By Jeb Wright
Circa 1980, I was hanging out with my buddy Chris Birch at his house in Topeka, Kansas. His older brother had a large record collection. I was into searching the past for great music that time forgot, so I would go through his records, discovering vinyl grooves that I had never heard before.
One day, while perusing his discs I found an album with three Vikings on the cover called Hard Attack by the band Dust. Intrigued, I borrowed the record, took it home and taped it.
The first song “Pull Away/So Many Times” was an acoustic to electric rocker with crazy lyrics and a bass line that blew my mind. I went on to check out “Learning to Die” and “Suicide.”
I was blown away. I took the record back to my friend’s brother and he showed me another Dust album, this one with three skeletons on it. This one had a wild song titled
”From a Dry Camel” that blew me away. I was a Dust fan for life.
Fast forward to 2013 and I get an email from Chip Ruggieri, owner of Chipster Entertainment telling me that Legacy Recordings is re-releasing the two Dust albums in one new package, remastered. I got as excited as if he had asked me to interview Eric Clapton. I ended up interviewing all three musicians in the band and their lyricist.
What makes Dust interesting is twofold. A. They were a proto-type American Metal band consisting of young men playing balls to the wall loud rock and roll. B. They were what I refer to as a pre-supergroup. All four members of Dust went on to have amazing careers in rock and roll. Richie Wise and Kenny Kerner became famous producers. They helped launch the careers of rock icons Kiss as they produced their first two albums. Kenny Aaronson went on to play bass guitar with Stories, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Foghat, Bob Dylan, Rick Derringer, Leslie West, Hall & Oates and many others. Marc Bell changed his name to Marky Ramone when he joined The Ramones and is now a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Way back when, in the late 1960’s, when they were in high school, and later in the early ‘70’s when they recorded their two albums, fame still awaited them.
Back then they were a band too loud to play in the local clubs.
This is Dust and this is their story.
Jeb: Dust is back! I am glad to see that these albums are getting released. How old were you when you started Dust?
Richie: I was the oldest guy in the group. I was 21 years old when the group dissolved. The other guys were 20. The reality was that I stopped playing in bands at a very young age; at an age most people just start doing it.
When you’re young, things feel longer. As you get older, time moves very, very fast. When I was young, I had bands from probably 1967…we probably named ourselves Dust in 1967 or 1968…different guys were in the band.
By the time we got to me, Marc and Kenny, by that time it was 1969. At 21, after two albums, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. The record label was a really pop label, so I don’t think anything would have happened with Karma Sutra. Looking back, we should have given it another bunch of years.
Jeb: Was there a game plan back then for the band?
Richie: If we had any thought behind the process—you have to understand that there was never any thought behind any of this. It was incredibly organic. Me, Marc and Kenny just loved the British rock bands; the big Marshall stack bands and the big John Bonham drum bands. We never thought about what to do, or what not to do. We never thought we should do this song, or not do that song. I wrote the songs and I wrote them in a lot of different styles. Some were Rolling Stones country and some were really heavy.
I wrote “Thusly Spoken” on the Hard Attack album because I loved Procol Harum. Whatever I was influenced by, we just wrote a song and we did it. Some of the stuff represented more of what we were like on stage.
Jeb: What was Dust like on stage?
Richie: On stage, we were the loudest and fastest band anywhere. If someone had told us that we’re the loudest and fastest band anywhere and that if we kept doing that…if we defied everyone else’s logic…where people said that we would never sell, or that we would never make it…if we would have had someone tell us that, then we might have made some noise.
When I was 21, I got married and the lifestyle of being on the road was not for me. It was for Kenny [Aaronson, bassist] and it was Marc [Bell, drummer]. They continued and Marc became Marky and joined the Ramones and Kenny played with everybody in the world. Me, with my partner Kenny Kerner…I produced records for 30 years, 12 of them with Kenny and another 17 years on my own. I had a great run in the music business and I’m very fortunate for that.
Jeb: Were there other bands like Dust out in New York?
Richie: There were other intense bands out, like Vanilla Fudge, but they were more R&B and groove oriented. Dust was just a super loud fast band that played hard rock music.
I really believe that when Lester Bangs started calling music ‘Heavy Metal’, I know for sure one of the bands that he thought of was Dust. Lester told me that he named Heavy Metal after Dust. We spent some time in a hotel in the Midwest one time and he interviewed us and he told us that. I heard he said that to Alice Cooper as well. Who the heck knows?
We were loud even when we had the amps off. We were playing clubs and instead of having two, or three stacks, we had a bunch of stacks. Marc was loud; I was loud and Aaronson was amazing. It was a great time. In order for it to last longer, it would have had to have some intelligence behind it.
Jeb: When did you find out that Legacy was going to re-release the two Dust albums together in one package?
Richie: I was aware that these records were available through a company in Europe. I don’t know if they had the rights to it or not. All through the years, you were able to go on Amazon.com and buy the Dust records. They were available, but they were just lying there. I would look at certain reviews and they were quite complimentary.
A couple of years ago, Mark Neuman, over at Legacy, interviewed me, as he was doing a whole thing on Marky Ramone’s history. He came over to my house and he talked to me. When I heard that Mark was interested in re-releasing the Dust albums, it wasn’t a complete, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” It was more like, “Wow, that is really interesting and they must see something in there that has a bit of history in it.”
Jeb: Does it feel good?
Richie: It is phenomenally satisfying. The remastered records sound more in your face and with more clarity. I think that is wonderful. I was honored that they were doing that. All of a sudden it starts coming out that people are actually interested in it.
I’ve seen a YouTube video of a band doing “Suicide” and that was one of the greatest moments of my life. Every once in a while, throughout the years, people would tell me, “I used to play your albums all the time.” It was always flattering. The Sony Legacy thing is just wonderful. Who knows, maybe this will actually speak to people in their 40’s or 50’s. I’m going to be 62 this year and I still love it.
Jeb: Dust really became a cult classic.
Richie: I think of that more now than I ever have before. I would listen to the records maybe once every couple, or three years, just to go back to it. Depending on my mood, or where I was in my life, I liked it more, or I liked it less. Right now, I think I am listening in a different way than I ever have before.
I’m talking to a few people like you. I am reviewing the past more. I have never liked to live in the past, but the music that I listen to is all from the past. I don’t look at that as old music. If you look at someone who plays classical music, then their music comes from hundreds of years ago.
I have a friend who plays flute in a philharmonic. She doesn’t look at her music as oldies; she looks at is as classical. My classical music starts with the Beatles and goes on from there.
I don’t look at this as old music; I look at it as my music. People discover different eras of music all the time. Maybe Dust is there to be discovered and looked at as an American band that didn’t make any big noise like Grand Funk, or some of the other bands that were loud. We had a few moments in there. I listen to “Suicide” or “Learning to Die” or “Chasing Ladies” and I think that we had a few good moments.
Jeb: The first song on Hard Attack, “Pull Away/So Many Times” was the one that grabbed me. I love how that starts with acoustic guitar.
Richie: I played acoustic guitar, but I never cared about acoustic guitar. I just thought the album would be served with some more coloration. Some of the choices that I made on that album was really the foundation as my career as a producer.
Jeb: Did you ever play that song live?
Richie: We never played that song live. A number of the songs on that album were never played live. “Suicide” was always played live. More of the first album was a big part of our set. A big part of our set was a twenty minute version of “From a Dry Camel.”
I wrote a lot of songs that never got on records, back then. Dust, with Marc, Kenny and myself made a four-song demo tape and I think, somewhere in the back of my mind, it might have been, no one knows for sure, but it might have been at the studio where Tony Bongiovi worked and he might have been the engineer on that demo. I am going back a long ways and he might not even know it or care. His cousin, or something like that, is Jon Bon Jovi.
We did a demo, somewhere, and it got us a record deal and it had four songs that were never on the albums. We were constantly evolving. Every few months we would throw out the old and bring in the new. We were moving fast and life was great. All we did was play rock and roll. It’s all we did; it’s all I did.
Jeb: Talk about “Suicide.”
Richie: Marc had that ability to do those triplets on the drums on that song. They were amazing. That song fell together beautifully. I still love that opening riff. To me, that is as strong a riff as Metallica would do today. Some things stand the test of time and I think that is one riff that does.
Jeb: “Learning to Die” is a great song.
Richie: That is another one that has all of those colors. I used to listen to albums by bands and find some random track on albums and they would affect me. I would find the songs that no one cared about and I would hook into that. I would go home—I would not steal the song—but it would be in my psyche as I wrote songs. I was really into Jethro Tull, all of us were.
Jeb: Hard Attack had these Metal songs then you had a song like “How Many Horses.”
Richie: “How Many Horses” was, without question, my Rolling Stones type country song. It was just something I wrote and the band played it. We never really rehearsed these songs a lot in the studio.
Kenny Aaronson was really into country music. He was into steel and slide guitar. Marc was always able to get into it. We had ballads as rock bands then all had ballads. We were not against slower songs. We never thought it out; no one did. That is probably what was good about it and what kept it where it was.
Jeb: There is an innocence to the music. No one is telling you what to be.
Richie: I agree, and if they did tell us then we would not have even known what they were talking about. All they ever told us was that we were too loud. We never discussed things. When the three of us got together that is the noise we made. Sometimes the noise was softer and sometimes it was louder.
I will tell you one thing, live it was always loud and insane. I loved listening to music loud. I pay the penalty today as I’ve lost probably 60% to 70% of my hearing. I have the ringing in my ear 24/7, they call it tinnitus. It is there. My wife has been bugging me to get a hearing aid for years, but I hate the way they sound.
I really loved loud music. One of the first times I saw Black Sabbath at the Fillmore East, they opened the show with “Paranoid” and they closed the show with “Paranoid.” They played the songs twice in the same set. The music was so loud that it had a G force pushing me into my seat. I still, to this day, remember that with fondness and love.
Jeb: Talk about the cover to Hard Attack?
Richie: My partner Kenny Kerner saw it somewhere. There was a book of Frank Frazetta paintings. Frank had never lent his artwork to anything other than comics. We saw the three Vikings on the painting—on the first album there were three skeletons. There were three of us in the band. I think Kenny wrote a letter asking if we could use the artwork for an album cover and the answer was yes.
It was a piece of artwork back then because the covers were 12x12. Album covers meant a lot to me. I remember the first King Crimson album. I used to read every word on the covers and in all the credits. I would see a name on the credits and wonder who they were. I might see that name on another cover and I would wonder who these people are. It meant everything to me.
There wasn’t Google back then you were totally in the dark. I remember Freak Out, the first album by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, on the album he had a list of names, and there were loads and loads of names. I knew a couple of them. Every year, I would look back on that cover and I would know a few more names. I was thrilled to know that I was learning something.
There was very little rock press back then. The big one that we loved was Melody Maker. I used to get Melody Maker and find out about different groups. I remember hearing about this group called The High Numbers and they later became the Who.
Jeb: Where did you find the picture of the three skeletons on the first album cover?
Richie: That came from a postcard our manager had. It was from the catacombs in Rome. On the back the camel just was an illusion to the song “From a Dry Camel.”
Our manager was part of a festival that never happened. It was after Woodstock and it was going to be called the Powder Ridge Festive. I am wearing a Powder Ridge Festive T-shirt that I got from our manager on the back cover and that festival never took place. It was cool.
Jeb: “From a Dry Camel” is the best song on the first album.
Richie: I remember hearing it on the radio in New York. They played a lot of Dust on the radio in New York. It was an honor to be a kid at age 20 and hearing your music on the radio. I would be at the music stores on 48th Street like Sam Ash and Manny’s and they had a speaker outside. I remember being outside of Manny’s and they had a speaker playing the radio and I was there and they played “From a Dry Camel” and it just blew me away.
Jeb: The first album rocked harder.
Richie: It did; no question. I think we had a desire to make Hard Attack more sophisticated. We thought we could do an album with more colors on it. There was still no intelligence behind it; we just thought we could do it, so we should do it. The first album was more rock and more intensive. Maybe Hard Attack confused people until they got to those prime cuts like “Learning to Die” and “Suicide.”
Jeb: Did you stay in touch over the years?
Richie: I have stayed in touch with Kenny. Marc joined the Ramones and we would very rarely talk. I never saw him in the Ramones. Every time he got to L.A. we would talk about getting together, but it never happened. Life happens too fast. I never saw him in that band other than on TV and in documentaries. I would try to see Kenny [Aaronson] as much as I could. He was laughing about his playing in Dust to me the other day. He was all over the place, but in an amazing way.
Jeb: You have the advantage of hindsight now. It is a wonderful feeling.
Richie: It is a wonderful feeling and it is fun talking about it now. I hope for Marc and for Kenny that it is fun talking about it now. There was probably a time for both of them that it was not fun talking about it because they wanted to put their past behind them. Now, it has come full circle. Marc has had tremendous success and he is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Looking at it now, I think we all look at it in exactly the same way. It was raw and it was completely from the heart. It was from the heart and from the balls. It was not from the head at all. We got together and we put these songs together. I don’t remember any effort to do it.
Jeb: What was the rock scene like in Brooklyn?
Richie: Around New York at that time you had Vanilla Fudge and you had Mountain. I don’t think New York was a Metal capital. When I went to see Led Zeppelin the first time, they were not the headlining act. I remember the headlining act was Iron Butterfly.
I saw the Yardbirds in New York with Jimmy Page and it wasn’t a packed house. For me and my friends it was like, “Holy shit!” but it was not a packed house.
The New York scene, when we were playing, was not a Metal scene. When we were playing and doing what we were doing, no one in New York was doing it like us. I heard of a band up in Boston that was similar and that was Aerosmith. There were bands in the Midwest early on like REO Speedwagon who were doing their early beginnings. There were bands all over the country that were doing similar stuff like we were, but I don’t think there was a scene in New York that we were part of. We were our own thing. We never played with anybody.
Jeb: Did you go right into production after Dust dissolved?
Richie: I couldn’t do anything other than music. I got the opportunity to start producing and I made a career out of it. I never had to work a day in my life.
Jeb: How did you go from Dust to producing Kiss?
Richie: The second Dust album was looked upon by the record company, Neil Bogart, particularly not as something they were going to push. When he brought the band Kiss to us that we saw in a rehearsal studio, he asked us to produce the album. We had produced a couple of other things for Neil prior to that when he was at Buddha. When he was leaving to start his own label, Casablanca, he moved Kenny Kerner and myself out to L.A. We had already recorded the first Kiss album by that time in New York.
Jeb: Where do you put yourself in Kisstory?
Richie: Kiss was, and still to this day are, the absolute most focused band. I am talking about Gene and Paul. They were like a horse with blinders on. They just looked forward and they knew exactly where they wanted to go and who they wanted to be. There was no game playing; they knew this is who Kiss was and who they were going to be. I look back at the Kisstory and I absolutely say they deserve everything they got. They wanted to be the biggest and they wanted it to be a show unlike any other and it was that way out of the gate.
Jeb: I think Dust was a more musically talented band than Kiss.
Richie: Are we being recorded?
Richie: Kiss had so many things a thousand times better than Dust. Dust did its own thing pretty damn well. We could have never become Kiss. We didn’t have the intelligence or the ability. Paul was a great front man and a great singer. Gene was a great singer. They did great things.
Jeb: As a producer, how open were Gene and Paul to your ideas?
Richie: They were very open. Early on, my suggestions were probably right. On the first albums I made the songs tighter or gave advice on verse/chorus type stuff and they agreed with most of it.
The way I look at production is that my idea is not necessarily the best idea. I was able to take a blank piece of tape and fill it up with some cool stuff. I think that was my talent. I was able to come up with great ideas for parts and for arrangements.
If I came up with someone and somebody would come up with something that was equally as good, then I think I would lean into what they wanted. If I didn’t like their idea and thought it sucked, I would tell them. Gene and Paul were smart guys. Nothing they threw my way sucked. Early on, there was a common respect. I respected them a lot for their focus. I never met a band so focused in my life.
Jeb: What was your crowning moment in your career and is there a band you produced that didn’t make it that you thought should have?
Richie: My best moment as a producer was when “Brother Louie” by Stories became a number one record. I was with my partner Kenny and we used to take the subway home to Brooklyn. He told me, “Next week we are going to be number one.” We laughed because we had the number one record and we still had to take the subway home.
I did a few singles for artists that I thought should have been huge records. I worked with a lot of bands over the years and many didn’t have the focus, or the credentials, if you will. They all could play and they all could sing, but they didn’t have the Kiss magic. They all had something lacking. I worked with a lot of bands and some solo artists and there were some things that didn’t work out but many times there were a lot of great things that happened as well.
Jeb: Knowing what you know about production now, if you could go back in time and apply that knowledge to Dust what would you have done different?
Richie: It would not have been about the production. If I could apply what I learned to Dust it would be that we should have been smart about what we were doing and made decisions that would move us forward to where we wanted to go, like Kiss.
The making of records in the studio and the writing of the songs, we probably should have done more “Suicide” type crap—it wasn’t crap. We should have done more stuff like that and tried to make a statement. We shouldn’t have been such a wide pallet. We should have been doing more things like we did live. That would have been a good decision, but back then no one told us that.
Looking back with hindsight, we would have done harder material and bombarded it down people’s faces. That still wouldn’t have succeeded with the record company we were with because they were a very pop oriented label.
Kiss was very pop. They were as loud as anybody and the show was amazing, but a lot of their music was very pop oriented. It was bubblegum for the Metal heads. It was hard rocking bubblegum.
Jeb: Any last thoughts on Dust?
Richie: We had fun. We were three guys that absolutely lived and breathed everything we did. For me, personally, it was incredible playing with such an incredible bass player and drummer. I didn’t realize how lucky I fucking was. I filled in the guitar, the singing and was the lead guy on stage—that was my position, but man they were great.
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