ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons said the Texas trio feels "somewhat new as a band" with the addition of longtime guitar tech Elwood Francis, who took over for bassist Dusty Hill following his death last July.

"It's quite a trip having Elwood step in to help keep the ball rolling," Gibbons told Classic Rock in a new interview. "He's adding a great bit of enthusiasm. When I see [drummer] Frank Beard smiling for the first time in 30 years, I know something good's happening."

Hill died last year at the age of 72 while ZZ Top was in the midst of a U.S. tour. He insisted shortly before his death that Gibbons and Beard continue with Francis in his stead. The band canceled only one show before soldiering on with its new member.

Despite their sadness over the loss of their lifelong friend and bandmate, Gibbons and Beard both agreed with Hill's directive. "Well, it was an unexpected reality that landed not only in my lap, but allowed me to hunker down and get serious with Mr. Beard," Gibbons said. "And the two of us both agreed that as an honor to the legacy of the band, we felt it would be more suitable to try to pick up sticks and carry on, rather than just throw in the towel."

Gibbons praised Francis' energy and musicianship, noting that his different musical background brings a new element to the band. "It's interesting. Elwood's background is steeped in the punk-rock world," he explained. "We were curious if such a background was going to enter the ZZ Top world. But I must say that Elwood's presence brings a robust energy that is actually a boost to ZZ Top. You might even consider us being somewhat new as a band. Which we are! It's really entertaining, I'll say that."

As for whether Francis can replicate Hill's full-throated wail, as heard on songs like "Tush" and "I Got the Six," Gibbons observed, "He's quite good at harmonizing, but he's still a bit shy about taking a lead vocal at this stage of the game. But who knows? I can cut him loose and let him do his thing."

Perhaps the most heartening development regarding Francis' new full-time status in ZZ Top is his new chest-length beard, which matches Gibbons'. "When Elwood jumped aboard initially, he was a skateboarder eating an avocado sandwich," the guitarist said. "No one even know that he had whiskers until he showed up to a rehearsal, and I said: 'Who's the new guy?' And the chief technician said: 'That's your guitar technician, Elwood.' I said: 'No, the guy with the big beard.' And he said: 'Yeah, that's Elwood.'"

ZZ Top just released a new live album titled RAW: That Little Ol' Band From Texas Original Soundtrack, which features the trio's last recordings with Hill. In characteristically laid-back but still reverent fashion, Gibbons detailed his feelings upon losing his comrade.

"It took a moment for the reality to sink in," he said. "But, you know, he's no different from the rest of us; unfortunately we're all going to go some time. We prefer to put it off, if you know what I mean. The day after Dusty passed, I spoke with a good friend, another guitar player, Steve Cropper," he continued. "And years before, when Duck Dunn [bass player with Cropper in Booker T. & the MG's] passed away, I took note of Cropper's remarks. He said: 'I feel like I've lost a great friend. And that went well beyond another musician. He was well beyond that.' And we felt that way about Dusty. We lost a great friend."

ZZ Top is currently on tour in the U.S. and is scheduled to stay on the road through December.

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