DUST – Rising Again!
In the late 1960s plenty of bands were experimenting with guitar sounds and musical rhythms, but a few were dabbling in the heavy, aggressive sounds that would be the seeds of heavy metal music. Dust was one such band.
The New York power trio featured guitarist and vocalist Richie Wise, bassist Kenny Aaronson and drummer Marc Bell. The band also (as was common at the time) included producer Kenny Kerner, who additionally co-wrote the songs with Wise. Wise and Kerner would go on to produce albums for Kiss and others, while Aaronson would play with the likes of Edgar Winter, Bob Dylan, Foghat, Billy Idol, Joan Jett, and more. It was drummer Marc Bell though that would eventually become a Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer after joining punk rockers the Ramones and taking the stage name Marky Ramone.
Despite what they did post-Dust, the band have always been of interest in hard and heavy circles. Sony’s Legacy division recognized this and have reissued both of Dust’s albums. Released in 1971 and 1972 respectively, Dust and Hard Attack boast a sound that is powerful and groovy, yet not afraid to get acoustic or even add a country tinge if the mood strikes them. Both albums have been remastered and are contained on a single disc and are also available on vinyl.
Anxious to know more about this “band that time forgot”, we caught up with producer / songwriter Kenny Kerner to find out more about Dust and their experience during one of the most explosive periods of music in modern history…
So let’s start way back in the day when Dust was first signed to Kama Sutra Records. How did that feel at the time? Did you see that as an exciting time for music or has time romanticised it?
“We were all just street kids from Brooklyn and took it in stride. It was the late 60s and early 70s, which was a really exciting time for music internationally. We knew bands had to release albums and then tour and thought this was the first step in that process.”
While Dust was musically very unique, I can certainly hear some of the same elements in your music that I hear when I listen to bands like Blue Öyster Cult or Steppenwolf, maybe even early Kansas in a roundabout way. What kinds of influences did you draw from when you were starting out?
“All of our lives were completely engulfed in music – 24/7. That’s all we did. We were heavily influenced by bands like Traffic, ELP, Jethro Tull, Procol Harum and The Beatles, of course. Funny, but we didn’t really listen to most of the metal music at that time.”
Obviously, a lot of the people who have clung to your music over the years consider you a foundational piece of early hard rock and heavy metal, especially the progressive side of both. What did you consider yourselves at the time? Do you see yourselves as an early part of that scene in retrospect?
“Many of the music journalists at the time considered Dust and Sir Lord Baltimore to be the first heavy metal bands. We never considered it. We just wrote songs and played live, never giving any consideration to the genre of music. We wrote and played what was in our hearts.”
Would you mind telling us a bit about how the albums were made? They both have so much energy to them. Were they quickly made, almost like live albums, or did it take a lot to capture that magic with the limited recording techniques of the day?
“The second album took longer because it was more complicated and diverse. Only guitar solos and lead vocals were overdubbed. The tracks were played live in the studio; the band was really proficient on their instruments. We knew very little about recording technique for that first album as well.”
Do you prefer, personally, one album over the other?
“Although I really love both records, the Hard Attack album is my favourite because it was better produced, had stronger and more diverse material, and an awesome Frank Frazetta cover.”
As a veteran producer now, what bothers you the most about these albums that you wish the current you could go back and fix?
“Studios now are more technologically advanced than they were in early 1970 so the overall sound would be better. Additionally, Richie and I grew as record producers – the second album is a perfect example. The musical performances were great. Only the sound was a little garbled on that first album.”
‘Suicide’ off of Hard Attack is such a great song, and easily one of my favourites from that whole decade of music. Would you tell us a little about what you remember of that song coming together?
“Richie and I wrote songs the same way. He’d sit on his bed with his guitar and I’d sit on his reclining chair with a pad and pen. He would play the chords to me and hum a melody. Somehow the words would just come out. We always finished every song we started that same day. I’d listen to mood / feel of the song and that would dictate the lyrics and the song title. ‘Suicide’ is one of our favourites too.”
At what point did the idea of reissuing the albums come up and who first pitched the idea? Was Sony / Legacy involved from the get go or did they come aboard later?
“Marky (drummer Marc Bell aka Marky Ramone) knew Mark N. from Legacy. They were friends and started talking about it a while ago. Mark N. did research and eventually loved the records and the project and got permission from Sony / Legacy to move forward with it.”
In regards to the vinyl edition, did you ever think you’d see the day that the albums would come out again on vinyl?! The medium was practically dead ten or 15 years ago it seemed like, but it has had an encouraging revival in the new millennium.
“No. This all seems like a dream to all of us. The band broke up with unfinished business and now we get the chance for millions of new fans to hear what they created. It’s amazing!”
I was surprised to learn that the albums are relatively untouched. Why did you decide to only remaster them as opposed to the more popular trend of tweaking the mixes or perhaps even re-recording pieces?
“Remastering from the original master tapes was cost effective and wouldn’t take as much time. We wanted this ready for Record Store Day (April 20th, 2013). Also, when we listened back, the albums sounded great.”
It was also interesting to see that there were no outtakes or live or alternate versions included in the set. I’m sure that putting both albums on one disc took a lot of room. Are there alternate takes, unused songs, live recordings, etc. “in the vaults” that we might hear eventually?
“As a band, we rehearsed a lot and only rehearsed the actual songs we wanted to record. If you record 15 songs and only put ten on the record, the label owns the others and we didn’t want the record company to have any unreleased music.”
Since everyone is still active in music these days, is there any chance at all we may see a reunion gig, even if it were just a one-off?
“Kenny and Marky have lots of projects working now so it’s highly unlikely that there will be a reunion. Also, Richie retired from music in 2000. But, on the other hand, we also never thought these records would be out again… so who knows?!”
Do you have any parting thoughts you’d like to leave our readers with?
“I’d like to thank all of the Dust fans for continuing to listen to our music and for keeping it alive all of these years. They will love the remastered records and the CD with a new cover and booklet in it. I hope the records bring us new fans who will also enjoy some of the best played, fastest and hardest music ever recorded.”
Interview published in April 2013.
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