ZZ Top Butted Into the Big Leagues with "Tush"

ZZ Top in concert in 1975
Photo Credit
Tom Hill/WireImage

If you love the music of ZZ Top, you know it's guitarist Billy Gibbons who leads most of the songs of that little ol' band from Texas, his distinctive, gritty vocals rising to the top of dozens of deep-fried blues-rockin' classics. But it was the band's first big hit on the radio that actually featured a different voice: the powerful howl of the band's late bassist, Dusty Hill.

That song that sat hard on rock radio from 1975 'til today? "Tush."

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The basic idea of the track, released on the band's fourth album Fandango!, came to the group during a soundcheck in Florence, Alabama. "We were playing in a rodeo arena with a dirt floor," Gibbons told Rolling Stone. "I hit that opening lick, and Dave Blayney, our lighting director, gave us the hand [twirls a finger in the air]: "Keep it going." I leaned over to Dusty and said, "Call it 'Tush.'"

Now, despite what you might think, the song wasn't originally intended to be about the love of a fine backside. It was in fact inspired by some Southern slang popularized by a singer named Roy Head, whose deep cut "Tush Hog" was a tribute to the finer, deluxe things in life - "tush" instead of "plush." "It depended on how you used it," Hill told Spin in 1986. "If somebody said, "That's a tush car,' you knew they weren't talking about the rear and of the car...But tush as in 'That's a nice tush on that girl,' that's definitely the same as the Yiddish word. I don't know how we got it in Dallas. All it could have took was one guy moving down from New York."

"It's that secret blues language," Gibbons said with a grin in Rolling Stone. "Saying it without saying it."

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Hill was the one saying it without saying it for over 45 years, frequently closing ZZ Top's sets with a lively rendition of the song. While many wondered how the trio could go on after his passing in 2021 - the line-up hadn't changed since 1969, after all - Hill urged the group to do just that, bringing in longtime guitar tech Elwood Francis to fill the void. On July 30 of that year, at a gig in Tuscaloosa (a few hours south of where the song first came together), Gibbons took over vocals while placing one of Hill's cowboy hats on a microphone stand in tribute. A week later, they decided only Dusty should do the honors, and through what they cheekily called "the magic of Memorex," now close every show by backing up Hill's final vocal performance of the song.

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