Classic Rock Corner

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

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 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.

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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith