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ZZ Top returns to Victoria, with a new member and Cheap Trick in tow

Texas band carries on despite loss of bassist Dusty Hill

IN CONCERT: ZZ Top with Cheap Trick

Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, 1925 Blanshard St.
When: Friday, April 22, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $49-$89.50 (plus service charges) from or 250-220-7777

Update: Read our review of the show.

The year 2021 was a tough one for ZZ Top, on several fronts.

For starters, the majority of band’s tour dates with Cheap Trick were postponed due to COVID-19. What’s more, the trio from Texas lost its longtime bassist, Dusty Hill, who died at 72 in July after more than 50 years alongside singer-guitarist Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard.

That’s a humongous blow to the so-dubbed Little Ol’ Band from Texas, part of whose appeal was being one of the most stable and enduring acts in rock history. Prior to his death, Hill endorsed the band’s longtime guitar tech, Elwood Francis, as his replacement. Francis will be in the lineup when the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers perform Friday at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

Some felt the band’s willingness to continue was somewhat strange, even though Hill wanted his friends to continue. Few acts were more across-the-board identifiable than the original ZZ Top, and any image without Hill standing to the right of Gibbons on stage seemed sacrilegious to some.

Gibbons was asked during an e-mail interview with the Times Colonist if he ever considered disbanding the group for good. His answer? “No.”

Which is fair. That shouldn’t be taken as an affront to Hill’s legacy; it says more about the musical bond that was forged between these brothers-in-arms, who were among the first to put Texas rock ‘n’ roll on the map in the 1970s. “It’s not a ‘new’ ZZ Top, it’s ZZ Top,” he said. “The genuine article abides. Attending a ZZ show, you get ZZ Top, pure and simple though it’s not certain how pure we are but certainly simple. Come on over and check us out.”

ZZ Top were crowned regional kings during their decades of service in the 1970s, but when the radio hits came rolling in at a record pace through the 1980s, resulting in more than 20 million records sold, their legacy was finally cemented. The group is now counted as one of the most successful rock bands in U.S. history.

Gibbons said that by continuing as a unit, he and Beard are paying tribute to Hill’s hard work, and honouring what they had created together. “Isn’t there a song that goes: ‘It’s so easy to remember to forget?’ Then again, application of the policy has long been ‘Keep on keeping on’ and that’s what we’ve done, and what we’re doing. I know that if there’s a lesson, it’s to not take things for granted, I’ll grant you that.”

Fans are happy to have them back on tour, no doubt. ZZ Top are returning to stages in Canada this week with longtime tourmates Cheap Trick in tow, another Rock and Roll Hall of fame group whose core lineup of Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander and Tom Petersson forges ahead. The result is a double-bill of arena rock by two of the best to ever do it, with more than 100 years of combined experience between them.

ZZ Top has been off the road since December, which gave the band and its crew a much-needed break following a massive run of 66 dates. Gibbons, however, has never been one for extended time off, judging by his pandemic activities. “[I] fixed up the house, checked the oil in a few of the cars, rode my bike, recorded a solo album (Hardware) in the California high desert,” he said.

“We weren’t too bored, but it’s great to be out and doing it and doing it loud again.”

Hill was a part of a significant historical project before his death, ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas, the 2019 documentary from Victoria-reared filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen. The film shone a spotlight on the trio’s fascinating backstory, and put into perspective for the majority of ZZ Top’s fans — arguably for the first time — just how hard they worked to achieve success.

Now, with Francis’s arrival on bass, the group has a renewed sense of energy. Not even Gibbons knows when their time as a group will be up, and that is good news for the state of Texas. The longer ZZ Top hangs around, the more attention will be paid to their peers from the Lone Star State.

“There have been successive generations of great blues-based cats from Texas since we began this journey more than five decades ago,” Gibbons said. “Gary Clark Jr. springs immediately to mind, as does Leon Bridges, The Skulls, Tonton, Spoon, Hacienda. Might be something in the water, or that something in the air.”