Why Dusty Hill Spent ZZ Top’s ’70s Hiatus Working at an Airport
ZZ Top took three years to follow up 1976's Tejas with Deguello. As bassist Dusty Hill tells us, the break was the result of drummer Frank Beard needing to deal with a substance abuse issue, and Hill passed the time by working at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
"We had been touring so much, everybody was really exhausted," he says. "We’d seen it happen and we had been in other bands that it had happened to, that you just wear out. We didn’t want that to happen, because we loved the band we were in. Now, it just happened to be at the time that Frank needed some time. Of course, that break wasn’t supposed to be as long as it was. I needed to go, if you want to call it that, get grounded. I had a friend that worked in the airport up in Dallas and I just wanted to feel normal. I’ve been a singer since I was eight and I’ve been a musician since I was 13 and pretty much on the road since I was 14."
"Where I came from, everybody was in the same boat and it was a small, leaky boat," he adds. "I knew I didn’t want that and I wanted to get the hell out of there, but I did not want other people to think that I thought I was full of myself, but the main thing is that I didn’t want to start feeling full of myself. So I did it to ground myself."
Although by that point ZZ Top had three gold records and had embarked on a few arena tours, Hill had yet to grow out his trademark beard. As a result, it wasn't too difficult for him to remain anonymous.
"We were well-known," he continues, "but I had a short beard, regular length and if you take off the hat and shades and wear work clothes and put 'Joe' on my work shirt, people are not expecting to see you. So it’s not that hard to pass yourself off. Now, a couple of times, a couple of people did ask me and I just lied and I said, 'No! Do you think I’d be sitting here?'”
But even as the hiatus dragged on, he always had a feeling that the band would eventually resume working.
"I just kept thinking that the break’s a little longer than I thought," he says. "And there’s another strange thing, after a little while, we were starting to really pop and we put in all of these years of work and you’re going to lose your chance or whatever. But I never really thought about that. You know, I thought, 'Well, we’re doing well. We need this break.' Besides, I’m not the master planner here."