The Story of Dust - Part 2: Kenny Kerner

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: You are a part of this story.  I am wondering how this came to be.

Kenny: Mark Neuman is a musician who works at Legacy.  Mark interviewed the band about a year and a half ago and made this little four minute video.  They had been talking about doing this for a while, but the main problem was that no one could find the master tapes.

The label, Karma Sutra, was a very small label.  They sold them when they went out of business.  Polygram bought them and then Polydoor took them over and they sold it to someone else.  They had to track the masters down. 

I am sitting in my office at Musician’s Institute where I work and get a call from Mark Neuman.  He tells me that Sony has approved the project to remaster both Dust albums.  My comment was, “No shit.”  This is like 42 years later.  Where the hell were they in ’72?  It has been a lot of fun. 

Jeb:  Dust was a pre-Super group. 

Kenny: It is an incredible story and I have to pinch myself to make sure this is really happening.  We started Dust with every good intention.  We hung out on a corner called Parkside Avenue and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.  There must have been 40 or 50 kids there between the ages of 15 and 17 who were all musicians. 

I relinquished management rights to this other guy who worked at Buddha Karma Sutra.  I was sniffing around and knew that if I let go then he would sign the band.  It was the wrong label as they were a bubblegum label.  A record is a record so we did it.  We did the first record and everyone was in the studio trying to produce it; it was just too many cooks in the kitchen. 

Richie and I were writing all of the songs and we were rehearsing them.  In the meantime, I was coming up with marketing and branding ideas way before the term branding was even used.  I had Dust fan club cards and we printed our own tickets to our shows.  I would book a venue and then book two opening acts that would have to sell tickets.  Before the doors opened, I had made my money back and the band would make a few hundred dollars.  I was way into this stuff.  I was about 21 or 22 at the time.  I was the Bill Graham of Brooklyn. 

There were too many people involved in producing the first album, so Richie and I went to Neil Bogart and said, “We’d like to produce the second album and if it fails then you can drop us off the label.”  He looked at us and he goes, “Okay,” just like that.  We went into the studio and did the second album and we wanted it to be more diverse.  The studio had rejuvenated itself equipment-wise.  We did a really good album and we played it to Neil who loved it. 

We had no booking agent.  The guy who was managing the band didn’t think about getting us a booking agent and the label was ill equipped to handle a hard rock band and the group fell apart.  In the meantime, Bogart comes over to me and Richie and asks, “Would you like to produce something else for me?”  I asked him, “Does it pay?”  We didn’t know anything.  We produced a full year and we ended up being in the Top 10 of record prouders of the year having never been in the studio before.  

The Dust thing fizzled out and Kenny goes on to be a superstar, Marky – I have a hard time calling him Marky, Marc signs with the Ramones and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Richie and I have God knows how many Gold and Platinum records and now, 42 years later, it is like, “Hey guys, lets finish this Dust project.” 

 Jeb: Dust were a proto-Metal band. 

Kenny: The problem we had was that we had a bunch of shitty bass players in the band and we had four or five God awful lead singers.  We had a drummer who was our best friend that we had to throw out because he was a Ringo type drummer. 

Richie was always crazy and Kenny was the best bass player.  We were missing that one piece.  Someone told us about Marc and we went down to the basement of his house and the three of us jammed and I was just standing in the corner laughing.  It was just ridiculous as this was the band.  It just took off.  They were the hardest, loudest and fastest band I’ve ever seen anywhere; they were just amazing. 

Jeb: Talk about the first album cover.

Kenny: My philosophy has always been that if you can’t make people react, good or bad, then you’ve failed.  That means you’re nondescript.  We were looking for a cover and someone showed me that picture and I said, “Holy shit that is disgusting.  That is the cover.”  There were three of them.  It was the same thing with Hard Attack.  I was looking for three of something.  I was always a Frazetta fan and I had this coffee table book of all of his paintings and I saw The Snow Giants.  I said, “Fuck, that’s it.  There are three of them.”   I was coming home from the studio with Richie and we were talking about the title of the album.  Richie said, “I want the album to give people a heart attack.”  I said, “No, no, no…a HARD attack.”  We were waiting on the D train and the album cover came to us.”   We bought the rights for five hundred bucks, this is pre-Molly Hatchet.  

Jeb: Were you disappointed when Dust failed, or did you see it coming?

Kenny: I kind of knew it was coming.  I knew the label. The heaviest act on the label was Melanie.  I knew we would come out of it with two albums. We went to St. Louis where the album was number one and we walked out of the plane to the tarmac and we heard screaming.  I looked around because I thought the Beatles were on the flight—I didn’t know what was going on.  There were hundreds of people who met us at the airport. 

We would draw six or seven thousand in St. Louis and in Detroit and in Cleveland.  We would pack the big rock cities door-to- door, but nowhere else. 

Karma Sutra had no rock marketing department.  It was meant to be; this is what was supposed to happen.  You can’t change stuff.  It wasn’t in our hands.  We did everything we did and it didn’t happen.  Everyone went on to become international stars and out of the blue—it is like God is rewarding us saying, “Take another shot; I’m behind you this time.”

Jeb: Did you write all of the lyrics?

Kenny:  Richie and I wrote all of those songs except for “Loose Goose.”  On “Learning to Die” I wrote the lyrics and Kenny Aaronson wrote the music. 

Jeb: Tell me about writing “Learning to Die.”

Kenny:  I was really good at writing lyrics.  I would tweak the melody in a lot of places.  I would write the lyrics right there on the spot.  It wasn’t something that I would pine over and take home for a week.  I am not Bernie Taupin.

Jeb:  Do you have a favorite on these albums?

Kenny: “Thusly Spoken” is probably my best lyric.  I was in my Keith Reid state, who was in one of my favorite bands, Procol Harum. 

I tried to make the lyrics I wrote different, obscure and bizarre.  I wanted them to stand out.  I didn’t want them to be “Baby, baby, baby, and baby” even though that worked out for Robert Plant.  I didn’t want to do that.  I wanted it to be more educated.  Richie, God bless him, never once asked me to change a single word.

We were in the studio, and the other manager was listening to a playback and he heard “Pull Away/So Many Times” where I wrote “So many times I’ve heard your hundred stories.  So many times I’ve heard you say goodbye.”  He came over to me and he said, “Hundred stories? You can’t say that.  It should be ‘so many times I’ve heard your many stories.’”  I said, “Dude, that means he’s heard these stories over and over and it is complete bullshit.”  He had an argument about me over that.  Those things just came out.  It is just really a gift.  In the middle of the night I wake up and write lyrics, or I write a poem.  It just comes in my head.

Jeb: Talk about “Suicide.”

Kenny:  That is a great one.  “Electrocution I thought would make me a star, so I stood in the rain with my electric guitar.” Who in the hell thinks of stuff like that?  I just wanted them to be special and something that people could talk about. 

Jeb:  You got to watch Dust play live.  What were they like?

Kenny: The band live was very constant and very consistently loud, fast and hard.  They didn’t mess up.  The only variable was what was Richie going to do?  He could suddenly throw his guitar through his amp.  Once he picked up a brand new reverb unit and he just smashed it.  He was obsessed and compelled to do this.  It wasn’t him and he might have even been possessed.  He was mad on stage.  You just couldn’t stop him. It was like someone wound him up and he took off.  He was like a locomotive.  There was an intensity to their live show and the audiences loved it. 

Jeb:  You have accomplished so much in your career—including discovering Kiss.  I am wondering in all honestly how bizarre it is that after all of that you are now talking about Dust. 

Kenny:  It’s not bizarre; it’s fucking surreal.  I can’t even imagine this happening.  I know you are going to think I am fucking crazy, but I want this album to chart.  I want this album to hit the Billboard Charts because it would be the first time an album of any genre hit the charts 42 years after its release.  I would love to see that happen.  I have my Grammy speech ready. 

Jeb: It would be cool if Dust could jam again.

Kenny:  That has come up a lot.  Marc and Kenny are willing to do it.  Richie retired from the music business in 2000 and literally hasn’t picked up a guitar in a few decades.  He might be a little rusty.  I said, “It’s like riding a bicycle, Richie.”  He doesn’t agree with me. 

Jeb:  Last words?

Kenny:  I would like to thank Richie, Marc and Kenny for being amazing musicians and for putting up with me as their manager and their lyricist.   I would like to thank every single person who bought that band’s albums or wrote about the band because those are the people who really, really count and that is why we are doing this. 

Jeb:  Last one: Did you take any of your promotional ideas into the studio and give them to Kiss?

Kenny: It is hard to go up against Gene Simmons.  When I heard their demo tape there was a black and white 8x10 in the envelope and they were in whiteface and they were wearing black turtleneck shirts that you could buy at Don’s Bargain Store for five bucks. 

I looked at the picture and I got it instantly because I was into marketing.  I looked at the picture and thought, “Shit I could see people coming to shows wearing this makeup.”  Then I put on the tape and heard “Stutter,” “Cold Gin,” “Firehouse” and “Black Diamond” and I went “Holy Shit.”  I brought the tape right to Neil. .

Buy Dust Here