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Happy Birthday Dusty Hill: ZZ Top's Bottom-End Boogie Man

Still can't tell 'em apart, can you?
Still can't tell 'em apart, can you?

ZZ Top's Dusty Hill turns 63 years old on Sunday, but who's counting? The Dust and his bandmates have been around pretty much forever, with more than four decades of sold-out shows around the world under their belts.

If Hill spends another 43 years playing his Fender bass in perfect precision with Billy F. Gibbons and Frank Beard, it won't be enough. Or a surprise.

As one-third of Texas's most beloved power trio, Hill's musical role is a little meatier than most bassists'. In addition to covering the sonic gaps between the guitar and drums, he's got to keep the melody going during Gibbons's solos lest the whole song fall apart.

For Dusty, that often means distilling his parts to the point of elegant simplicity, staying way down low and locking in seamlessly with drummer Frank Beard. And always, always with a mighty bass tone guaranteed to jingle your spurs.

That tone! Super-thick, yet nimble. Throughout his career, Hill has preferred the sound of Fender basses, relying on a vintage Telecaster for the band's recordings and employing a small posse of single-pickup Fenders and custom axes for performances.

We'll let the man himself explain his sonic fingerprint:

My sound is big, heavy and a bit distorted because it has to overlap the guitar. Someone once asked me to describe my tone, and I said it was like a rhino farting in a trash can. What I meant is it's raw, but you've got to have the tone in there.

Indeed you do, Dust. Oh, and did we mention that this guy can sing?

We're not just talking about "Tush," either (although we could...at length). Dusty Hill's leather-lunged vocals have been a fixture of ZZ Top's sound since the very beginning, and his singing voice was on fine display last week when ZZ Top's new Jeremiah Weed commercial was released.

That voice has been getting Dusty paid practically since he was back in school at Dallas's Woodrow Wilson High -- a long time ago. So why can't we give credit where it's due? Because you only turn 63 once, Rocks Off has assembled a collection of our favorite ZZ tracks featuring the Duster taking the mike and stepping into the spotlight.

Put on your shades, hit play and celebrate Dusty Hill's birth with your favorite dubious malt beverage.

 

"Heard It on the X": "Heard It on the X" was the second-to-last track from ZZ's fourth album, Fandango, released in 1975. Dusty's powerful yowl has always been best deployed when the band is really cookin' on an up-tempo number like this one. Is it just us, or does that beret he's wearing in this video make him look a little like a bearded Sam Kinison?

"Viva Las Vegas": Dusty's mother helped shape her son's musical tastes early in his life, and she was a big Elvis fan. That kind of musical education sticks with you. This cover of "Viva Las Vegas" from the band's Greatest Hits record served as a triple-tribute to Hill's momma, the King and, uh, Las Vegas.

The bassist pulls off a pretty decent Elvis impersonation on the track, and it's forever seared into our nerdbrains as the tune Bunny Lebowski is singing along to on her high-speed cruise back to LA in The Big Lebowski.

"Party on the Patio": Is this the perfect time of year for this song, or what? Any Houstonian worth his mosquito bites knows that it's crucial to cram in as many patio-side drinkin' and dancin' sessions as possible during the springtime before it gets too hot to breathe. Go ahead, turn on the radio (ha!) and do your thing outside now before a/c season begins in earnest. It's what ZZ Top would do! Shit, it's probably what they're doing today.

 

"Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers": This party-rocker (notice a trend?) from Tres Hombres features Billy and Dusty swapping lines about the finer points of enjoying oneself. A little hell gets raised on the guitar, as the title might imply.

"Future Blues": I'd never heard "Future Blues" before ZZ introduced this funky Willie Brown cover to its live show a couple of years ago. Nobody does the Delta blues quite like these guys do, do they? Dusty's voice sounds great on this tune, and Billy drops one of those "Billy Fucking Gibbons" solos on top because who's going to stop him at this point?

"Tush": If you're listening to some ZZ Top, you always know it's coming, and you're always glad when it does. That's "Tush." The song was a hit when it was released in 1975, and it's basically been a mandatory piece of the band's stage show ever since. Dusty's prominent shout-out to his hometown of Dallas used to make our eyes twitch a little, but we've since matured a great deal in the last few minutes.

We're looking forward to hearing him sing it one more time as soon as ZZ returns to Houston, which will apparently be in the early fall. Bring tush.


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