Alabama on July 30, 2021, according to Far Out Magazine.

After his passing, Billy Gibbons told SiriusXM radio host Eddie Trunk (via Ultimate Classic Rock): "As Dusty said ... 'Let the show go on!' And ... with respect, we'll do well to get beyond this and honor his wishes." The message was confirmed by ZZ Top publicist Bob Merlis. Hill, who had experienced some health issues in the years leading to his death, wanted Francis to carry the torch for him. "Dusty emphatically grabbed my arm and said, 'Give Elwood the bottom end, and take it to the Top,'" Gibbons told Trunk. "He meant it, amigo. He really did."