I am not much of a boogie woogie good time party girl. I don’t dance in a low cut top, and my tush in a tight little skirt like the party girls and their strong jawed boyfriends at a ZZ Top show. I never was much of the kind of girl that the party scene runs on in their fuck me pumps, as Winehouse sang about in that cute little early song of hers. I used to think of ZZ Top as a party band, a good time dirty blues and raucous rock outfit, but they, and Dusty, were so much more than that. Reading that Dusty had passed away unexpectedly, I decided to give ZZ Top’s first three albums another spin, see where the good times started: dirty southern white boy blues band, with more than their fair helping of grit and drive. I forgot they used to sound like Fleetwood Mac with a heavy bass and Texan accents. The guitarwork is more frenzied less atmospheric tone-monster that was Peter Green’s brand of blues. A little more cosmic, a little dirtier, a little sexier.
Just Got Back From Baby’s shows a tenderer side, on the cutely named ZZ Top’s First Album – a kind title which spoke both to their hopes for future success, and a second album to put it in context, and also gave the rock critics an easy time of it before Google was a thing. It promises of future bump and grind with its blues freight train engine that was Dusty Hill’s bass. ZZ Top ain’t nothing without that bottom. Nothing. I read that the guitar tech, Elwood Francis had Dusty’s blessing to take over that all important Tush of the sound. Backdoor Love Affair, starts off as a simple blues jam, everyone who is anyone had their backdoor man song, and ZZ Top got in there early, got it out the way. It kicks like an angry husband finding that Baby been messing around with another man, ain’t that ain’t too cool!
Dusty was a Hell Raiser, with the beer drinking Billy Gibbons, matching beard, cool borderlines pioneer suits and shirts, serapes and cowboy boots, Texas to the bone and their fiercely independent machismo, superlative don’t give a fuck about anything but the party and the money pours out of their songs. Everything is bigger in Texas, the bassline and the partying included. “Experimental and professional” sing Billy and the Dustbunny, on Beerdrinkers and Hellraisers. More than that, ZZ Top was larger than life. Album covers that come on like a porn movie set, shows with excitable audiences, songs that have more dick references than any collection truly needs. Take El Loco, it is all tube snakes, ten foot poles and pearl necklaces. ZZ Top did it all sleazier, but with a wink, a twinkle in the eye and a chicken hop in the step. There is no malice to ZZ Top’s sleaze. It is the kind of music that makes you want to throw off your shoes and grab a pretty girl and spin her around.
Watching Gibbons and Dusty do Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers together live at the Hard Rock Hollywood, back in 2012, duelling bass and guitar, playing off each others energy, dressed in matching beards, dark sunglasses (didn’t look very cheap, but that’s ok, boys, I know you could do cheap and nasty when you wanted to), their energy was amazing. ZZ Top work a crowd, providing the energy and stimulus for drunken wild nights. Even the 26th July 2021 performance, with Dusty on bass, was pure energy, even with Dusty sitting on an amp, playing the bass like a champ right to the end of his career, and sadly, his life. Professional to the end, and he drove that piece of machinery hard and fast, gunning that single coil telecaster for the county line. There is nothing wrong with pleasing the people, and ZZ Top love to please the people, especially the hard drinking, hard partying guys and preferably the pretty girls that flocked around too. The bass doesn’t just sound out, it vibrates in the ear, you feel it in your gut like a shot of Jack Daniels.
Watching that last show, Dusty hanging in there, still playing as good as ever, the consumate professional, gave my heart a lurch. Fuck any cliched easy to say shit about Jesus taking him home from Chicago, like that cool ZZ Top song. Dusty died in Texas, a Texan to the end. Dusty walked in through those Pearly Gates holding his single coil tele bass, swaggering in wearing cowboy boots and a sharp suit, taking with him our thanks for the very best of parties, the wildest of times, the dirtiest of songs, and the hardest of bassline grumbles. This is not the time to write about the band as if it was ending, ZZ Top will continue till the very end. This isn’t the time to dissect what made them so loved, so easily recognizable, so listenable. This isn’t the time to wonder how many long married couples hooked up at ZZ Top shows, or if we could pour out all the happiness Dusty’s tractor driven bass engine to the party machine gave the world, if it would overflow those pitchers of beer in those honky tonks and dive bars that had ZZ Top on heavy rotation, jukeboxes shaking, bodies jiggling the good times flowing. Now is the time to realize that our heroes are moving on, the party is barely breathing, and we need more renegades like Dusty to kick the life back into it all.
Heaven just got it’s bassline guy. I hope the rivers run with Johnny Walker Black, the tushes are all shaking, the legs go on forever, and our man Dusty is presiding over the engine of Party. Forget resting in peace! How boring, no guy like Dusty is going to find a fluffy and pristine heaven much fun at all. I hope the cold ones keep on coming, the groupies are all fawning, and he takes his place in one heck of a band. There is a place for hellraisers in rock and roll blues band heaven.
Long live ZZ Top! Man, what I would give to shake off the cobwebs with Billy G and the boys, could make a rock and roll writing girl feel alive, and what better way to celebrate a life well lived than to get up and party hearty.