Dusty Hill recalls ZZ Top’s sharp-dressed Las Vegas debut

ZZ Top first played Las Vegas so long ago that Dusty Hill can’t quite remember the time or venue. As the famously bearded rocker says, “I have a bad memory when it comes to years and places, but I do remember what we wore the night we got to Vegas.”

And these were some sharp-dressed men.

“This was pretty early on for ZZ Top, and I do remember us — all three of us — went out and rented tuxedos,” Hill said, laughing through his own story. “We thought that’s what you wore at night in Las Vegas, right? Like the Rat Pack and all that stuff? So we had these rented tuxes, which fit so well, and went into a show. I looked like I worked there. People were trying to order drinks from me.”

Still big fans of Vegas and frequent headliners on the Strip, “The Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” begins a five-show spree at Venetian Theater on Friday night. The lineup has never changed, with Hill on bass and vocals, Billy Gibbons on guitar and vocals and Frank Beard (the lone member who is clean-shaven) on drums.

Hill was having some fun during a recent phone chat from his home in Houston. Some highlights:

He is a fan of the show that opened Venetian Theater: That would be “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular.”

“It’s one of my favorite plays, favorite musicals, oh yeah,” Hill said. “I was fortunate enough to see it in at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, with the original cast, about the year it came out. I loved it. It’s not all loud rock ‘n’ roll for us.”

Elvis is a major influence: “I’m so into Elvis, I can’t tell you, and I’ve been in his original showroom (the International Theater at Westgate Las Vegas) a few times and am so intrigued,” Hill said. “I just love the idea of taking an elevator down to the stage, like Elvis did. That’s one thing about playing five shows there — it’s not Elvis’s showroom, but I still get to take the elevator down to the theater.”

There is motivation to play “Viva Las Vegas”: The series at the Venetian is actually titled “Viva Las Vegas” and the band filmed its video for their cover of the song in Las Vegas about 30 years ago. Hill didn’t quite commit to saying for sure the band would play the song, but said, “It would be kind of a shame if we didn’t play it (laughs). I can see us going to Chicago and not playing it, but in Las Vegas? Folks might not be happy with us.”

Retirement has not entered his mind: “I have no hobbies, other than I travel a little and shoot skeet once in a while. I don’t even hunt anymore,” said Hill, who turns 69 on May 19. “I just like to play and I’m always ready to be back onstage. I was with some friends the other who were asking me about retirement, and I said, ‘Look, if that happens, I’ll just be here, playing for you, you know?’ I’ll be ruining all my friendships.”

The band once played for an audience of one: Part of ZZ Top lore, the band played the armory in Alvin, Texas, in 1970 — for just one person.

“It was one of our first shows, the curtain opened and there was one guy standing there,” Hill says. The band bought him a Coke and played an entire set. “At least it wasn’t an empty room. We’ve never done that. We have played festivals for hundreds of thousands of people since then. We’ve always had at least one person watching us.”

He hasn’t shaved since he was 19: “I always had kind of a baby face, and when I started playing people didn’t take me seriously,” Hill said. “First it was a regular, trimmed beard, which I wore for years. Then I let it grow longer, and longer … You know, my wife hasn’t seen me without it. Neither she nor I care to see what I really look like (laughs).”

He envisions “The Dusty Hill” wing: “I still feel very good about Las Vegas, it’s a place everybody wants to play — at least that’s what I think about it,” Hill said. “All the rooms are very good, the sound is very good, and I’ve never had a bad time, ever, at least onstage.” He laughs once more and says, “Now, in the casino … that’s a different story. I could show you the Dusty Hill Wing at Caesars Palace, which I helped build.”

The band celebrates the 5-0 in 2019: “What we do is play a lot, that’s what we love to do. The reason I say that is next year is our 50th anniversary,” Hill said. “The same three guys, for 50 years. I don’t think it’s been done before. This year we just wanted to have some fun, because next year is going to be jam-packed. That’s why we wanted to do this in Las Vegas. We like everything about Vegas. We like walking around, with the people, and having a good time.”

And expect the guys from ZZ Top to be dressed for the occasion.

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