ZZ Top have taken to the stage for the first time since longtime bass player Dusty Hill's death last week.
Appearing at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater in Alabama on Friday, and at Wild Adventures, in Valdosta, Georgia on Saturday, the band – as they have since mid-July – recruited long-serving guitar tech Elwood Francis to handle bass guitar duties.
The band kicked off their performances with Got Me Under Pressure – from their 1983 album, Eliminator – and concluded them with Tush – from 1975's Fandango! The latter was, of course, sung my Hill prior to his death, however Gibbons took on vocal duties, and the band hung Hill's cowboy hat on a mic stand in tribute. Check out footage of the group's Friday show below.
Hill played the first two shows of the band's 50th anniversary tour, before he “requested dismissing himself”, as frontman Billy Gibbons explains in a new interview with Variety.
“He said, ‘Yeah, let me go check this out,’” Gibbons says. “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.”
He continues: “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 asked about Hill's cause of death, Gibbons explains: “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.”
Regarding the inclusion of Elwood Francis as the band's new bassist, Gibbons says the decision was made with Hill's full blessing.
“It was a direct directive from Mr. Dusty Hill,” he explains. “When he grabbed my arm and said, ‘I think I'm due to go visit the physician to see if I can bounce back,’ he said, ‘In the meantime, I want you to grab our guitar technician, Mr. Elwood, and take him out of that tech station and strap him up with my guitar and make him carry on with every single note.’
“And I said, ‘Well, if that's your wishes, I'll respect that.’ And sure enough, we've been very fortunate to have a stalwart standby to fill in.”
Of course, a new ZZ Top member can't join the fold without appropriate facial foliage. According to Gibbons, Francis grew his out during lockdown.
“What's really got everybody on the ropes is that Elwood had been holding down the guitar technician post for 30 years as a clean-shaven young fellow,” he says. “And when the lockdown was imminent, we all gathered for a band meeting, before things got too fierce.
“And I said, ‘Dusty, it looks like we're not going to be able to go do much or go anywhere. What do you plan to do?’ And he said, ‘Well, I'll tell you what I'm not going to do. And that's cut the lawn. I'm not going to cut the grass.’ And I smiled and said, ‘Well, I'll join you on that.’
“And Elwood piped up and said, ‘Well, if you guys aren't going to cut the grass, I'm not going to cut my whiskers.’ And when we regathered to commence rehearsals just a week and a half ago, here came Elwood, and I said, ‘My gosh, you've got chin whiskers as long as me and Dusty!’”