Heavy Load: ZZ Top's Dusty Hill

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Dusty Hill has been the bassist/vocalist with ZZ Top since 1969.

Born in Dallas, he’s renowned for his voluminous beard as much as his trademark playing, and also for his underrated vocal ability.

Over the years, Hill has kept a low profile compared to bandmate Billy Gibbons, but he has appeared in several TV shows, most notably playing himself in an episode of the animated series King Of The Hill.

Perhaps the most notorious story surrounding Hill (seen below with Billy Gibbons in 1974) came in 1984, when he accidentally shot himself in the abdomen while taking off his boots. It’s still an incident that embarrasses him to this day. But Dusty is also renowned for his excellent sense of humour…

Do you believe there is a God?

Yes, I do. But I don’t kow what or who God actually is. If I did, then I’d be out there spreading the word.

What’s the biggest misconception about you?

When people meet me they think I should be a lot taller. Being on stage or on TV makes you seem like a giant as compared to real life. When someone says to me: “I thought you’d be taller”, I just use a reply Humphrey Bogart came up with: “How tall do I need to be?”.

What’s the best and worst drink you’ve ever had?

The best is a hard one to pin down, there are so many round the world. But I’d go for Canadian blended whisky – that’s something else. As for the worst, that’s gotta be any cheap wine. That stuff kills you.

When you accidentally shot yourself, what went through your mind?

My first reaction was: “Shit!” And then “Ouch.” I couldn’t believe I’d done something so stupid. To this day, I don’t know how I could do it. But I didn’t really feel anything at the time.All I knew was that I had to get myself to a hospital straight away, so I got in the car and drove there. It was only when I arrived at the hospital that the seriousness of what I’d done hit me, and I went into shock.

What’s your biggest regret?

I don’t believe in regrets at all. What’s the point? There are things I’ve done that, if I had my time all over again, I would do differently – or not at all. But I am the sort of person who, once something’s done, just brushes it away and gets on with life. If you spend your time agonising over the past, in the end you get badly beaten up psychologically.

Do you have a philosophy of life?

I think life is there for you to grab it and be positive. Just look for the good everywhere. If you walk around expecting shit to happen, then it will.

ZZ Top have clocked up more than 40 years without a change of line-up. Is there a secret to keeping the band together?

It’s a cliché and sounds so simplistic, but it’s down to the three of us genuinely enjoying playing together. We still love it, and we still get a kick out of being on stage. We also have enough in common to maintain a bond between us but sufficient differences to keep our individuality. And after all this time, we all know what winds up the others and what makes them the people they are.

What were you like at school? 

I hated school. My grades were always terrible. Part of the problem was that by he time I was 13 I was already playing in local bars, so school kinda got in the way of that and I resented it. But I wasn’t a total loss academically. I loved history, and that’s something I’ve kept up an interest in.

Where do you stand politically? 

I’ve had people ask me if I’m a Republican or a Democrat. I just tell them that I’m a Texan. Left to my own devices I’d never leave Texas.

What can you do that nobody else can?

I don’t know. You’d have to ask other people. I like to believe that I play bass like Dusty Hill, and that’s something nobody else can do as well as me. I’m the best Dusty Hill I know.

What are you most proud of achieving?

That’s easy. I’m proud of the band and also of my wife and family. They are constants, and to have these people in my life does give me immense pride.

What was the lowest point in your life?

There have been any number, but I never discuss them in public. They’re not for others to pick over and dissect. All I will say is that you have to have the right attitude to these downturns. You have to go through the low points to appreciate the highs in life.

Are you addicted to anything?

If you mean am I addicted to drugs or booze, then the answer’s no. But I do have an addictive personality, definitely. Every entertainer has to have this, I think. I am an all or nothing person. If I get interested in something, I have to delve really deeply and know know everything about it. I also have an addiction to buying old basses.

What would you like to be written on your tombstone?

I bet you’re expecting me to be surprised at that question, right? Because most people I know never think about these things. But I have been turning that over in my mind recently. It may sound morose, but you never get younger. I’ve come up with some ideas, and then rejected them all. There’s an inscription on a wooden marker over a grave in Boot Hill that says: Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a .44. No Les. No more. I like the humour in that. I’ve come up with a few ideas of my own, but none of them are really that good.

This was first published in Classic Rock issue 149.