Richie Wise (Kiss producer, Dust)
In recent years, quite a few metal bands that had wallowed in obscurity for decades are finally getting their well-deserved due, thanks to either documentaries or re-issues. Case in point, Anvil, Pentagram, Death (no, not the "death metal Death"), and most recently, Dust.
Greg Prato (Songfacts)
A New York band that existed for only a few years during the early '70s, Dust was comprised of singer/guitarist Richie Wise (who would go on to co-produce Kiss' first two classic albums, along with Dust's lyricist Kenny Kerner), bassist Kenny Aaronson (who has played with everyone from Bob Dylan to Joan Jett), and drummer Marc Bell (who played with Richard Hell & the Voidoids and the Ramones - after being rechristened "Marky Ramone").
This year, both of Dust's albums, 1971's self-titled debut and 1972's Hard Attack, have been reissued as a single CD via Sony/Legacy, and as a double vinyl edition - much to the delight of collectors sorely in need of replacements in their collection. Recently, Wise chatted about what set Dust apart from the other hard rock/heavy metal bands of the era, the stories behind some of Dust's best tracks, and memories of co-producing Kiss.
: How did the idea come up to reissue both Dust albums?
: Well, the reissue absolutely comes from Mark Bell becoming a Ramone, and as a Ramone his history has been brought more to the forefront. People wanted to know what he had done before the Ramones, and where he started was with Dust.
A couple of years ago, there was a guy, Mark Newman, who was doing a whole history on the Ramones. Mark Newman then winds up over at Sony Legacy, and has a position there where he's able to suggest re-releasing the Dust albums. Not only is there history from Marky Ramone, but the other two members of the band - myself being one of them - all continued in music and have big histories there. I produced about 70 albums and had a pretty good ride for those years.
Kenny Aaronson has to be one of the premier bass players of the last 25-30 years, having played with everybody from Billy Idol, Billy Squier, Bob Dylan, Joan Jett, the list is really pages long. He's really one of the greats.
So there's a story there with these three guys from Brooklyn who at 19/20/21 years old, had this band, do an album, then do a follow up album, make some noise - not much, but a little noise - and some people are saying that the albums were like a forerunner to American metal. And some of the music on the records really is.
: Right. Because that was going to be my next question - do you agree that Dust was one of the first US heavy metal bands?
: I agree. I'm going to go on record, I don't know if there was a louder/faster band in America or maybe anywhere as we were. Some of the music we played on the record showed some of that. "Learning to Die," "Suicide" was probably the heaviest of the tracks, from the standpoint of the first album you have "From A Dry Camel," the big 10 minute cut. And those songs are some of the reasons why a guy like Lester Bangs, who was a big writer at that time, coined the phrase "heavy metal" in regards to certain bands that were playing a certain type of music at that time. I know for a fact that one of the bands he mentioned initially was Dust.
So in a way, I do think that some of the stuff we were doing was a forerunner to metal. On stage live, no question about it. Because the albums have a diversity; live there was no diversity. Live was just... I like to use the term "big exhale," no inhale and no subtlety. It was just loud and fast and very, very hard rock, what we used to call hard rock, but certainly what became metal. I think there are some instances of that in there. We weren't out to create anything new other than just play what was music from our hearts. We loved what we were doing and it was where we were all at in our heads. Then we took the head away and just played from the gut, and that's what came out.
: What was the local New York music scene like at the time when Dust was starting out?
: There were a lot of goofy bands in Brooklyn that we used to play with. None of them seemed to be into the British thing the way we were. There were bands coming out of New York that were great. Vanilla Fudge was before our time a little bit, and by the time we started playing out, there was already Cactus with Carmine and Timmy from the Fudge.
The Fudge were influenced by the British bands, but they were much more into the R&B thing and the soulful thing. New York bands had become famous, like The Lovin' Spoonful and things like that, prior to our time, as well, were very folksy and into a whole different type of music and influenced by a lot of other things.
In New York at that time, there was certainly a scene of folk going on, there was a scene of pop/rock going on, but I don't think there was anything that was just pure loud, hard rock that I was aware of. In that time - and we're focusing on the East Coast and New York - I'm sure there were other bands around, but we were too busy doing our own thing to keep up with everything else that was going on. The records that we were listening to, the things that we were buying, were almost exclusively British records.
: The only band I could think of that was doing something similar to Dust was maybe Blue Cheer, and their first album, Vincebus Eruptum
. Are you familiar with them?
: I'm familiar with Blue Cheer. I saw Blue Cheer at the Fillmore East. They achieved a little more success. They had the Marshalls, they had that real long hair, if I remember correctly. I guess mine was almost as long. But I don't remember the music at all influencing me. I know the music didn't influence me. I never bought the album.
I've recreated my music collection today on my computer, and Blue Cheer's not part of that, it was never an influence. They were loud, they were rock, but I don't remember them being anything like Dust.
However, I did leave out one band from the East that I loved that I thought was great, and that was Mountain. A terrific band that existed back then in New York that were doing a lot of the rock stuff. In fact, Felix Pappalardi, the bass player and one of the singers, one of the writers, was also, of course, the producer of Cream.
: What was the songwriting like with Dust?
: 98% of the songwriting was myself and my partner, Kenny Kerner. Kenny Kerner was the initial manager of the band. I met Kerner, he was a singer in a band and he did much better behind the scenes than being a singer in the band. I think he'd be the first to admit that. But he had a very literary side to him. He could write. He was real into writers, and he was into music guys like Dylan. He was also real ahead of the game with the music that he was listening to and interested in. And me and him were partners. In fact, we stayed partners for a dozen years after Dust, producing records.
Kenny wrote all the lyrics and I wrote 95 plus percent of the music for the band. It was a collaboration. When I was playing, learning, evolving at that time, licks, chord patterns, sequences, intervals, different things would come into play as I was playing guitar that would always just be something that before I knew it was enough to say, "Man, there's a song here. I'm going to bring it to Kenny." And I would bring it to Kenny and I would do the "scrambled eggs thing," which is when Paul McCartney [initially] sang, "Scrambled eggs," what he meant before it becomes "Yesterday
" - it's three syllable, it's three ba ba ba's. So I would have the whole ba ba ba's laid out, the melodies, because I was always into melody.
A lot of the British stuff that I loved was very melodic stuff, like Procol Harum and Moody Blues. I've always loved melody from growing up listening to Broadway shows and Richard Rodgers and Lerner and Loewe. Melody's an important part of my life. So I would always have not just a chord pattern, but a melody and a phrasing. Even though I was a singer in the band, I took drum lessons. I was rhythmic, so I'd always have the feel of it.
And Kenny would quickly lock onto that and come up with a lyric. He would have a lyric as quick as I would have these chord patterns going on and these melody lines going on. It was all so organic. He would stay with his yellow pad - I remember he had yellow pads all over the place, and he would just start writing the lyrics. As he wrote the lines, I would sing them and we would develop the songs right there and then, and have the whole thing.
I don't remember ever having rewrites with Kenny. By the end of the session, where we would be at my house or at his house, he likes to joke, "Yeah, we had to finish these songs because he wanted to go out for Chinese food." That sort of is true, but it also minimizes the fact that we were working intently to put these songs together.
Lyrically, he would always find the right thing to say, depending on what he was feeling from the music that I was playing. I didn't play through an amp or anything when we wrote it. I would just bring an acoustic guitar or even my electric guitar not plugged in - you know what that sounds like, that little chinky, chingy, changy going on. We would just sit and I would be singing nonsensical lyrics or "scrambled eggs," and before you know it, he would have the lyric, and I'd be singing his lyric. I don't have recollections of suggesting different meter or add a word here. But I'm sure that I would figure out how he wanted the phrasing if the lyric would work. I was always good at being able to adapt that lyric to what I was doing, just like he was able to adapt writing the lyric to what I was doing.
I don't want to put a time limit on it, but certainly in a session we'd have a song. I don't think we ever did two songs in one day, but we would do one song and then maybe a day or two later I'd have another chord pattern, another riff. Because he wrote lots of songs - dozens of songs that never made it on albums. Prior to our recording albums we were writing and developing. Every three, four months we'd have six songs or more, and change the set and augment what we were doing. That pretty much stayed with us, so that's why there's a lot of different things on a Dust album. See, no one ever told us we couldn't do a variety of songs. If I was in a mood to write a Moody Blues type song, I'd write a Moody Blues type song. Stuff like that.
But you have to understand, it was never done to copy the Moody Blues or anything like that. It was never, "Here's our Rolling Stones song, so let's do a song like 'How Many Horses.'" It was just something that was in me to write that style of song.
A song from Hard Attack
, "Thusly Spoken," is obviously my Procol Harum type song. In fact, we brought a piano player and an organ player in to do it. And that one probably more than any other was an attempt to do a Procol Harum type thing, even though we were as far from Procol Harum as humanly possible as a three piece outfit. But just writing it came natural, and Kenny was into his "Keith Reid
period," so lyrically it came out like that. So that song was one of the few that we ever wrote with a direct thought coming from another band.
: What do you remember about the writing of certain Dust songs, such as "Pull Away/So Many Times"?
: "Pull Away/So Many Times," I hear in it my "Jethro Tull
side." Quiet opening, it sort of takes a little trip, that song. Then you have the body of the song and then you have that little breakdown section and then it gets heavier and builds up. I don't remember thinking of that as a multi colored song. The verse came from two different places and then came together.
And then from my end, there were two or three bits that were not concocted at the same time, and then I saw I could bring them all together. Kenny wrote the lyrics that harnessed all of that together in that song. Tull was a big influence on that one.
: And what about the song "Suicide"?
: "Suicide" is... you know, I'm wondering if I was not influenced at all by Black Sabbath. They came a little after my influences. But in my earlier influences, I really don't hear "Suicide." I wonder if when I wrote that song I was influenced a little by a song like "Paranoid
," even though that's a slowed down version.
"Suicide" might have been one of the better things that I wrote. The opening riff, I don't know where the heck that came from. I thought, "That's pretty cool." I listened to it today and I'm thinking that's pretty nice.
There might be some Sabbath in there, but I don't think I ever wrote something to be heavy. That one for sure I presented to Kenny with an amp. I presented it heavy with an amp, that riff. And then I would go to his house or he'd write the lyric at my house without an amp, without being plugged in. But maybe I was plugged in at home on that one, because that one would be hard to do acoustically.
: There's a new heavy metal band called Red Fang that does a pretty good cover of that. I saw a live clip of them performing it on YouTube.
: Wow, cool. What's the name of that band again?
: Red Fang. Just do a search for "Red Fang, Suicide" on YouTube, and that'll come up. And then what about the song "From a Dry Camel," which you mentioned before?
: I absolutely I remember coming up with that chord pattern which I thought was pretty cool at the time. Green Day has a song that utilizes a very similar chord pattern. Again, everybody uses the same damn chords. I mean, how many people have played AEB, EAB, GCD. It's the basis of all that we do, the three chord progression rock & roll. The 1, 4, 5's, no question about that.
However, I remember noodling on the guitar playing some chords, and I absolutely have a memory of going, "Blom, blom, blom, blom, blom, blom." And I remember that really well. And Greg, that's very difficult to write: "Blom, blom, blom, blom, blom, blom, blom, blom, blom!" But I remember it just coming to me like that and then topping it off with the end of the riff, the "Da da da da da da da da," that chord. I don't think I ever wrote a song that just came to me like that one did. It was the most organic thing and it was just there one day. I wrote that riff, that chord pattern, and immediately brought it to Kenny and we came up with the song.
And then as far as it going into the little Spanish type of vibe, I was playing guitar hours and hours and hours a day. The group was practicing every day. You'd be jamming, you'd be doing things. That song came about organically. I remember it happened very fast.
And where Kenny got the whole "Camel" lyric from, I have friggin' no idea. I never contributed a word. To this day, if I come up with a melody in my head for something, I couldn't write lyrics. Elton John did pretty good in his life without ever writing lyrics, you know.
But I do have that memory of it just coming to me, like shooting from above. I probably wrote that song in 1970. So you're dealing with 43 years and I still somehow remember something about that song just coming to me by a spirit. Does that sound strange?
: No, because I've heard people say sometimes that the best songs they write come to them the quickest, or that they're the easiest to write.
: That was the spirit, it just overshadowed me. I swear to God, it just came down and all of a sudden my hand was playing the song. Real strange. That's the only one I could say that about.
: And then once Dust broke up, how did you and Kenny come to co-produce Kiss?
: Well, the record company thought that the second Dust album was very well produced. That was the first time we used the term "Kerner and Wise," which sounded better than "Wise Kerner." Kerner and Wise had that Lerner and Loewe thing. We were both aware of all that stuff, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kerner and Wise, you know. Leopold and Loeb, Sacco and Vanzetti. Stuff like that.
Right after Dust, my lifestyle changed. I got married and I wanted more of a normal life. Kenny and Mark went on to join other bands, the label allowed us to go in and start producing other people. And it worked out pretty well. The first act we produced, we produced a demo for a guy that was from New Jersey that was a pretty famous local guy. In fact, in the Bruce Springsteen biography I read they mentioned his name. [this might be Tim Bogert.]
After that, we did another band that was on Blue Records called Gunhill Road, a three piece folky type band, like a Lovin' Spoonful sounding band. And we produced half the album. Believe it or not, the other half of the album was already done by Kenny Rogers! And we produced the other half. And on our half there was a song that we had called "Back When My Hair Was Short," and it became a Top 40 record [it hit #40 in 1973]. So right away we had this sort of semi-hit record.
Then not long after that we did this band called Exuma, they were from the Caribbean island of Exuma and we produced an album there for them. And the publisher, the guy who published a lot of music for Buddah, I think he was the head of Kama Sutra/Buddah Publishing, a guy named Bob Leno, really good guy that I knew many years later. Bob found a song that he thought would be a good hit for somebody.
So we were in the studio with Exuma and he heard this song in England called "Brother Louie" by a group called Hot Chocolate. We went in with Exuma to do this song "Brother Louie," but the guys in the band were more reggae, more island influenced, and they couldn't play this track. So I brought over my friends' label mates that were on the label at the same time as Dust, a group called Stories. Stories had made an album and not much was happening. They had just come back from England recording their second album, which by the way is a most brilliant album. Should be gotten. It's called About Us
. Brilliant album, but it was going nowhere and doing nothing. Kenny Aaronson had just got in the band playing bass. They had a lead singer, Ian Lloyd, who was the bass player. And I guess he wanted to be up front, be a front man.
So Stories came in and did the track for me for Exuma, this song called "Brother Louie." And they played it well, I remember really directing the making of that track. We laid down a rough vocal with Ian Lloyd. When he sang, "Louie, Louie, Louie, Louie," the label freaked out and said, "Man, it's amazing."
We did finish it with Exuma, but I remember when we were recording Exuma's vocals, I was thinking, "Why the hell am I doing this? It's so amazing when Ian sings it. So incredible when he sings the song." Everybody else felt the same way. We went back into the studio. Ian finished up his vocals and it became Stories and we had a #1 record.
And after that we got the opportunity of producing Gladys Knight & the Pips. We did a lot of great songs with them, big hit records, big hit albums. So that was why, all because of the second Dust album, we got the opportunity to produce.
: And what was your initial impression of Kiss and their music?
: Right. When they played us a demo of this band Kiss, we liked it. "Let's go see the band." They were at this little rehearsal studio in New York - the room was tiny. It was a little room, and I was sitting right there in front of a stage that's a foot high. And then out come these four guys wearing black, with makeup on, and they played much of their original songs from their first album: "Cold Gin," "Strutter," stuff like that.
I was blown away by the uniqueness of it all. It was primitive rock as far as I was concerned. It was "common denominator," as far as I was concerned. The songs were good. The focus was unbelievably intense. Most focused band ever. As I got to know them and work with them it was apparent to me that they weren't going to settle for anything other than top-of-the-heap success. They had to be the biggest. That focus is what drove them. They knew exactly who they were, what they weren't. They knew what their abilities were.
Paul Stanley used to say, "I want to be a great rhythm guitar player." He never said, "I want to be Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page." He was always just real confident in his frontman ability, his singing, his writing.
And Gene Simmons was the same way. Gene was actually, I thought, a very interesting, good bass player. Even though he didn't play like a bass player with fingers, he was more of a pick kind of guy, so he played it like a guitar. But he played very melodic. Very cool bass. Peter Criss was an adequate drummer. And Ace Frehley was obviously a Les Paul/Jimmy Page influenced guitar player; that was stuff the guy understood very well. Easy to work with.
But the focus that this band had was second to none.
: And what are some standout memories of the recording sessions for that first Kiss album?
: Standout memories, easy: tracks. I remember being out in the studio with them trying to work out some better arrangements for the songs, making them more available to the listener, put in the verses, choruses, bridges, repeats, whatever, in the right places. I worked very closely with Ace playing guitar. Because as a guitar player I was able to piece together some nice guitar solos for him and work with him on some of that stuff. The vocals went really smooth.
I don't have any negative feelings at all. The first album was a breeze to do. I think we recorded it in six days and mixed it in six or seven days. It took about 13 days from start to finish to do it. It was done quickly and I'm very happy about that one.
: I think that first Kiss album is their best sounding studio album. I like the sound of that even more than Destroyer
, which a lot of people pick as their favorite. But the reason why I like the first one so much is that it sounds close to their live sound.
: Without the volume. The album was done very organically, which I liked. We didn't go for a bombastingly crazy, overly distorted sound. Things were kept real. There was a minimum of effects used, so therefore the instruments stayed pretty close by in your face. That album has a nice big sound to it without being loud, and without being super distorted.
: I agree. And there's also been a lot of talk with fans about a song called "Acrobat" and also "Much Too Young," which eventually became "Love Theme from Kiss." Do you know if that original version was recorded? It was like a two part song that eventually just got cut in half.
: No. The title "Acrobat" though is somewhere in the back of my mind. Nothing else about it. It's not something I hadn't heard before. I don't remember the process on the first album, how many songs we left out or how many songs I said, "No, let's not do that one." I don't remember any of that.
: And then what are memories of the recording sessions for Hotter Than Hell
: Going to different studios, very disjointed, move to California, trying this, trying that, trying to get this started, putting too much reverb echo, compressing the hell out of it, attempt to be noisier and crummier. I don't like a lot of that album. Some of the songs are good, but it's a very dark, depressing album to me. We tried to do a 180 from the first album and it completely failed on the sonic level, it completely failed on an organized level. It was very disorganized. I'm so glad they went on and their career got huge after it.
I'm a big fan. When I heard Destroyer
, I said, "Boom! Home run." I thought the third album was terrible, except that had this one song that became an anthem: "Rock and Roll All Nite." But I never cared about the third album. Maybe I was bitter that we weren't producing it, but we had made the choice not to move on with them. They might have made a choice not to move on with us. There are both sides of the coin, and you only know your half.
But I was glad when I heard Destroyer
: With the changing of the sound from the first album to the second album, was that something that was dictated to you from the record label?
: No. It was something that I wanted to do. And for whatever reason, moving to California, my head wasn't in the right place. It was more of a chore than it was out of love, that album. And my heart and soul didn't get there. I don't remember having any breathing time. It was just too much exhale. It wasn't enough inhale/exhale. Not enough give and take.
I was going through a bunch of changes at that time. I moved from New York to California. I'd never moved like that in my life, made a big move. It was just a big time for me, and Hotter Than Hell
took a back seat. And I apologize for that.
: Was there ever any talk over the years of you and Kenny working with Kiss again?
: No. That was pretty much it. We went our separate ways.
: And what Kiss songs that you worked on would you say are you most proud of?
: Oh, first album. Very proud of the first album. I really love hearing that album. I think it's just fun to hear. Everybody's so wide awake on that album. There were no drugs with that group when I was with them.
: But do any songs stand out, looking back do you have specific favorites from that album?
: No. The kind of music that I listen to, Kiss were not really the kind of band that I was listening to by that time. And by those years I loved the real ambitious stuff like what Queen were doing and things of that nature. So it wasn't something that I would listen to a lot as a fan, but I was very proud of it as a producer.
: Alright. And the last question I have is what are you currently up to today?
: Well, I'm semi-retired. I spent 30 years in the music business, that was enough for me. I like to say it was a roller coaster ride. Anybody that's in it knows it is. And I jumped off the roller coaster after 30 years. I left the music business at the turn of the century. I was in it in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, and I had enough by the year 2000. I left. And I was working in a completely different world.
Now I am semi-retired. I'm an old man, my friend. I just turned 62 and I'm having a great time. I have a great life. I've been married for 40 years. My son and my daughter-in-law are beautiful and they're getting ready to have a family, and I'm real excited about that. My daughter, who's 37 years old, is getting married on June 1st, and everybody's doing a real nice, beautiful wedding for her. My life is my family and my family is my life.
I'm a very lucky guy. I have incredible health. I feel great. And like I've said a couple of times, I might have said it to you, people get older and they get cancer and they die. Me? I get older and they're re-releasing my albums from when I was 20 years old! So who the heck knows what the future holds.
May 24, 2013.