Z. Z. Hill

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Z. Z. Hill
Background information
Birth nameArzell J. Hill
Born(1935-09-30)September 30, 1935
Naples, Texas, U.S.
DiedApril 27, 1984(1984-04-27) (aged 48)
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
GenresBlues, soul
Years activeLate 1950s–1984
LabelsM.H., Hill, Kent, Mankind, United Artists, Columbia, Malaco, Rare Bullet

Arzell J. "Z. Z." Hill (September 30, 1935 – April 27, 1984)[1] was an American blues singer best known for his recordings in the 1970s and early 1980s, including his 1982 album for Malaco Records, Down Home, which stayed on the Billboard soul album chart for nearly two years.[1] The track "Down Home Blues" has been called the best-known blues song of the 1980s.[2] According to the Texas State Historical Association, Hill "devised a combination of blues and contemporary soul styling and helped to restore the blues to modern black consciousness."[3]

Early life[edit]

Hill was born in Naples, Texas.


Hill began his singing career in the late 1950s as part of a gospel group the Spiritual Five, touring Texas. He was influenced by Sam Cooke, B. B. King, and Bobby "Blue" Bland. He began performing his own songs and others in clubs in and around Dallas, including stints fronting bands led by Bo Thomas and Frank Shelton. He took his stage name in emulation of B. B. King.[a]

Encouraged by Otis Redding, who had seen him perform, he joined his older brother Matt Hill, a budding record producer, in Los Angeles in 1963, and released his first single, "You Were Wrong", on the family's M.H. label. It spent one week at number 100 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964, and Hill was quickly signed by Kent Records.[1] Most of the songs he recorded for Kent were written or co-written by Hill and arranged by the prominent saxophonist Maxwell Davis. None charted; in retrospect, however, many, such as "I Need Someone (To Love Me)", are now viewed with high regard by fans of soul music.[5][6]

After leaving Kent in 1968, he recorded briefly for Phil Walden's Capricorn label, based in Macon, Georgia, but after a disagreement with Walden his recording contract was bought by Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams' Mankind label, where Hill fulfilled his end of the deal. He returned to California to record for his brother's label, Hill, and the song "Don't Make Me Pay for His Mistakes", produced by Matt Hill and Miles Grayson, became his biggest pop hit, reaching number 62 on the Hot 100. The Kent label reissued his 1964 recording of "I Need Someone", which also charted. Williams also recorded Hill in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in 1971, resulting in several R&B hits, including "Chokin' Kind" and "It Ain't No Use", as well as the LP The Brand New Z. Z. Hill.[7][8]

With his brother's help, Hill then signed with United Artists, where he was aided by arrangements and compositions by established R&B talents including Lamont Dozier and Allen Toussaint, and released several singles that made the R&B chart in the mid 1970s. After his brother Matt's sudden death from a heart attack, Z. Z. Hill left United Artists and signed with Columbia Records, recording two albums with leading arranger-producer, Bert de Coteaux in New York. Several singles taken from the albums charted, including "Love Is So Good When You're Stealing It", which spent 18 weeks on the Billboard R&B chart in the summer of 1977.[1]

In 1979, he left Columbia and returned south, signing for Malaco Records, a move which, according to Allmusic writer Bill Dahl, "managed to resuscitate both his own semi-flagging career and the entire [blues] genre at large".[1] His first hit for the label was his recording of "Cheating in the Next Room," written by George Jackson, which was released in early 1982 and reached the R&B top 20, spending a total of 20 weeks on the chart. He had a number of best-selling albums for Malaco, the biggest being Down Home, which stayed on the Billboard soul album chart for nearly two years. The song "Down Home Blues", also written by Jackson, was later recorded by labelmate Denise LaSalle.[1] Hill's next album, The Rhythm & the Blues, released in 1982, was also received with critical acclaim, and its success contributed to the subsequent boom in blues music, much of it recorded by the Malaco label, in Jackson, Mississippi.[1][3][8]

Personal life and demise[edit]

While touring in February 1984, Hill was involved in a car crash. He gave his final performance two months later, on April 23, at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas, Texas. On April 27, he died of a heart attack arising from a blood clot in his leg that formed after the accident.[2][3][9] Malaco Records producer Gerald "Wolf" Stephenson told reporters that a friend found Hill lying in the driveway of his home in Dallas; he was pronounced dead at Charlton Methodist Hospital after attempts to resuscitate him failed.[10]


Hill's song "That Ain't the Way You Make Love" was sampled by Madvillain in their track "Fancy Clown."[11]

Hill is the subject of Angela Jackson's poem "One Night ZZ Hill Sang at the Club Tupelo."[12]


  1. ^ This, in turn, inspired the band name ZZ Top.[1][3][4]



  • A Whole Lot of Soul (Kent, 1967)
  • Brand New Z.Z. Hill (Mankind, 1971)
  • The Bluest Blues (Excello, 1971)
  • Dues Paid in Full (Kent, 1972)
  • The Best Thing That's Happened to Me (United Artists, 1973)
  • Z.Z. Hill (United Artists, 1974)
  • Keep On Loving You (United Artists, 1975)
  • Let's Make a Deal (Columbia, 1977)
  • The Mark of Z.Z. Hill (Columbia, 1979)
  • Z.Z. Hill (Malaco, 1981)
  • Down Home (Malaco, 1982)
  • The Rhythm & the Blues (Malaco, 1982)
  • I'm a Blues Man (Malaco, 1983)
  • Bluesmaster (Malaco, 1984)
  • Thrill on the Hill (Rare Bullet, 1984)
  • In Memoriam (Malaco, 1985)


Charted singles[edit]

Year Single Chart Positions
US Pop[14] US
1964 "You Were Wrong" 100 n/a[15]
1965 "Hey Little Girl" 134
1968 "You Got What I Need" 129
1971 "Don't Make Me Pay for His Mistakes" 62 17
"I Need Someone (To Love Me)" 86 30
"Chokin' Kind" 108 30
1972 "Second Chance" 39
"It Ain't No Use" 34
1973 "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" 114 37
"I Don't Need Half a Love" 63
1974 "Let Them Talk" 74
"Am I Groovin' You" 84
"I Keep On Lovin' You" 104 39
1975 "I Created a Monster" 109 40
1977 "Love Is So Good When You're Stealing It" 102 15
1978 "This Time They Told the Truth" 42
1982 "Cheating in the Next Room" 19
1984 "Get a Little, Give a Little" 85

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Dahl, Bill. "Z.Z. Hill". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
  2. ^ a b Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 117. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  3. ^ a b c d "TSHA | Hill, Arzell [Z.Z.]". www.tshaonline.org. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  4. ^ "Uncle Joe Benson – The Story: ZZ Top 9-11-15 The Stor". SoundCloud. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  5. ^ "Z. Z. Hill". SoulBluesMusic.com. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
  6. ^ "Liner notes for The Down Home Soul of Z Z Hill". acerecords.co.uk. Ace Records. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
  7. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–1995. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 192.
  8. ^ a b "Z. Z. Hill". SirShambling.com. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
  9. ^ "Blues singer Z.Z. Hill services Thursday - UPI Archives". UPI. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  10. ^ "Obituary for Singer Z.Z. Hill". Clarion-Ledger. 1984-04-28. p. 12. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  11. ^ "Madvillain feat. Viktor Vaughn and Allah's Reflection's 'Fancy Clown' - Discover the Sample Source". whosampled.com. Retrieved 9 June 2022.
  12. ^ Jackson, Angela (2023-04-29). "One Night ZZ Hill Sang at the Club Tupelo by Angela Jackson". Poetry Magazine. Retrieved 2023-04-29.
  13. ^ Discography at SoulfulBluesMusic. Retrieved 28 March 2014.
  14. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955–2002. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. p. 315. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
  15. ^ No Billboard R&B chart was published between November 1963 and January 1965.

External links[edit]