The Story of Dust - Part 1: Kenny Aaronson

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 have had an amazing career and played with many of the greats.  How weird is it now to be talking about probably your least successful band, Dust?

Kenny: I am going to tell you, flat out, it is completely bizarre and surreal to me at this point.  I have been doing interviews and it really makes this stuff roll around in my brain.  It is really great.  

Jeb:  Who were Dust? 

Kenny: Dust was in a period of time when we were kids and we didn’t know what in the fuck we were doing, on the other hand, we did know what we were doing.  In a lot of ways peoples minds caught up to us.  

At first, they didn’t know what to do with us at the label, or they didn’t know how to record us if they were an engineer.  We knew it could be done because Jimi Hendrix was doing it; the Who were doing it and Cream was doing it.  When we did it, they said, “You guys are too fucking loud and you can’t play in my club” They would say, “You can’t mike a Marshall stack in the recording studio and make it work.”  

On the first Dust record, I distinctly remember the first engineer was this older cat and he was wearing a suit and tie and he had a German accent.  He was probably assigned to this project.  Somebody realized that this wasn’t working.  Bell Sound, which is a classic studio, sent in a younger engineer and he did most of the record with us.  

We were three kids that were dropping out of high school and this is all we could do.  We wanted to play music on some level. 

Jeb:  Of course the great Marky Ramone was in Dust.

Kenny: Marky was a stupefying great drummer back then.  He was influenced greatly by Mitch Mitchell.  Mitch Mitchell was very influenced by jazz; you can hear that on the first three Hendrix records.  We did what we did and we were not analyzing it.  We were just following our passion and we had a dream. 

Jeb: What did your parents think of what you were doing at the time? 

Kenny: Our parents were flipping out and worried that we would end up bums.  My parents finally realized that things would probably be okay when they saw me play Carnegie Hall with Stories and the record company presented us Gold records for the song “Brother Louie” that went number one.  

I had to go to the after show party, so I gave my parents my Gold record to hold onto for me.  That was the point where they realized that their Kenneth was going to be okay.  We were working class Jewish people from Brooklyn and my mother just worried about me.  I dropped out of school and then we all quit.  We had this passion and we were hell bent on playing music.  It was do it or die.  

Jeb: I love these albums.  I have been listening to them for over 30 years. I found the records in my friend’s brother’s record collection.  You guys were so free sounding.

Kenny:  You went through your friend’s brother’s record collection and you found music there that changed your life.  We were making records and doing whatever we wanted.  It was close to the end of the time where you could do it.  You could really run amuck and do what you wanted to do.  We were able to get a record out and then we were able to get a second released.  

Record companies gave bands a shot then.  Those were the days when the company tried to work with you, develop you and maybe you could get a few records out.  Hopefully, the first one would sell maybe 50,000 copies and you could get on the road and do some touring.  Then you could build your audience and sell more of the second one.  

Our record company really let us do what we wanted.  They let two people in the band produce the record, Kenny and Richie.  They didn’t force a producer on us, or anything like that.  Later on, when I worked with Rick Derringer, in the band Derringer, I did like six records with them.  One of them was produced by Jack Douglas and another one by Mike Chapman and another one with someone else.  These producers would try to do things because they were a producer/engineer and they wanted to mold us into what they wanted.  It never worked. 

We should have been more true to what we were interested in being.  Dust was really a pure thing.  It stands on its own for whatever it is.  When I listen to it, sometimes it is hard to listen to because I hear the pimples and the blotches and I hear the way I’m playing and I go, “Oh my God, could you play a few more notes?”  If I played like that now I would be tossed out on my ass from a session.  But, it was pure. It wasn’t polluted by other people’s bullshit trying to come in and make it part of their pictures.

Jeb: On “Pull Away” you play a bass run that is so in your face.

Kenny: Sometimes I listen to that and it scares me.  I have a career because I’ve learned how to be a musician and I’ve learned how to play nice with other people.  I’ve learned how to play bass the way it’s supposed to be played.  Again, you have to do things a certain way when you’re hired to do sessions. 

When I listen to Dust I hear three kids doing things truly from the heart where no bullshit got in the way.  There were no rules and there was nobody telling you what to do.  No one was telling us to make this note longer or shorter.  It is pure, man. 

Jeb: “Suicide” could have been a Black Sabbath song.  It is so Metal.

Kenny: You know, again, I’m going to get into this thing with you where I have to say this…based on my memory, I never thought of Dust as a Metal band.  Back in those days, as far as I can remember, I don’t remember the term Metal even existing yet.  

We were out there following Cream, Hendrix, Zeppelin and Jethro Tull.  In my mind, Metal, to me, in general, is all one dimensional, musically.  Dust experimented.  Kenny, the bass player, was playing the dobro and steel guitar.  I loved country and still do to this day.  I was dabbling with things like this on those records.  Kenny and Richie had strings on the album because they were into the Bee Gees at that point.  

Some of Kenny Kerner’s lyrics are very well written like “Thusly Spoken.”  The lyrics to that song give me visions of Salvador Dali’s paintings because they are so surreal.  There is a lot going on.  On “Suicide” I admit it is pretty severe and there is a Metal aspect to that but I call it Hard Rock.  

“From a Dry Camel” is not Metal.  There is a lot of jamming on that song and it is very Prog; I liked Yes, back in the day.  I liked Gentle Giant and early Genesis.  We were all into a lot of different things back then.  We were Anglophiles and were into the music of the day.  

One of my favorite American bands was Jefferson Airplane.  I just listened to the vinyl of Surrealistic Pillow by Airplane the other day at my girlfriends.  I just sat there in my chair and listened to that and didn’t even move other than to flip over the LP.  I just sat there and went, “My God, this is the most amazing record.”  Everything British to us, however, was better at the time. 

Jeb: Where did Dust tour?

Kenny: We never really hooked up with an artist that took us on the road with them.  We played isolated shows with people, here and there.  John Mayall, Cactus, the Groundhogs in Washington D.C. and then there were Dust shows that we put on. We put on Dust shows at the Prospect Park band shell.  We would play an oddball club who would be aghast at what we were doing and throw us out.  We would go into a club and play original material and they would tell us we could not play original material because the people wanted to hear The Rascals.  

Dust was a band that was always rehearsing.  We were constantly rehearsing in someone’s basement.  Before Marc’s parents bought their new home we were always rehearsing in their basement.  We would play for hours every day and our ears would be ringing.  Kenny and Richie would always be writing songs.

Jeb: Were you disappointed when Dust fizzled out? 

Kenny: I don’t remember any big announcement or anything.  It just sort of ended.  I remember when I figured out it was over, I was in tears; I was crying.  I really freaked because I didn’t know what was going to happen.  This had been my dream.  

I remember getting a phone call—I lived with my parents in Brooklyn.  I got a call that we were breaking up, or maybe Richie said he was going to go do this or that.  It was all I had in my life and I was crying.  The next thing I know, I get a phone call to play with Stories.  The next thing I know we have a number one hit.  The next thing I know I am out of Stories and now I’m in Hall & Oates.  After that, I found myself playing with Leslie West, whose guitar player at the time is Mick Jones, who went on to form Foreigner.  

Jeb: I heard Jones and West used to be in a band.  

Kenny: I played in a version of The Leslie West Band; this was post Mountain, and post West, Bruce & Lang.  We had a succession of people playing with Leslie and Corky.  They put out a record and the bass player didn’t work out and they had auditions and I was the last one to audition.  Leslie stopped me and said, “You’ve got the gig.”  

I had a meeting with Leslie’s manager who was Bud Pregor.  He was the guy who was behind Foreigner.  He said, “Use this opportunity to play with Leslie as a stepping stone in your career.  Do not loan him any money and do not lend him any of your instruments and you will be okay.”  He really said that to me.  Looking back, I was very upset when Dust ended, but it really was the beginning of my career. 

Jeb:  You even played with Bob Dylan. 

Kenny: Bob Dylan was a highpoint for me while I was doing it.  The way he dealt with me…I had gotten sick and I had to leave the tour.  I had gotten cancer.  Bob and his manager, a the time, Elliot Roberts, both came up to me, literally six inches from my face and told me that they loved me and that they wanted me to get my health together and I would get my job back as soon as I was well.  

I was invited to sit in with Bob and the band after I was better.  They invited me out to Jones Beach on Long Island.  I went there on the band bus and everyone was telling me how much they missed me and all that.  

Before the show started, Bob asked to see me.  He said, “I don’t really feel like changing up bass players right now.”  I was just crushed.  He still asked me to come up and play that night.  I was so crushed that I called up my girlfriend at the time and told her I was not going to play.  She said, “Oh no, you’re going to go up there and play and show everyone that you’re alive and well.  Don’t leave.”  I played and I dealt with it.  

I moved on with my life and I’m alive to talk about it.  Fuck Bob.  You know what?  I think Bob said that to me because he thought I was going to die.  What was he going to say to me while I’m dying?  Tell me that I am out of the band?  Who knows what it is but it all happened for a reason.  I am fine and I am working and I’m playing better than ever. 

Things have changed and the money is not the same but I’m very grateful and feel very blessed that, at my age, I can still do what I grew up dreaming of doing.  I can pay my bills and I can make music and I am living my dream.  You know, that’s pretty damn good.  

I am going to be 61 years in April and I’m not ready to quit.  I still love to travel and I still love getting on stage in front of people.  I still believe in live performance and this is what I do.  I really feel like this is what I’m here to do and I am cool with that.  I’m not a rich man but I’ve got a lot of great friends and a lot of great memories.  I have a lot of respect and I have had a pretty good career and a decent resume.  I wouldn’t trade this for anything else.  

I talked to the Dust guys and I am closer to each of them than I have been to them in years.  We are talking again to each other and we look back at everything that happened and we are all still alive to talk about it.  

Jeb: Tell me about HSAS with Neal Schon and Sammy Hagar.

Kenny: There is an example of something that really could have been great if it had not been…well, I am not wanting to badmouth anybody because I love those guys.  

That was a project with Neal and Sammy to do something on the side with each other because they wanted to do that for a while.  I was always on the road back in those days and we would open up for Sammy, or Montrose, or Journey and I would run into these people.  

I got the call…they called me after I had just finished a Foghat tour.  I was in Atlanta doing song demos with Foghat.  I got a call to get in touch with them and they offered me cash up front and a piece of the action if I would just drop what I was doing with Foghat and come out and do this record with them.  

I think that the concept was an interesting concept.  They wanted to try to do this record and make it happen without touring.  They wanted to try to do it by promoting an extended long video.  It was a co-managed situation as well.  You had Sammy and his manger involved and you had Neal and the Journey people involved.  I think that may have been part of the problem.  

Nevertheless, I think we should have taken that out on the road.  People wanted to see us live.  It was not going to work as a video. I had no control over that and I had no say in that.  In my heart of hearts I hoped they knew what they were doing and I hoped it would work.  I knew that this band should really have gone on the road.  I think if we had done a proper tour I think we would all be seeing much bigger royalty checks then we ultimate saw.  Hindsight is 20/20 so who the fuck knows. 

Jeb: Last one:  Will Dust ever play live again?

Kenny: If Richie had not lost the interest in playing and would somehow have kept playing…imagine surviving 45 years and then doing a reunion?  Oh man, it would be great.  Marc and I have talked about finding somebody who would be interested in taking his place and seeing if it is a viable thing, but there is another part of me that feels like that was then, let it lay there and let it go.  Maybe it is better not to do that because reunions can be weird. 

Dust had two records and maybe sold a total of 120,000 copies together—I’m not sure that is reunion worthy.  It is interesting to think about but I don’t play like that anymore.  It is not the Kenny Aaronson that exists today.  There is always a certain energy that is always going to be a part of me, with my approach and the way I attack the instrument but I don’t play like that anymore and, to be honest with you, I’m glad I don’t play like that anymore. 

Jeb: Was there a time when you preferred to keep Dust in a dark corner as you did so many other higher profile things? 

Kenny: I was there and I was in it.  I can hear all of the blemishes.  When I listen to it I have to get past that before I can go, “This is pretty cool.”  People contact me through my website, or whatever, and they hear Dust and they go, “This is unbelievable and beautiful.”  I am so happy that people feel that way.  

It is hard for me to judge it as I was in there.  My judgment was off because I never realized how it has positively affected people.  I think that is fantastic and I am glad it is coming back.  It is better late than never.  

At this time in my life it is nice to have a little extra recognition.  It is great to have people responding with nothing but positive feelings about it. 

Buy Dust Here