In the underground debate of who was truly the first heavy metal band, one must weigh the evidence because it’s almost like asking the question that never truly gets an answer, which came first; the chicken or the egg. Music historians feel back in merry old England, Black Sabbath gave birth to the grotesque evil sound that roamed the earth in 1966 yet others have hypothesized Led Zeppelin or Cream. Back in the savage Americas, Iron Butterfly out of San Diego, CA popped out of a cocoon that same year yet Alice Cooper had already hit the scene in 1964. Marky Ramone feels Blue Cheer was an early representation with their hit, Summertime Blues, but we feel the band Dust, certainly sits among the hierarchy of metal granddaddies.
Marky Ramone looked great but felt a little tired as did his wife and why not; jet lag can take its toll but they were happy and gracious offering drinks of any kind to sooth the soul. Ramone flew in from New York to perform at The Rock against MS benefit concert at the Whisky A Go-Go in West Hollywood, California on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, and to promote the re-release of two classic albums by his band, Dust, via Sony/Legacy. 1971’s self-titled debut, Dust and 1972’s Hard Attack have been re-mastered (from the original analog master tapes). The single CD was released on April 16th and a Record Store Day exclusive vinyl version released on April 20th.
Marky Ramone, best known for sitting behind the kit of the iconic punk rock band, The Ramones, had a different name and came from a different genre before becoming one of the infamous and famous members of punk rock history. Sitting back, he took a breath and smiled, “Its forty years old; we were kids in high school there,” he said in a cool low voice. “He looks like thirty but these guys are only like twenty years old,” he says referring to an old photo. “It’s the strangest thing–that’s Kenny that’s me… I’m 18, he’s 18. It’s unreal.” Comprised of singer/guitarist/songwriter Richie Wise, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and drummer Marc Bell [Marky Ramone] (with Kenny Kerner supplying lyrics and sharing songwriting and production duties), the band issued a pair of cult classic albums – 1971’s self-titled debut and 1972’s Hard Attack – before splitting up. Both albums have been long out-of-print, but headbangers will now get a chance to discover the band again. Reminiscent of a time when The Guess Who, Free and Uriah Heep were making music, Dust is considered by some to be one the first American heavy metal bands.
“And you know what,” enthused Ramone, “we weren’t even influenced by those bands. Those bands came later basically; I mean we wrote those songs for the first album back in 1969 so we already had our material, but in America there were hardly any heavy metal bands…you know what did you have? You had Blue Cheer who did Summer Time Blues and I think that was in ’68 and then you had Grand Funk Railroad and Mountain but they weren’t really ‘metal’ metal; they had elements of metal and both very good bands; Mountain is a very good band. But, Dust was a real metal band. So, Sabbath came out in America in ’70 and the first album was already written so we were, and I’d have to say it’s a fact, that we [Dust] were one of the first American heavy metal bands. Obviously I’m known for being a Ramone and playing punk rock but Dust was before we ever got started, so yeah, a re-release from a legitimate company; from Sony/Legacy. I wanted to make sure that it was going to be put out on a good label not something that after the weekend disappears, you know what I mean… yeah cause the first time it was on Kama Sutra Buddha, which was a bubblegum label, you know, [Ramone breaks into the intro] ‘yummy yummy yummy I got love in my tummy’, Green Tambourine ..yeah and eventually Neil Bogart bought the company and then he started Casablanca.”
The real kicker was hearing about the audience members who would come to see Dust perform; members of the Ramones and New York Dolls were watching Dust. “Well CBGB’s was ’74 so I’d say four years earlier,” calculates Ramone. “We’d play in the Village in New York and members of the New York Dolls and the Ramones would be in the audience watching the band and then when I joined the Ramones, they would tell me, ‘hey we saw your band, Dust.’ [he chuckles a little as he continues]. “We weren’t even together then; the Dolls, who I auditioned for after their first drummer died, Billy, it was me and Jerry Nolan they were in the audience too with Johnny Thunders and Arthur [Kane] and Syl [Sylvain Sylvain].”
“We were acquaintances because we hung out in a place called, Nobody’s on St. Marks Place,” explains Ramone, “across the street from the Village Gate so we all hung out there and see we didn’t want to be part of any scene. We were thinking beyond just a scene in New York, we were thinking worldwide but we were young, we were naive and our manager didn’t really have the experience to really handle a group like this and there weren’t that many producers who knew how to produce this kind of music in America so we had Kenny Kerner doing production and he had production savvy and that’s the results.”
“So we were together for about a little under three years,” continues Ramone, “did two albums, did some shows with Alice Cooper, John Mayall, Uriah Heep…you know here and there but I had to finish my day and night school. My mother and father wanted that diploma on the wall and we fizzled out. We didn’t break up you know like a fight or anything, it was just time to move on. And Kenny [Kerner] went on to produce the first two KISS albums and Richie [Wise] worked on other great bands and individuals like Gladys Knight and the Pips. Kenny Aaronson is a very famous bass side player; he played with Dylan, Joan Jett, Billy Idol; a lot of people and I went on to work with Andrew Oldham, the Rolling Stones producer. And then I started hanging out at CBGB’s and basically that was it.”
Hearing Ramone talk about the past, CBGB’s and Dust, left a curious longing for that period and what it must have been like to roam the streets of the Village in NY; what a fascinating time to become part of the fabric of musical history. When Ramone is approached by fans, he’s amazed yet grateful that a new audience is discovering Dust. “Now I see this out a lot, on the road and it’s funny because a lot of kids,” Ramone leans in and continues, “I tour all over the world and a lot of kids come around with the old albums and ask, ‘Can you sign these? When are you gonna have a reunion? Is this ever gonna be re-released?’ And I didn’t have answers because at the time I didn’t know this was going to come out again and there can’t be a reunion because Richie the guitar player; he hasn’t picked up a guitar in forty years, so that’s going to be pretty tough but there’s so much talk about it. I go on my website; there’s a Dust site and the metal encyclopedia said that From A Dry Camel, from our first album, was in the top ten heavy metal songs of all time. I couldn’t believe it. I was very grateful though.”
You can’t deny who you are and Marky Ramone or Marc Bell would have probably been famous regardless of whom he would eventually play with and the influence that he brought to Dust, he carried to The Ramones. “It could be possible because,” Ramone takes a sip from his drink, “well the Ramones did see Dust and if you look at the album on the cover there’s a brick wall and then there’s me in the back with a leather jacket on and Johnny always said, ‘I really love that cover.’ Because at the time in ’71 when it came out it was very striking and nobody really had real life ‘dead skulls’ on their album cover; they were either cartoons or caricatures, you know but not real ones so it really left an impression in his mind.”
There’s been resurgence of late with bands/artists not wanting that “just washed” and/or “clean” sound/electric element, which Ramone likes as he really doesn’t care for a lot of the sound out there today. “I mean there are so many descriptions of; well it sounds like basically heavy analog; there’s no digital. It’s bigger sounding and deeper sounding; it projects better volume-wise and when I heard the result; you know the finished product, I couldn’t believe it…. you know welcome to technology cause of what they can do. Once they get into that dance thing then I get turned off immediately; when they’re trying to cater to the disco/dance scene you know and I’m not into that, but I think a lot of bands are pushed to follow a formula so they can sell more records. But that’s why the Ramones were able to stay together for twenty years–because we never caved in to the record companies push to get a single, we never wrote songs to get a single. If we did get a single, we’d be happy.”
Happy…yes…sitting here holding a microphone close to a Ramone is “happy” yet when they were on the journey, The Ramones like most who become legends, have no clue. It isn’t until hindsight that recognition is theirs and being alive to enjoy it. “You know I never knew the Ramones would be such an influence on the world,” states Ramone pondering the thought. “I mean we were just four guys; there’s really only five Ramones but the thing is that we just wanted to play; we hated the music on the radio at the time; I don’t want to use the word, ‘hate’ but we didn’t like disco, we didn’t like that big stadium stuff and what was happening at the time was soft rock was coming in; you know like Gilbert O’Sullivan, the guy that did Mandy and even when Dust was out, Carol King’s, Tapestry…but we wanted to keep it short, sweet and a two-minute song alive.”
“Bands were getting out of control with too much self-indulgence with guitar leads and drum solos; you’d look at an album and there was only four or five songs on them because they had to have their self-indulgence on guitar leads and drum solos, so the Ramones said, ‘enough of this let’s make some great songs already’ so when the first album came out it changed everything slowly, I mean you’d look at album covers of other bands and individuals would start wearing leather jackets; they would wear their Converse and it wasn’t just the look it was the sound; that raw sound it was just a guitar and bass. But it was that down-stroke-eighth-note playing that created that wall of sound.”
And walls of sound are what Ramone pushes on his radio show; “Yeah, I have a radio show on Sirius XM,” smiles Ramone, “and I play punk rock so I like a band out of England called the Gallows, The Riverboat Gamblers, The Loved Ones I like but they just broke up; the Dollyrots are very good–there are a lot of good things out there if you hear the radio like there’s the Artic Monkeys they’re doing some good stuff.”
And so the debate continues on which metal band was the first to crawl out of the ocean of mediocrity to become the one metal band to start it all and though there’s probably no definitive answer and many bands not mentioned, one thing is certain, Dust was and has always, been there.