How ZZ Top made history during last year's Tuscaloosa Amphitheater show

The Tuscaloosa Amphitheater hosted a bit of rock 'n' roll history this time last year when ZZ Top performed to a near-sellout crowd.

The July 31, 2021, show marked the band's first show since the death of founding member Dusty Hill at the age of 72. Hill died just a few days before the Tuscaloosa show, leading ZZ Top to cancel a gig in South Carolina.

Hill's death momentarily put the Tuscaloosa concert in limbo until ZZ Top's remaining members decided to forge ahead with the band's 20-plus year guitar tech Elwood Francis as Hill's replacement.

While some rock bands have lots of turnover in personnel, ZZ Top's lineup of guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Hill and drummer Frank Beard had remained unchanged for 50 years. The band even boasted of featuring "the same three guys and the same three chords."

"We’re gonna have a good time in here tonight,” Gibbons told the Tuscaloosa audience last year after the opening song “Got Me Under Pressure,” according to Rolling Stone. “Got a new guy up here, as you know. Dusty gave me the directive. My friend, your pal, Elwood Francis is gonna hold it down behind me.”

CONCERT REVIEW: ZZ Top plays at Tuscaloosa Amphitheater in first gig since Dusty Hill's death

Francis, who had replaced Hill on the first few dates of the 2021 tour, sported ZZ Top-appropriate beard during the history-making Tuscaloosa show.

ZZ Top plays the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater Thursday, July 30, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., following the death of bass player Dusty Hill. Elwood Francis played bass in place of Hill during Friday night's concert. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]
ZZ Top plays the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater Thursday, July 30, 2021, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., following the death of bass player Dusty Hill. Elwood Francis played bass in place of Hill during Friday night's concert. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

That new ZZ Top lineup was greeted enthusiastically by the Tuscaloosa audience.

"Most in the well-filled venue ... rose and boogied from first bent note to last, even those whose still-'70s-length hair had grown in full white, their vintage 'Eliminator' and 'Recycler' tour T-shirts strained by age's girth," according to The Tuscaloosa News' story on the concert.

Gibbons tailored some of the song lyrics that night to acknowledge Alabama.

"He played loose with lyrics again in the 1990 hit 'My Head's in Mississippi,' after hearing a shout from the crowd. Gibbons spoke over the rhythms: "I know there's some rivalry going on tonight. I heard that 'Roll Tide.' "

"From that point on, he sang 'I'm shuffling through the Texas sand/but my head's in Alabama,' cueing the crowd to chant along.

"The trio closed with 'Tush,' in which Gibbons stretched to sing Hill's tenor lines. During the middle of the slide solo, with assistance from a roadie, Gibbons lit up a cigar, another classic bit of standard shtick, indicating that the night, this night anyway, was coming to an end."

Setlist

ZZ Top played 17 songs at the July 31, 2021, concert at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, including the band's signature hits and some surprise tunes.

• Got Me Under Pressure (from the 1983 "Eliminator" album)

• I Thank You (from the 1979 album "Degüello," originally recorded by Sam and Dave)

• Waitin' for the Bus (from the 1973 album "Tres Hombres")

• Jesus Just Left Chicago (from the 1973 album "Tres Hombres")

• Gimme All Your Lovin' (from the 1983 "Eliminator" album)

• Pearl Necklace (from the1981 album "El Loco")

• I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide (from the 1979 album "Degüello")

• I Gotsta Get Paid (from the 2012 album "La Futura")

• My Head's in Mississippi (from the 1990 album "Recycler")

• Sixteen Tons (Cover of Merle Travis song made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford)

• Just Got Paid (from the 1972 album "Rio Grande Mud")

• Sharp Dressed Man (from the 1983 "Eliminator" album)

• Legs (from the 1983 "Eliminator" album)

• Brown Sugar (from 1971's "ZZ Top’s First Album")

• La Grange (from the 1973 album "Tres Hombres")

• Tush (from the 1975 album "Fandango!")

Where are they now

ZZ Top continues to tour this year, with shows scheduled this weekend in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The tour will continue through the end of the year, with a string of concerts set for Las Vegas in December.

In a recent interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, Gibbons praised Francis for bringing a "robust energy" to the band.

ZZ Top also just released a new live album, "Raw: That Little Ol' Band From Texas Original Soundtrack," which features the trio's last recordings with Hill. The album accompanies a Grammy-nominated documentary about the band.

Reach Ken Roberts at ken.roberts@tuscaloosanews.com.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: How ZZ Top made history during their 2021 Tuscaloosa Amphitheater show