One Hombre is No More: Goodbye and Thanks for the Memories to Dusty Hill of ZZ Top

July 30, 2021

One Hombre is No More: Goodbye and Thanks for the Memories to Dusty Hill of ZZ Top

4 Comments

Dusty Hill has died.

Photo credit: SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images)

You’ve heard this news by now, I’m sure. ZZ Top, the band he was in for over 50 years (half a century!), was renowned all over the world. His voice, his bass playing, his face (and beard) were all iconic.

I didn’t know Dusty, of course. But I’m saddened, nonetheless.

Dusty Hill and ZZ Top were part of my childhood.

Songs from the ZZ Top albums Rio Grande and Tres Hombres were on the juke box (yes, juke box) in the gym at High Island School. It was tiny, with only 200 kids from K-12 – that’s Kindergarten through 12th grade, y’all, 200 kids total, in High Island, Texas. I arrived at the school at the end of 5th grade, and in 6th grade, joined all of my classmates in Junior High and High School at the Friday night dances in the gym. I was a rail-thin nerdy 11-year old with buck teeth and stringy hair in 6th grade, and learned to dance to the La Grange, Just Got Paid and Jesus Just Left Chicago, among other classics. Those were good times.

A later pic of H.I. High – almost all of the classrooms when I was there were in this building; the end on the right was the elementary school, and the two thirds on the left was junior high and high school; in my senior year, I had Locker #1, an odd fact that I’m still weirdly proud of

I can never hear those ZZ Top songs without thinking of “good ol’ H.I. High,” in the words of the school song. I admired the upperclassmen and upperclasswomen so much, imitating their moves and wishing I was as cool as they were, as beautiful as they were, as smart as they were. All these years later, I still feel the same way about them. They know who they are (because I’ve told them, via Facebook connections).

High Island High School seniors 1981
High Island High School Seniors, 1981 – I had evolved from rail-thin nerd with buck teeth to rail-thin nerd with braces (front row)

Later, I was blessed to see ZZ Top in concert twice, once just after high school on their 1981 tour with the Rolling Stones and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and once a few years later on the Eliminator tour.

In 1981, I was barely 18 years old, and had just gone off to college in San Marcos, TX. I flew to Houston on a short hop from Austin to attend the concert at the ‘Dome with my boyfriend from back home and some of our other high school friends, all of whom were boys. I still adhered to the rule I’d learned from my Mom: “ladies always dress well when they travel” and wore a long, flared mauve skirt and (probably tight) mauve sweater on the plane, with heels, of course, and carried on a little bag for my concert garb, which was jeans and a t-shirt, with tennis shoes. That was the last time I “dressed well to travel” – that little bag was an albatross as I carried it all over the Astrodome after waiting in line to change in the always-crowded / always-a-long-line women’s restroom. I have no idea why I didn’t just change in the car; perhaps I was too modest. None of the boys offered to carry my bag, for which I don’t blame them.

My wardrobe mistake aside, it was a great concert, and I can remember standing precariously on my stadium seat, singing along and yelling myself hoarse. It was AWESOME to hear this band that was my first foray into modern music play live. The Rolling Stones were great, too. I can’t remember anything about the Fabulous Thunderbirds…maybe I was waiting in line for the restroom when they were playing, LOL.

Before High Island, which was a wonderful place to be yourself and come of age, we lived in Beaumont, TX, where my Dad was a “junior executive” at a big oil and gas company. In 5th grade at Caldwell Elementary School, which was LARGE, I’d been invited to a swimming party for someone’s birthday party, and we were all supposed to bring our favorite two records. What!!??? I didn’t have any records of my own! My favorites were what my parents listened to. I would’ve chosen The Kingston Trio or Simon and Garfunkel or Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, for goodness sakes. (Who doesn’t love their versions of Who Wouldn’t Love You, Green Eyes or I Don’t Want to Walk without You??)

Eydie Gorme and Steve Laurence Sing the Golden Hits cover

I’d have been laughed outta the sleeping bag or the first one to get toothpaste on their face if I ‘fessed up to my musical preferences at that 5th grade swimming and slumber party. What do do? I wanted to be cool! So I asked another girl, who was popular, what her favorite songs were, and then got my Dad to buy “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” and “Stuck in the Middle with You” based on her answers. I like both of those tunes, but whenever I hear them, I’m instantly an uncool kid in 5th grade with a ruffled bellybutton-high bikini at a birthday party of cool girls I didn’t really belong with, trying to be like them instead of being myself.

The Hollies Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress cover
I was certainly no long cool woman in a black dress

That’s why High Island was so refreshing when we moved there (actually, nearby Gilchrist) based on my parents’ decision to “get out of the rat race”. It was so small that there wasn’t really a model for who to be / what to be. We were all just our own selves, and ZZ Top music on the juke box remains anthem-like for me in that respect.

All good musicians and musical acts evolve. ‘Early’ ZZ Top, the stuff on our juke box in the gym, was rock and blues, and the boys I went to high school with were a little nonplussed when Eliminator came out in 1983, with a fresh, updated sound. I loved it! The ‘boys’, one of whom I was briefly married to from 1984-1986, calling the sound “New Wave ZZ,” a little derisively. They felt sad about losing the more traditional rock/blues sound, but they also really enjoyed the energy of Sharp Dressed Man, Got Me Under Pressure, Gimme All Your Lovin’, etc. It was funny to hear them debating “Old ZZ vs. New Wave ZZ”…in my book, All ZZ was Good ZZ. Some of the boys learned how to dance in the new wave style, which I can’t describe, but you know it if you’ve seen it, or done it. There was a lot of bouncing and kicking, and I never did master it (still the nerd, I guess).

My late younger brother also loved ZZ Top, at least in those heady “New Wave ZZ” days, when he was just reaching college age. Here he is at my apartment in about 1983 in his Cheap Sunglasses phase, when he was 17 and I was 22 and married two years (what was I thinking??). I can’t hear the song Cheap Sunglasses or Sharp Dressed Man without thinking of him as he was getting ready to go out on dates in that awkward late high school phase.

Steven Thomas Harvell in cheap sunglasses with cats
Steven Thomas Harvell in his Cheap Sunglasses

So no, I didn’t know Dusty Hill. He was talented, iconic and prolific, and many, many individuals and news outlets have written excellent obituaries and tributes to him. I don’t know enough about him to add anything to the canon of Dusty Hill or ZZ Top history, but just want to say to him and his colleagues Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard, for being a part of my childhood and evolution to adulthood, in the words of the 1979 song from their album Degüello:

I thank you.

© 2021, Glover Gardens

 


4 thoughts on “One Hombre is No More: Goodbye and Thanks for the Memories to Dusty Hill of ZZ Top”

  • Very nice, very emotional. I’m 65 and first got wind of ZZ the summer of 1973 up here in South Dakota. Friends has gone to Denver and returned with Tres Hombres. Within two weeks, everyone had the LP or tape! June 1974 they were touring the album and on June 9th they came to the Sioux Falls arena. My high school sweet heart Jane (another pretty redhead) and I attended the sell-out show. In the next four years, I saw ZZ/Dusty an additional 5 times from Tempe Arizona (with Johnny Winter – now that was a concert!) to South Dakota State U, to Omaha and Lincoln Nebraska. I was being called a fanatic by friends but there was some jealousy involved! In the end, I saw Dusty perform 22 times since ’74 to present day and I’m glad for every minute of it! Thnx for your touching reboot of your years with the LOBT. God Bless. Tony Petres, Rapid City SD

    • Hi Tony, thank you for joining me on this trip down memory lane, and for sharing your own stories. It’s clear that ZZTop was a big component of the soundtrack of your whole adult life, starting with that sold-out concert on June 9 in Boise with Jane. What was your favorite of the 22 concerts? And which of their songs, if any, is stuck in your head right now? For me, it was “Jesus Just Left Chicago”, for DAYS after Dusty went over the rainbow. Now it’s “I Heard It on the X”…

      • Howdy Kim,
        Turns out Boise was one place I never did see them, but I did go to Boseman Montana (MSU) to see them in 1982 (hey ,that is relatively close to Boise)! Sioux Falls – way over in eastern SD – was my first exposure and yes with Jane. Coincidentally, we never did make through college as an item but darned if she didn’t marry and move to Rapid City where I see her frequently. SD is a fairly big state but seems like a small place with only an 800K state-wide population. But I’m drifting here!
        As I mentioned before, the “Arizona Jam” in June of 1975 included Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, REO Speedwagon, Areosmith, and Texan Johnny Winter who played his set right before ZZ. The other bands were good (in the 100+ degree heat at Sundevil Stadium), but I would have rather that JW and ZZ do the whole show. Eventually I – like your male classmates – split the music into new wave ZZ and the classic pre-Eiminator version, but I soon was digging the new stuff and I like you, agree that any ZZ is good ZZ, right? But I gotta tell ya, when the opening notes of “Waitin for the Bus” comes on the radio, it still sends chills up my spine. I also think “Jesus Just Left Chicago” is one of the most spiritual gospel influenced rock tunes ever recorded. “You don’t have to worry ’cause takin’ care of business is His name”
        Very heavy stuff .

        I enjoyed your article as you so nicely weaved in not only the band ,but your experiences growing up with ZZ kinda playing the background to your life. The tragedy of losing your younger bro and the picture of him with the cats got to me. I’m sure you think about him every single day. By the way, my high school class in little ol’ Salem SD was a grand total of 53, so we were not to far ahead of you! You also mentioned you dad worked in the oil/gas biz, which is what I do also. I have a small exploration company that searches for o and g in western SD and Wyoming. This is still another ZZ connection as their lyrics (especially in the old days) nearly always noted oil wells, parts of oil wells, and even gasoline and oil stained blue jeans! If your an energy guy, ZZ is your band! And your right once again, as I think “Heard it On The X” may rank as my all time favorite. How did they hold that tune together at that count? Gotta be tough, but every time I’ve saw them play it, they always pulled it off! Gotta love ’em. How did you guys dance to that tune? Someone could have been injured, no?
        Take Care Kim, gotta like a girl who digs the Texas Lighting (which was a promotional name they also used from time to time back in the good ol’ days)! Hope the rest of your summer is great!

        Tony Petres, Rapid City SD

  • Hey KIm,

    Tony Petres here. Guess what I did last night? Hint: it involved TLOBT and the cumulative number is now 23! That’s right, the reformed LOBFT performed at he Buffalo Chip, the iconic music venue out on the prairie at the Sturgis Bike Rally. I went there with a buddy of mine named Tim (who is also in double digits) and were told at the gate they they had sold some14K tickets, and that was not counting the massive biker campground which adjoins the huge musical sound stage. All I can tell you is that it was wall to wall happy bikers! Elwood Francis – who has a huge act to follow – certainly played very well (ii looked and sounded to me as though he is playing with Dusty’s custom “faded” Fender bass and his amps and settings were probably left as was). He also did some harmony’s with Billy, but did not attempt to sing any of Dusty’s signature tunes. So Billy, held down all the lead vocals.

    For whatever reason, they really reached back and Billy sang and played his butt off on “Brown Sugar” their ode to the toughest of blues tales, addiction to junk/heroin that was on the first album. That thunder of that tune even had the younger kids entranced! Billy also returned to playing LaGrange exactly as was preserved on Tres Hombres (in later years he had taken to playing the track using a slightly different chord sequence for whatever reason – I know, only a ZZ freak would even notice this – but last night it was 1974 all over again)!

    They played for approximately 90 minutes. At one point, Dusty’s hat was draped over his mike stand and as Billy explained that “through the magjc of Memorex”, the tech guys were able to play Dusty’s last recorded vocal of “Tush” while Billy and Elwood played along with the ghostly voice of Mr. Hill. The crowd ate that up!

    As I said, it was largely a happy crowd. As is normal at the chip, motorcycles make up about the first 20 rows and those big V-Twins rumble their approval for encores or even replacing clapping/shouting after individual crowd favs. That sound is truly like rolling thunder and is unique to audiences at Sturgis. As I looked around periodically, I could see groups of folks dancing and having a very groovy time. I think this show marked ZZ’s 11th visit to the Buffalo Chip, but they could have probably played all week to the same size crowd.

    So, there ya go, an honest-to-goodness field report on ZZ mark dos. I don’t know if Billy and Frank will “stand it down” at the end of this tour and no one would be surprised if they did as they have paid their dues in spades after 51 years. But hey, last night Gibbons was chattering about a new album soon, so heck, your guess is as good as mine.

    Take Care Kim,

    Tony Petres

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