While it’s always sad to have to write the celebrity obituaries, this one hits especially hard. Dusty Hill, bassist and vocalist for “The Little Ol’ Band from Texas,” ZZ Top, died in his sleep at his home in Houston Wednesday at 72. The Top were on tour and Hill had taken a break, supposedly to deal with hip problems.
Hill was a Dallas native (like me), and I can assure you that to us true Texans, ZZ Top are icons. Anyone who badmouths ZZ Top, Willie Nelson or the Alamo in Texas runs the risk of getting their butts kicked up to their shoulder blades with a pointy-toed boot. We grow up on ZZ Top, never grow tired of ZZ Top, and when the real thing isn’t touring, we go see tribute bands who wear department Santa beards. ZZ Top IS Texas. What other band ever went on tour with live longhorn steer on stage with them? Or had a hit song about the Chicken Ranch five years before “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” debuted? But I saw a recent YouTube video that attempted to list the “Most American Bands of All Time,” and they tied for #1 with Lynyrd Skynyrd, so I guess we’ll share them with the rest of y’all.
Dusty Hill, drummer Frank Beard and guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons had been together since 1969, making them the longest-running band ever with the original unchanged lineup (52 years!) They’ve gone through some musical changes over the years, from the bluesy sound of “ZZ Top’s First Album” through the smoother ‘80s hits like “Sharp-Dressed Man” and “Legs,” to their more recent albums like “Rhythmeen” or 2012’s “La Futura,” that returned to the rough blues/rock style I sometimes think of as the sound of heavy machinery self-destructing. But they never strayed too far from that uniquely Texan blend of blues, rock, country and sly, hilarious lyrics. If you liked the old stuff and haven’t heard any of the newer material, check it out. It’s raw and terrific.
The band announced that it will continue on, and I’m sure Billy and Frank will keep making great music (Billy has put out a couple of excellent solo albums in recent years.) But it will never be exactly the same. Especially if Gov. Huckabee grows his new beard out and becomes Dusty’s replacement.
Order a taco plate, hoist a Lone Star and put on “Tres Hombres” or "Tejas" in Dusty’s honor. And watch the Grammy-nominated documentary, “ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas.”
But wait, there’s more! We’ve also lost yet another American icon of a very different sort: Infomercial king Ron Popeil died in Los Angeles Wednesday at 86.
Possibly the greatest sales/pitchman of all time, Popeil also invented many of the gadgets he hawked on TV (although two of his most famous, the Veg-O-Matic and the suggestively-named Pocket Fisherman, were actually invented by his father.) Popeil’s knack for coming up with products you never knew you needed (The Inside-The-Shell Egg Scrambler! The Mr. Microphone! The Electric Food Dehydrator! The Portable Smokeless Ashtray! And of course, Hair-In-A-Can!) was matched only by his talent for making them so entertaining.
While some of these products seem kitschy today, they were often surprisingly high quality. I recently saw a YouTube video of someone trying a Veg-O-Matic from the ‘60s, and it still worked like a charm. Try that with one of today’s plastic, made-in-China gadgets. And I would definitely not recommend any Chinese-made Hair-In-A-Can.