Born May 19, 1949;

Died: July 27/28, 2021.

DUSTY Hill, who has died in his sleep at the age of 72, was the bass player and co-vocalist with ZZ Top, the Texas-sired trio whose combination of southern blues, bar-room boogie, bump-and-grind rhythms and libidinously-inclined lyrics hit commercial pay-dirt. They sold an estimated 50 million albums worldwide.

There was humour too, reflected in the identical appearance of Hill, and guitarist and lead vocalist Billy Gibbons. As they rocked out to such songs as Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man, and Legs (all from their 1983 album Eliminator, which sold 10 million copies in the US alone), both wore shades, ten-gallon hats and voluminous chest-length beards. Hill and Gibbons referred to these as “Texan goatees”.

The dry humour was driven home even more by the fact that the only band member without extensive facial hair was the drummer, Frank Beard, who sported a mere moustache. In videos for the songs that became MTV staples, Hill and Gibbons looked like runaway Amish homeboys who’d discovered how to have a good time.

Despite the cartoon image, Hill maintained that his and Gibbons’s mutual look was unplanned, and occurred during a band hiatus that was meant to last six months but actually went on for two years. Only when the group reconvened after a period that saw Hill take a job at the Dallas Fort Worth international airport did they discover that he and Gibbons had allowed their beards to grow wild.

Musically, ZZ Top’s evolution from straight-ahead blues rock on their 1970 debut album, to incorporating a shiny synthesiser pulse into the glossy mix of that hit-laden 1983 album, Eliminator, saw them ride a stadium-sized wave.

The group had begun to make their mark in 1973 with their third album, Tres Hombres. This spawned a hit single, La Grange, a song about the Chicken Ranch brothel in Texas, setting the tone for things to come on the follow-up album, Fandango! (1975), which featured the self-explanatory single Tush.

With Texas at the heart of ZZ Top’s music, the band took their affection for their home state to an epic level with The Worldwide Texas Tour, featuring a set that recreated their home state’s landscape, complete with real livestock onstage.

Following their sabbatical, the band’s albums included Deguello (1979) and El Loco (1981), with Eliminator followed by Afterburner (1985), Recycler (1990), and Antenna (1994).

Hill described his meaty bass-playing as “like farting in a trash can – raw, big, heavy and a bit distorted”. Beyond music, he appeared in Back To The Future III (1990), and played a version of himself in an episode of Mike Judge and Greg Daniels’ animated series, King Of The Hill (2007).

Joseph Michael Hill was born in Dallas, Texas, the younger of two sons raised in the Lakewood neighbourhood of east Dallas. He attended Woodrow Wilson High School, where he played the cello. His mother was a blues fan, and Hill was inducted to the sounds of the great musicians, Muddy Waters and Son House, from an early age.

He began singing aged eight with his guitar-playing elder brother John, better known as Rocky, and was drafted into Rocky’s band, the Starliners, to play bass live, at 13, with his brother tapping him on the shoulder when he needed to change notes.

Hill went on to play in local bands – the Warlocks, the Cellar Dwellers, and American Blues – with the siblings joined by future ZZ Top drummer Beard between 1966 and 1968 to play the Dallas-Fort Worth-Houston club circuit. American Blues released two albums, while Hill and Beard later played as part of a fake version of The Zombies.

In 1968, Hill and Beard decided that the band should move to Houston.

Rocky, declaring he wanted to focus more on pure blues, stayed behind, later going on to play with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddie King and Jimmy Reed. Dusty and Beard decamped as planned to Houston, where they joined guitarist Gibbons, late of a 13th Floor Elevators-inspired psychedelic outfit, Moving Sidewalks.

Gibbons had already formed a prototype version of ZZ Top, with the band’s first single, Salt Lick, released in 1969. Once Hill and Beard joined, it was the beginning of a great adventure that would last more than half a century. With the line-up unchanged throughout, the band travelled on separate tour buses to avoid any potential for conflict.

In 1990, Hill and ZZ Top got back to their musical roots when they opened a tribute album to 13th Floor Elevators’s driving force, Roky Erikson, Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye, with a version of the band’s song, Reverberation (Doubt).

In 2004, Hill and his fellow members of ZZ Top were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.

Several days before his passing, and with Hill receiving medical treatment for a hip injured several years before in a tour bus fall, Beard and Gibbons appeared live without him for the first time in more than 50 years, with the band’s long-serving guitar tech, Elwood Francis, standing in on bass. “Per Dusty’s request the show must go on” was the band’s post on social media.

The statement may have inadvertently marked the end of an era, but it kept Hill’s rocking spirit alive to the end.

“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,”Gibbons said this week. “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.”

Hill is survived by Charlene McCrory, his wife of almost 20 years, and his daughter, Charity, from a previous marriage.