ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons said the Texas trio feels “a bit new as a band” with the addition of longtime guitarist Elwood Francis, who took over from bassist Dusty Hill after his death last July.
“It’s quite a journey to have Elwood stepping in to help keep the momentum going,” Gibbons said. classic rock in a new interview. “He adds a good dose of enthusiasm. When I see [drummer] Frank Beard smiling for the first time in 30 years, I know something good is going on.”
Hill died aged 72 last year while ZZ Top was touring America. He insisted shortly before his death that Gibbons and Beard continue with Francis in his place. The group canceled only one concert before continuing with their newest member.
Despite their sadness over the loss of their lifelong friend and bandmate, both Gibbons and Beard agreed with Hill’s directive. “Well, it was an unexpected reality that not only landed in my lap, but allowed me to settle down and get serious with Mr. Beard,” Gibbons said. “And we both agreed that as a tribute to the legacy of the band, we thought it would be more appropriate to try to pick up some sticks and carry on, rather than just throw in the towel.”
Gibbons praised Francis’ energy and musicianship, noting that his different musical background brings a new element to the band. “It’s interesting. Elwood’s background is rooted in the world of punk-rock,” he explained. “We were curious if such a background would enter the world of ZZ Top. But I must say that the presence of Elwood brings a robust energy which is actually a boost for ZZ Top. You might even consider us like a somewhat new band. Which we are! It’s really fun, I’ll say that.
As to whether Francis can replicate Hill’s full-throated moan, as heard on songs like “Tush” and “I Got the Six,” Gibbons observed, “He’s pretty good at harmonizing, but he’s still a little shy about taking on a lead vocal at this point in the game, but who knows, I can let him go and let him do his thing.
Perhaps the most heartening development regarding Francis’ new full-time status in ZZ Top is his new chest-length beard, which matches Gibbons. “When Elwood first jumped on board, he was a skateboarder eating an avocado sandwich,” the guitarist said. “No one even knew he had mustaches until he showed up at a rehearsal, and I said, ‘Who’s the new one?’ And the head tech said, “That’s your guitar tech, Elwood.” I said, ‘No, the guy with the big beard.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s Elwood.'”
ZZ Top just released a new live album titled RAW: That Little Ol’ Band From Texas Soundtrack, which features the trio’s latest recordings with Hill. In a typically laid-back but still respectful manner, Gibbons detailed his feelings after losing his bandmate.
“It took a while for reality to set in,” he said. “But, you know, he’s no different to all of us, unfortunately we’re all going to go a little bit. We’d rather put it off, if you know what I mean. The day after Dusty died, I spoke with a good friend, fellow guitarist Steve Cropper,” he continued. “And years before, when Duck Dunn [bass player with Cropper in Booker T. & the MG’s] deceased, I took note of Cropper’s remarks. He said: “I feel like I’ve lost a great friend. And that went way beyond just another musician. He was way beyond that. And we felt that about Dusty. We have lost a great friend.”
ZZ Top is currently touring the United States and is expected to stay on the road until December.
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