If Dust are remembered at all, it is most likely as being the band that Marc Bell played in before becoming Marky Ramone of The Ramones – he also played with Richard Hell and the Voidoids before joining that legendary punk group. There is a great deal more to the two albums Dust released than merely being historical curiosities, though. Both Dust (1971) and Hard Attack (1972) are prime examples of early ‘70s hard rock, with some surprising twists. The two LPs have just been issued together as a single, 17-track CD from Sony Legacy.
Dust formed in 1969, with Richie Wise (guitar, vocals), Kenny Aaronson (bass, guitars), and the aforementioned Bell (drums). The power trio format was a popular one back then, and the three members of Dust were very good musicians. In listening to these recordings, it is easy to forget that there were just three guys in the group. In addition to the bass, Aaronson is credited with playing steel, dobro, and bottleneck guitars. These additional elements provide for a very rich sound on many of the tracks.
Their debut opens with “Stone Woman,” and the song presents a group who defied any pre-conceived notions. “Stone Woman” is your basic 4/4 rocker, in a style that used to be referred to as “boogie.” I have no idea who coined that musical term, but they should have had their rock-critic credentials pulled for it. The stylistic depiction came to define a whole sub-genre of arena rock. If you ever want to fully gorge yourself on boogie, take a listen to Humble Pie’s Eat It. The phrase “boogie ’til ya puke” was never so apt.
“Stone Woman” is a good example of why I think Dust deserved more credit than they ever received. As my Humble Pie comment shows, I am not a fan of the boogie. Yet in the hands of Dust, and especially with Aaronson’s slide guitar, “Stone Woman” is a hot tune. “Love Me Hard” closed out side one of the vinyl LP, and it is one of the band’s finest. The proto-metal riff, much like that of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” spun my head.
It wasn’t just Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Deep Purple who were making music like this, although one might think so, if all they heard was classic rock radio. I love discovering lesser-known bands such as Dust who were doing the same thing, but have never been acknowledged for it. Wise’s guitar solo during “Love Me Hard” is outstanding, as is the interplay between him and Bell during the break.
The similarities to Sabbath continue on the next track, “From A Dry Camel.” This was their magnum opus, and clocks in at just under 10 minutes. The devilish undertones are meant to evoke visions of the desert, but they also have a lot in common with the opening of the song “Black Sabbath.” Dust really get to flex their musical chops during the solos here. Dust closes out with a nod to Link Wray during the instrumental “Loose Goose.”
It would seem that the only people who were aware of the band’s debut album were employees of Kama Sutra Records, as it came and went without a trace. The guys tightened things up a bit for their second and final record, Hard Attack. Ten-minute epics were out, but they employed much more variety on this one than they had on Dust.
The acoustic strums that open Hard Attack are an indicator of the more progressive sounds to come. “Pull Away”/”So Many Times” is the first cut, and it switches back and forth from acoustic interludes to a full-out attack. I am not sure if they intended it to or not, but the heavier section hearkens back to classic psych/garage rock. The Electric Prunes do not receive a songwriting credit, but I swear that the main riff could be the son of “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night).”
I get the impression that this has to do with their beginnings more than anything else. Dust formed in 1969, two years before they went into the studio. My guess is that they were a garage band first, no matter what came later. As if to show us just how far from the garage they had traveled by 1972, check out the strings on “Thusly Spoken.” This is a very strange ballad, and it sounds like someone had accidentally put on a Moody Blues record while the band were cleaning out the bong.
“Thusly Spoken” is one of those weird songs that even tough Brooklyn men such as Dust felt they needed in their repertoire. I guess it shows their “sensitive” side, but that was the last thing anyone wanted from these hirsute rockers. Putting it right before the heaviest track on the album, “Learning to Die” is just perverse.
With Wise’s opening “Yeah..” I momentarily thought that the first Stooges album had slipped into my disc player. Dust do not quite keep up the “1969” level of insanity during their “All in All,” but it is a killer nonetheless. Bell’s manic drums, and Wise’s powerful guitar during the instrumental “Ivory” are even more Stooges-like. Discombobulating our expectations seems to be the order of the day here, as “How Many Horses” is basically New York country-punk-prog circa 1972. Weirdly great is about all I can say about this one. “Suicide” revamps “Summertime Blues,” and the album closes with the 19-second “Entrance.”
Those are some of the high points, and the music confirms what I had thought all along. Nobody really gave these guys a chance. I had never even heard of them until Bell joined The Ramones, and then the whole story was that he was not an “authentic” punk. Having recorded two albums with Dust supposedly ruled him out.
There is no getting around the fact that these albums are of their time. For the most part, Dust and Hard Attack are basic hard rock records, with some unexpected musical turns. As far as I can tell, they were completely overlooked when they were originally released. Here’s hoping that the world is ready for them now.