On April 1, 2007, King of the Hill revealed a long-hidden secret: The show’s main character, Hank Hill, was actually the cousin of legendary ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill.
Voicing his animated persona came easy for the rocker. “I played a character named Dusty Hill who plays in a rock band called ZZ Top,” Dusty jokingly explains to UCR. “I kind of already had the role down, so to speak.”
The connection between the animated series and the Little Ol’ Band From Texas could be traced to the TV show’s creator, Mike Judge.
Before he developed some of television’s most memorable programs, Judge’s first love was the bass. He had been playing since high school but didn’t make it his life until a brief post-college stint at a tech start-up in the late ‘80s left him wanting. The aspiring musician caught on with Doyle Bramhall, a singer-songwriter and drummer who had deep roots in the Texas music scene. The musician counted Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan among his collaborators and, as a member of the Chessmen, had opened for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. It was while touring with Bramhall that Judge would initially meet the ZZ Top trio.
Years later, after turning his attention toward animation, Judge would create Beavis and Butt-Head, the cartoon cultural phenomenon that featured its titular characters skewering various music videos. One such clip was for ZZ Top’s 1983 hit “Legs.” Unlike some other musicians, the ZZ Top guys appreciated their brief Beavis and Butt-Head moment. “I was a big Beavis and Butt-Head fan,” Dusty admits to UCR. “When I heard that ‘Legs’ was going to be in an episode of the show, I was thrilled about it and felt it was something of an honor.”
When Judge created his next animated series, King of the Hill, in 1997, he sought to capture the culture of suburban Texas that he had witnessed during his 20s. There was family patriarch Hank, the propane salesman and all-American man; his wife Peggy, the overly confident substitute teacher; and their son, Bobby, the goodhearted overweight pre-teen. Throw in a vast array of supporting characters, including the Hills’ colorful neighbors and airhead niece Luanne, and you had the recipe for a series that lasted 13 years.
From its debut, the show was a hit, earning strong ratings and receiving praise from critics. Guest stars soon followed, including many well-known musicians. Surprisingly, it wouldn’t be until King of the Hill’s 11th season that Judge decided to have ZZ Top make an appearance.
“A friend of mine suggested, ‘You should have it where Dusty Hill is Hank’s cousin, but he never mentions him,'” Judge later recalled to Lonestar Music Magazine. “So, that was something we’d wanted to do on the show for a while.”
As fate would have it, Hill had also envisioned a King of the Hill cameo. “Great and/or twisted minds think alike,” he explains. “I say this because long before they asked me to portray Hank’s cousin Dusty, I was a big fan of the show. I‘m from near Dallas, where the show is set, and I told my wife they should ask me to play a relative since the last name was already there. I mean, I know those characters as real people who I grew up with, including Bobby – you know: ‘That boy just ain’t right.’”
The episode’s story revolved around Dusty, Hank’s erstwhile cousin, unexpectedly visiting Arlen to claim a Cadillac which previously belonged to Hank’s father. The rocker arrives with a reality TV crew in tow, filming a new series called Behind the Beard. The reality show’s producer (voiced by Will Arnett) encourages the bassist – along with ZZ Top bandmates Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard – to continually prank Hank, because his enraged reactions are TV gold. As such, the band is seen engaging in shenanigans throughout the entire episode.
“The animated version is pretty similar to the real thing,” Hill admits when comparing the cartoon ZZ Top their real-life counterparts. “I mean, we’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, and that’s predicated on everybody having a good time. My philosophy is that you gotta smile and enjoy yourself. That’s the rock band sensibility that attracted us to this in the first place.”
The bassist notes that “the other cast members and crew people were supportive and very welcoming” during his King of the Hill experience, adding that he even recorded some of his lines “from a hotel room in Louisville where [ZZ Top] were staying to see the Kentucky Derby.”
On April 1, 2007, the episode titled “Hank Gets Dusted” premiered on Fox. The real ZZ Top tuned in and excitedly watched every frame.
“When it debuted on TV, we happened to be in Las Vegas, and we were in a big hotel suite with a big-screen TV,” Dusty recalls. “We invited a bunch of friends over to view it and ordered pizza from room service. By the time the guy came up to deliver the food, it was the middle of the episode. He saw what was on the screen, and he saw me and did a double take. He was impressed to be in the company of a cartoon character and watched the rest of it with us. When it aired, the phone started ringing with calls from friends and family who were so excited. When the episode reruns, I can still count on hearing from people who catch it.”
Almost exactly one year after the King of the Hill episode first aired, ZZ Top and Judge were both inducted into the Texas Hall of Fame during a ceremony. Hill admits the group reminisced about “Hank Gets Dusted,” though the night “was kind of overwhelming for us, and I’m sure it was for Mike, as well.”
Still, the rocker confesses that his King of the Hill moment remains a career highlight. “I loved being an animated character,” he says. “Among my most treasured possessions are some original animation cells from the show.”