ZZ Top guitarist Billy F. Gibbons gave a long and heartfelt interview to Variety, talking about the events leading up to bassist Dusty Hill‘s recent death. Hill had started on the band’s recent tour, but stepped back after only a couple of dates, before dying in his sleep on July 27th at age 72.
Gibbons, who along with Frank Beard — the band’s drummer for over 50 years — is carrying on, per Hill’s wishes with his bass tech taking his place, 30-year-band veteran, Elwood Francis.
Billy F. Gibbons spoke about how he was dealing with the loss of his closest music partner for over five decades: “Passing through the grieving process, I can tell you it’s no less than anyone else that loses a good friend or a close associate. And at the same time, knowing that this came up so suddenly — going to bed and not waking up. . . That was the luck of the draw. He was in, and he was out.”
Regarding Dusty Hill leaving the band’s current tour, Gibbons said, “He did the first two (concerts). And then he requested dismissing himself. He said, ‘Yeah, let me go check this out.’ And of course I said, ‘Hey, man, health is number one. Go do your thing.’ And I could tell through those first two valiant attempts, if he’s not giving it 110 percent, he was the first one to kind of say, ‘Gee whiz. Let’s go take care of this.'”
Gibbons went on to say, “It’s no secret that over the past few years he had a pretty rough go with a broken shoulder, followed with a broken hip. And he had some problems with some ulcers. So he’s been kind of tiptoeing through keeping himself ship-shape, best he could. But I think that this was a real challenge. And by throwing in the towel, it might’ve caught up with him. Who knows? I’m just glad he’s in a good spot.”
When pressed about Dusty Hill passing away in his sleep, Gibbons said, “That’s about all they can determine. Let’s face it, you don’t necessarily pass away from a broken shoulder or broken hip. Although the attending physician had earlier warned him that bursitis was not uncommon, even arthritis, and they said it’s not a very comfortable place to be. And I could tell that he was moving a little slow. He said, ‘Boy, this shoulder and hip are really starting to become a problem.’ But, as of this juncture, yeah, it was off to dreamland and beyond.”
He was asked if the finality of the situation has finally hit him: “Yeah. I had a couple of moments with the waterworks coming and going, and I really felt a sense of relief. I said, ‘Gee whiz, maybe I am human after all,’ This is coming from a very deep and glorious place, with respect to knowing that after 50 years with the guy, we were all joined at — no pun intended — joined at the hip.”
Billy Gibbons went on to talk about how fiercely Dusty Hill did not want the band to fold in his absence: “But knowing that we can take his wishes forward and give him all due respect. . . Y’know, he was adamant. He said, ‘I’m going to go down and see what’s up. In the meantime,’ he said, “the show must go on. Don’t forget it.” And he was pointing his finger and shaking it (laughs.)”
As far as Elwood Francis — now sporting his own ZZ Top beard due to the pandemic — being able to tackle Dusty Hill’s legendary bass parts, Billy Gibbons said it was a no-brainer: “I don’t think it took 30 minutes with a coffee table rehearsal, and he kind of rolled his eyes. He said, ‘Yeah, you may remember, I’ve been on the side of the stage for 30 years. I think I know it.'”