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I’ll Never Join the Band

ZZ Top bassist Elwood Francis confessed he still finds it hard to believe he has replaced Dusty Hill, even though he’s stepped into that role for three years now.

Initially, Francis was meant to fill in temporarily for Hill in 2021 as Hill was recuperating from illness. However, Hill, one of the band’s co-founders, passed away shortly after, leaving Francis—longtime band roadie—in a role he still feels is not truly his own.

“When I first started doing it, Dusty was just sick and going home for a few weeks,” Francis shared with Guitar World in a recent interview. “It was entirely different; I was just helping out.”

He elaborated: “I didn’t have to worry about the weight of the crown, because I was just helping. They pulled me aside and said, ‘Can you honestly say you can’t play his parts?’ I said, ‘I can do it – but I don’t think people would enjoy me doing it.’ They said, ‘You can cover him for a few weeks.’”

Having previously played harmonica in Billy Gibbons’ solo band, Francis emerged as the obvious permanent replacement. As Gibbons noted, Hill himself had chosen Francis as his successor. Yet for Francis, stepping on stage in a full-time capacity felt very different from his earlier temporary stint.

Reflecting on the early days post-Hill’s passing, Francis said, “We’d done some gigs when Dusty passed… by that time, I wouldn’t say I was comfortable – because I’m still not fucking comfortable,” Francis admitted. “I had a piece of paper on the riser for the first two shows in case I got in trouble; and by the third show I got rid of that, and just did the show.”

He added, “It’s just weird. Dusty is their bass player. I’m not the bass player. I’m not in the band. I’ll never be in the band. I shouldn’t be… It’s Dusty’s thing. Sure, I’ll still play with them – but it’s a weird thing, man.”

For all of its woolly, trapped-in-the-’70s imagery, ZZ Top and its Southern Rock roots have proven surprisingly resilient. Elwood Francis carries the legacy forward, but he does so with a humble awareness that he is merely a caretaker of Dusty Hill’s musical foundations. The long-standing relationship with the band members and previous experience makes Francis a fitting successor, but his humility is a constant reminder of Hill’s enduring presence in the band.

Whether playing gigs, recording sessions, or just jamming, the shadow of Dusty Hill looms large, both as a challenge and as motivation. Francis continues to honor Hill by performing his parts with reverence and precision, knowing that in the hearts of fans, Dusty Hill will always be the irreplaceable original.

From a roadie’s perspective to a full-time bassist, Francis’s transition is one marked by dedication and respect for a friend and legend. His commitment illustrates not just the professional role but the personal connections and history intertwined in the band. It’s a unique dynamic that continues to shape his contributions to ZZ Top both on and off the stage.

Ultimately, Francis’s journey with ZZ Top highlights the band’s resilience and adaptability. It’s about more than filling in for a lost member; it’s about keeping the spirit of the music alive while acknowledging the profound impact of its original creators.

Source: Guitar World