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Pop Music

The Life of Late ZZ Top Bassist Dusty Hill Is on Display In Pop-Up Auction Exhibit

If you've ever wanted the chance to own a piece of Texas history, make plans to head to the Design District this weekend.
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ZZ Top member Dusty Hill performs at Hard Rock Live in 2016. Ron Elkman-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest irony in the exhibit “Dusty Land,” a pop-up exhibit showing off a quarter of the estate of the late ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill, is that it’s on display in an inconspicuous warehouse on the edge of the Design District.

Hill, a Dallas native who died in 2021, was the opposite of inconspicuous. That’s clear in the exhibit, which runs through December 7 at the warehouse at 915 Slocum.

“He was Texas-based but a global phenomenon,” said Martin J. Nolan, founder of Julien’s Auctions, which organized and will then auction off more than 1,000 items from December 7 to 9. The collection is also online.

Kody Frederick, the director of marketing for Julien’s, said the show is organized by four central themes rooted in lifelong interests: Elvis Presley memorabilia, biker culture, Texacana (“a mix between Americana and Texana, including the Alamo), and, what he’s best known for, rock and roll/blues.

“We put it together based on these ideas,” he said.

Nolan is a tall and enthusiastic Wall Street investor turned “Irish auctioneer to the stars.” He is wearing white gloves—the type of care typically reserved in auction houses for high dollar items—and slowly turning around a red wool only-in-America jacket. It’s studded with rhinestones, a bald eagle with talons, and feathers take over the back and the sleeves.

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One of Dusty Hill's jackets, which is being offered on auction. Julien's Auctions

Nearby is an eccentric baby blue jacket, embroidered with yellow and red flowers and accented with stone seen on the cover of 1975 album Fandango!

Most of Hill’s jackets were made by Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors and Manuel, “Nashville’s tailor to the stars.” Both are worth an estimated $5,000 to $7,000.

They not only changed the way we listened to music, Nolan said. They also defined the way a musician should look. “When you got on stage, you also saw great outfits. They gave us fantastic music and showmanship.”

Multiple traveling cases are up for sale (listed for $1,000 to $1,500), but none match the big blue one with photos of a young shirtless Elvis, two photographs of a nude Marilyn Monroe by Tom Kelley’s, a small nook for hanging clothes and a ZZ Top for President bumper sticker ($1,000 to $1,500).

The sticker symbolizes their ethos. ZZ Top wasn’t a band with a singular icon, Frederick argued, it was about the collective.

Nolan can’t talk enough about the stories associated with items. He points out that Hill’s favorite Stetson has a legendary story. Hill wore the cowboy hat, with braided horsehair, from 2010 until his death in 2021, except for a brief period when it went missing in Odessa in December 2010. He took to the Odessa American and local radio to ask for its return. It was dropped off by someone who declined to give their name at the sheriff’s office and returned to Hill. It was his favorite hat. (It’s yours for $3,500.)

Design and music lovers alike will love the remarkable selection of guitars in various traditional and funky styles and colors. They’re all from quality brands like Charvel, Fender, and Gibson.

As a sign of just how much Hill cared for his items, Nolan said, the 1953 Fender Precision bass is, despite typical wear and tear, still functioning ($80,000 to $120,000). Hill loved the butterscotch and black guitar so much he never really retired it. Another must-see: the 1980s Gibson Explorer bass covered in sheepskin.

Some items transcend the themes but still are worth noting. Take the painted longhorn skull, which is decked out in feathers and fur and looks like the infamous shaman who tried to overthrow the government on January 6, 2021. There’s the faded carnival sideshow banner hyping Edna May Davis, the “Living Half Lady.” According to the catalogue, fellow band member Billy Gibbons gave him the banner in 1980s. And, as evidenced by the wear, displayed it outdoors until Hill announced, “It’s time to bring Edna May inside!” ($1,000 to 1,500.)

There’s also a small collection of fan art, fine art and random art. Among them are a 10 foot tall portrait by the sought-after artist Frederick ($3,000 to $5,000) and two mind-blowing steel life-size steel horse and bull sculptures by Indonesian artist Timbul Raharjo ($5,000 to $7,000 each).

For visitors who don’t have thousands to throw around, the “Duzzty’s Stash” pop store will offer some of his T-shirts, posters, and other items that Hill collected.

While not in the show nor owned by Hill nor for sale, the world’s greatest invention awaits you around the corner. It’s the Robo Burger, a hamburger vending machine robot that makes a delicious cheeseburger for $6.95.

Still, it fits the show in a weird way, even if their hit “Burger Man” isn’t playing.

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