When Billy Gibbons Understood Dusty Hill Couldn’t Be Replaced

When a young little band played one of their first shows in a forgotten small Southern town, it was hard to stay behind the curtains backstage and wait since they firmly anticipated performing for a crowd they thought to consist of hundreds. So, they checked their equipment for the last time and stepped up on the stage to see… that only a single person was standing awkwardly in front of them.

This might sound a bit exaggerated for a band to have only one person in an entire bar, but it was a true story from ZZ Top’s early days, as Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill once recalled that faithful night laughing. It had become a fond memory now, and unlike most acts who would have left the venue after seeing no one was there, ZZ Top decided to stay and play for that one guy the entire night.

Years later, after that modest show, that young little band became the little ol’ band from Texas, performing for thousands of people in larger venues and well-known cities. The only elements never changed, however, were their firm passion for music and the strong bond that carried them on for 51 years.

Things came to a halt, though, when newspapers headlined the words that announced to the world that bassist Dusty Hill had passed away, and it felt for millions that the spell was broken. The rocker’s death was a shock for both his bandmates and audience, who filled up frontman Gibbons’ mailbox with condolences.

There was also the fact that a short while before Hill passed away, ZZ Top had started touring; however, the bassist could only play two shows before taking himself off the concerts as he had problems with his health. Still, Dusty was firm when he stated to his bandmates that the show must go on without him and advised them to recruit their longtime guitar technician, Elwood Francis, in his place till he got back.

Dusty never got back, but Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard decided to carry on with the tour per their friend’s wish, handing Hill’s beloved bass to Elwood and continuing to be on the road for the scheduled shows. After all, it was about carrying on the legacy of that little young band who performed against all odds.

Still, it was pretty challenging for ZZ Top to continue without Hill, and although they handled it well in live shows, the bassist’s place was tough to fill in the studio. Billy even fondly remembered one particular time when he realized Dusty’s basslines were irreplaceable, as nobody in the studio could fill in for his parts.

The singer disclosed the incident as he spoke with Variety in 2021, a short while after the bassist had passed away. He discussed that one faithful studio session before Hill’s death and noted how nobody could master his bass riffs even when he was alive.

Billy’s words on working with Hill shortly before his death and did he recalled any instances where he realized Dusty was irreplaceable:

“Yeah. In fact, just within the last couple of months, we were reviewing a couple of the rough tracks that were starting to come together from the sessions that we were conducting just a few months ago. I remember a night where they said, ‘Well, you’re the producer. You’ve got to tell Dusty to stick around or let him go. He’s delivered his parts.’

 I said, ‘Oh yeah, hold on a sec.’ I say, ‘Hey, Dust, thanks, man. Great job.’ So off he goes, and no sooner had he left the parking lot and gotten well on his way down the freeway than we encountered a very short section that I had overlooked. It was only eight or 10 bars, And I said, ‘Gee whiz, that goes by in not even 30 seconds….’

I said, ‘Bring me Dusty’s bass,’ and I handed it to the engineer and said, ‘You’re a bass player… It’s only eight bars. Let’s just fill in.’ Two hours later, we had passed the bass guitar around to every single living soul in the studio, and we still couldn’t match Dusty’s tone. He had something in that damn right hand of his that can’t be described other than fierce.”

It’s apparent that although ZZ Top carried on without Hill per the rocker’s wish, the unique chemistry the trio shared couldn’t be replaced by others. They especially had a challenging time in the studio, though we’re sure Elwood Francis is trying his best to carry on Dusty’s legacy and make him proud.