Interview With RICHIE WISE (DUST/KISS Producer)


As part of Dust Richie Wise, along with Kenny Aaronson and Marc Bell (later to become Marky Ramone), pioneered Heavy Metal in The States in the early 1970s. Mick Burgess chatted to Richie about his time in Dust and his later career as a producer working with KISS, and more.

MER: The two albums that you recorded with Dust, Dust and Hard Attack are due to be rereleased any day. Why have you decided to put them out again now?

RICHIE: Most of the credit has to go to two people in our band. Our drummer, Marc Bell, who became a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer as Marky Ramone in The Ramones. There’s obviously a lot of interest in things that he did before that. Also Kenny Aaronson, our bass player who has played with everybody since then from Billy Idol to Joan Jett, the list of credits is absolutely humongous. Also I along with the bands manager and my co-writer, Kenny Kerner, went on to produce the first two Kiss albums. There is a back story there and people want to know what we did before all that. There was also a guy at Sony Legacy, Mark Newman, who had been cataloguing a lot of The Ramones work and he thought that the two Dust albums had a lot of merit. When we first came out in the early ’70s we just may have been the loudest, heaviest Rock band that had ever existed in America. Although we were never really big or national, there seems to have been a lot of interest in the band and those albums. We made a certain mark with those records and maybe we were one of the first Metal bands in America. The records are pretty hard to find so we thought because of the interest it would make sense to rerelease them.

MER: Have you been involved with this reissue?

RICHIE: I’d like to say yes but other than finding some old pictures I wasn’t involved at all. Marky and Kenny did work on the reissue and have done a great job.

MER: Did they have access to the original master tapes for this project?

RICHIE: I was amazed that they had managed to find the original two-track tapes to work with but not the original master tapes.

MER: Did you have any problems with those tapes bearing in mind they’d be nearly 45 years old?

RICHIE: The tape can oxidise which can cause big problems when you try to play them. When they go through the capstan rollers in old tape machines they can slow down and speed up. The tapes needed to be baked in a convection oven to allow the guys to work on them. Kenny and Marky remastered them in New York while I was out in Los Angeles so I couldn’t join them but I knew they were in good hands and they did a phenomenal job.

MER: Did you come across anything in the vaults that you considered adding as bonus tracks?

RICHIE: We did a couple of versions of a song on the first album called “Love Me Hard” and I know we could locate that but just couldn’t do it in the time we had. We were just so thrilled to find the original tapes for the album itself. We also did a demo of the album with additional material and that would be great to put out but I have absolutely no idea where that is.

MER: What about live recordings? Do you have any of those anywhere that you might release one day?

RICHIE: There’s no live recordings that I’m aware of other than someone I know who recorded a gig in about 1970 from something like the 40th row in an echoey hall so the music just sounds like a big din of noise but I was amazed at how fast we played. That recording is preserved for someone who likes to listen to a din for 10 minutes. It’s a shame there’s nothing there as I think we were a pretty good live band.

MER: Your first album, Dust came out in 1971. When did you first form the band?

RICHIE: I started playing in 1964 when America was introduced to The Beatles and that absolutely changed my life. It was never really my idea to be in a band but it was always my idea to have my own band. Around 1966 when I got my first proper guitar we were listening to Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield and we were growing as musicians at that time and trying to learn songs like “East West” by the Paul Butterfield Band note for note. By ’67 we put a band together with a group of friends and by ’69 it was just me Kenny and Marc. Marc and Kenny were such phenomenal players. We were just teenagers in 1970 but they were such great musicians even at such a young age. We never thought of ourselves as kids at that time but listening back there’s some stuff on the first album that sounds a little immature but there’s a lot of stuff that sounds absolutely great.

MER: Who were your influences at that time?

RICHIE: Our whole life was wrapped up with Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and for the drumming of Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and Clive Bunker from Jethro Tull. Kenny just loved John Paul Jones and Jack Bruce. We looked up to these players and they were such huge influences on us.

MER: Were you always a three piece band?

RICHIE: We tried some other guitar player and maybe a keyboard player and also a couple of singers came and went but me Marc and Kenny were so in sync together there was just nobody else that could play with the intensity that we had. It was obvious that I was going to sing and play lead guitar but how lucky was I getting to play with Marc Bell and Kenny Aaronson, two of the most outrageous Rockers that there ever was.

MER: Were you trying to take those influences that you had and create something new and fresh?

RICHIE: We loved The Who, Cream, Procol Harum and Mountain. The riff from “Stone Woman”’ was actually based on a song by The Moody Blues called “Gypsy”. It was a rocked out version of that song by The Moody Blues. We spent all our day listening to British Rock bands. We weren’t trying to copy anyone, we just took our influences that we listened to all day long and those came through in our music with our own style to them. Our influences were constantly there in my writing and playing but there was never any thought process. We never said that we couldn’t do something as it wasn’t Dust.

MER: Your follow up album Hard Attack, followed a year later. Did you have a lot of material left after your first album that you were able to use or did you write the whole album from scratch?

RICHIE: All the material on the second album was new, I don’t think anything was left over from the first album.

MER: There was some real diversity on your records … really heavy stuff like “Learning to Die” and “Love Me Hard” and the more introspective songs like “Thusly Spoken” and “I’ve Been Thinkin’”. Was this diversity a result of your different influences?

RICHIE: Live we played hard and fast but on our records we had a whole range of styles. We just did it like that because we were young and wanted to experiment and everything was just so organic that we’d try anything and if we thought it sounded good we’d put it on the record. I wasn’t sure if it was versatility or lack of direction but if you’re famous it’s versatility but if you’re not famous then it’s seen as a lack of direction. We just approached it by writing songs based on our influences which manifested itself in different styles but live we never thought about sitting on a chair doing an acoustic set. We all played aggressively, that was us and we weren’t trying to be anybody else that’s just how we were but that was balanced by our more laid back songs, it gave us a unique sound of our own.

MER: What about Kenny Kerner. Did he provide the lyrics as a secret 4th member of Dust or was he involved in a production capacity too?

RICHIE: I met Kenny Kerner first and although he was in a band at the time his strengths didn’t come from being in a band. He was a great writer. He loved Dylan and was very literary. Kenny was our original manager and I wish he’d remained our manager as he would have done more for us than the manager we eventually had. Kenny’s real strength for Dust though was his incredible writing talent. I would present Kenny with riffs and things and he’d just come up with lyrics right away. He was a very fast worker. On the second record we were both involved in producing it as we wanted to be more hands on with the band. As a result of this the label went on to let us start producing other acts.

MER: How did you write together?

RICHIE: I don’t remember teaching any of the guys the songs. I would bring them ideas for songs and we’d just start playing them. We were just so in sync together that it would just happen. We were in the same headspace and the songs would develop from those initial ideas into complete songs very quickly.

MER: You had two great albums by the band and a killer line up why did you decide to split the band after your second album?

RICHIE: After the second album Hard Attack, that we all felt was a much better album, but nothing better happened for the band. We didn’t have enough touring going on and there just wasn’t enough excitement from the record label on how to move the band forward. We seemed so stagnant and all the excitement seemed to happen with the first album. Bearing that in mind, at the end of 1972 I got married and I’m still married to the same woman. The lifestyle of being in a Rock band did not really sit well with having a family life. Although I loved being in the band and playing gigs, my lifestyle was better suited producing records. That was much more of a stable lifestyle even though the hours could be long but you would still go home at the end of the day. Marc and Kenny loved hanging out, going to clubs and all that but that wasn’t really for me. At no point did any of us call the others to end the band it just fizzled out and didn’t exist any more. I went into the studio to work with Kenny Kerner and Marc and Kenny were hanging out meeting musicians and ended up working with other bands.

MER: Do you think Dust received the credit they deserved for pioneering Hard Rock and Heavy Metal in the early days of the ’70s?

RICHIE: I think our music still stands up today. I’m not sitting here to say how great Dust was but there was something so organic about that stuff. I think how music developed after that I really think we had something that was a forerunner to the Heavy Metal scene that came later. I certainly think we were at the forefront of what became Heavy Metal. Our records were diverse and not really Heavy Metal at all but those heavy moments were certainly powerful and maybe helped to lay the foundations for Heavy Metal music.

MER: The individual members of Dust have all gone onto bigger and better things after the band split. Marc Bell became Marky Ramone in The Ramones and Kenny Aaronson is one of the leading session bass players around playing with the likes of Joan Jett, Billy Idol and Sammy Hagar). You and Kenny Kerner made quite an impact yourselves when you produced the first two Kiss albums. How did you end up producing KISS?

RICHIE: By 1973 Kenny and myself had produced a number of hit records including a Number One in America by a group called Stories with the song “Brother Louie” which had been done by a band called Hot Chocolate in England. We had produced for Neil Bogart who was at Buddah Records and we were now fully fledged successful producers. When Neil started Casablanca Records, one of his first signings was KISS so it was logical that we were asked to produce their record. We had seen KISS early on with Neil in a small rehearsal studio. Here were these guys on stage in all this makeup and wearing black studded costumes. It was a real primitive version of what they became but they were incredible even at that early stage.

MER: What did you think of them at first?

RICHIE: KISS were the most focussed band that I had ever met. With Dust we had no idea of what we were, we just played everything from the heart. Gene and Paul really set their sights of what they wanted right from the start. They were so focussed and knew exactly what they wanted. There was no doubt in my mind that they were going to be successful. They were the most determined band that ever existed. They knew from the outset that they would become the biggest band in the world.

MER: Did you and Kenny take different roles in the production process or did you provide the band with the benefit of two experienced opinions?

RICHIE: I was the music guy and loved working with bands especially lead guitar players. Kenny was more of a concept kind of guy and he saw issues with the label and management so we both had very different roles in the production process. We had a great chemistry together and that was really important to the overall process.

MER: At that point KISS were a newly signed band but you had already had hit songs as a production team. Why did you decide to take the job of producing them?

RICHIE: I’d just produced Gladys Knight and the Pips at that point and I could have gone on to produce a Bluegrass record or a record from India with a sitar player. I had no limits to what I loved and I had the ability in the studio to go in with a blank piece of tape and fill it up. Because of that I never felt limited or taking a chance on anybody. As far as KISS were concerned they were another musical act who had a lot of musical merit so it was no risk to me to take on the role of producer.

MER: What sort of deal did you cut as a producer? Did you take a flat fee due to them being a new untested band or did you opt for a royalty instead or a combination of both?

RICHIE: We had producer’s points on the albums and of course a production fee.

MER: KISS always had a lot of material and demos. When they arrived in the studio, how many songs did they have to work with?

RICHIE: They had a lot of songs and we went through them and picked the ones we liked the best. They were very fertile writers at that time. There was no struggle to get enough material.

MER: Did they already have a clear idea of what they wanted from the album or were they receptive to your ideas and suggestions?

RICHIE: They were very receptive to any ideas to change the arrangements. They respected me as I’d been in a Rock band and I respected them as they were just so focused as a band. I don’t remember us having any difficult times together in the studio. We worked pretty well together.

MER: They had already recorded demos with Eddie Kramer. Did you need to suggest many changes to that material or did you re-record it pretty much as it was originally written?

RICHIE: Eddie Kramer actually mixed the first Dust album and we thought he’d do the KISS album too but we ended up doing it which was great. There were a few things that were changed but most of the music was recorded the way that they had originally written it.

MER: The original version of “Strutter” had a very basic solo from Ace. How did he develop his solo into the one we know today?

RICHIE: I worked on all the guitar parts with Ace. That was my forte, I loved working with him. We worked on his solos to improve them and I think they ended up great on the record.

MER: Who suggested the piano on “Nothin’ To Lose”?

RICHIE: I think I did. There was never a lack of ideas and adding the piano to that just seemed to finish it off well.

MER: Ace wrote “Cold Gin”. Did you try to persuade him to sing the lead vocal on that?

RICHIE: When I heard “Cold Gin” for the first time it was already virtually finished with Gene singing vocals so we didn’t really consider Ace singing that one. I really worked on the arrangements rather than deciding who would sing what.

MER: “She” that was around in the Wicked Lester days was always such a strong song. Was that considered for the album?

RICHIE: No, we never really considered that for the first two albums. I’d known about Wicked Lester but the version they did of “She” was totally different to the one that they ended up recording for Dressed to Kill.

MER: What did you think when the debut was reissued to include “Kissin’ Time”?

RICHIE: The record company was looking for a concept for KISS in those days to make them different from everyone else and Neil Bogart suggested we did “Kissin’ Time”, well, we were more like forced to include it. I don’t like that song too much and didn’t really want it on the album.

MER: Looking back, would you have done anything different with the album?

RICHIE: With 20/20 hindsight you’d always do things differently but I’m pretty pleased with the first album. I think the song choice was good and the vocals were great. I’m pleased with how it turned out but maybe there’s a couple of things I’d have liked to have changed such as tones of instruments where there’s always room for adjustment but overall it’s a very good organic representation of where the band were at that time.

MER: You also produced Hotter Than Hell a few months later. Was it easier recording that album bearing in mind that they were more experienced musicians?

RICHIE: That was more of a difficult album to make because we moved to L.A and used a number of different studios. There was a lack of focus and the songs came out too dark and echoey. Some of the songs were good but the material on the first album was much better. I think Hotter Than Hell was a step down and maybe some of that has to do with me. It was a little jumbled then with everyone moving around. KISS were on their path and developing and I was moving over to the West Coast so the sessions weren’t as coherent as the first album’s

MER: Were you disappointed not to get to work on the Dressed to Kill album?

RICHIE: Not really. I think we could have done Dressed To Kill but Kenny and me really wanted to work with some other labels and some other bands.

MER: Destroyer was a huge album for them. Do you wish you’d been able to work on that with the budget that they had?

RICHIE: Bob Ezrin produced that album and he was one of the greatest producers ever and I’m glad that he got to work with KISS. He brought a lot out of them and made a fantastic record. I’d have liked to have a budget that size but the records that we made were certainly the best we could make within the budget we had.

MER: Have you kept an eye on their career over the years?

RICHIE: I got to tell you that I listened to Dressed To Kill and remember not liking it that much except for “Rock and Roll All Nite” but I loved Destroyer a lot. It was a big leap for them and I felt that they finally made the album they needed to do. Destroyer with Ezrin producing was beautiful. I love that album. Once that album hit I knew they were going to be huge. I didn’t really listen to what they were doing after Destroyer. I heard stuff like Love Gun and liked the key cuts but didn’t really take much notice after that.

MER: Did you stay in touch with them over the years?

RICHIE: Not recently. I think I saw Gene back in the ’90s but not since then.

MER: It’ll be the 40th anniversary of the debut next year. Would you like to get the chance to work on something to commemorate that?

RICHIE: I’d love to do something to mark that. It seems as though a lot of 40th anniversaries are coming up at the moment.

MER: You’ve worked as a producer over the years with a very diverse list of artists from James Brown to Gladys Knight and the Pips, Steve Marriott and Savoy Brown. Did you have to vary your production style to suit the different artists?

RICHIE: Not so much the production techniques but when you work with Gladys Knight it’s a whole different process to with a band. With Gladys Knight you’d bring a string section in and build things up differently than with a band. With a band you’ll start with a basic track of guitar, bass and drums and hope you can keep the drums in and build from there. With Gladys Knight we’d work on the strings and horns with an arranger and decide what parts would go where. I suppose in many ways it is actually similar; it’s just done with different instrumentation and arrangements.

MER: Who was the easiest artist to work with?

RICHIE: With Gladys Knight I had much less of a say on the vocals as she was very into her own vocal production. I’ve worked with bands where the lead singer couldn’t sing more than two or three notes in a row and you’d work your butt off trying to get some vocal tracks. Then after it was done you’d comp the vocal where you’d listen to every single line on every single track and pick the best of the takes and put it all together. With Gladys Knight, she could sing so there was never any comping. She was great to work with so I’ve worked with people like Gladys where you can virtually hear the finished song as she’s singing it to working with bands where you’d have to piece everything together bit by bit and work like a dog to get a song.

MER: Can you be a successful producer without being a musician?

RICHIE: There’ve been many producers who haven’t been players but more like feel guys. They don’t even have to live and breathe music like I did. They could leave the studio, come back and analyse it afterwards without being a guitar player or piano player, without having a great knowledge of musical theory. They can just tell what a great vibe is and know when to tell a band when to write more songs. They can just sense when a dong is right. Maybe these guys didn’t know about the board or electronics but they had other gifts that were just as valuable to their production skills.

MER: What was James Brown like to work with?

RICHIE: I wish I could say that I worked with James Brown in the early days when he made his great records. I worked with him at the end of his recording career and he was a different person. Everything was good as long as you gave him a million dollars. James Brown in his heyday could listen to his whole band of 11, 12, 15 pieces and if there was a person one quarter note out then he’d know exactly who played it. He was brilliant and a great musician. He was a killer B3 player, a great organ player.

MER: You retired from the music business in 2000. Why did you leave the business?

RICHIE: I was in the business for 30 years. Anyone that knows the business will say that it’s a rollercoaster. I like to say that I got thrown off and jumped off at the same moment. I’d just had it. The music was changing, the business was changing and the recording process was changing. I had a wonderful 30 years and was one of the few people that was lucky enough to make a living doing something that I loved to do.

MER: Is there anyone you’d really like to work with if you had the chance that would bring you out of retirement?

RICHIE: No there isn’t. I’ve had opportunities and people calling me but for me it was all about passion and about my heart and soul and if that’s not there I can’t fake it. I do everything to the best of my ability and if I can’t do that then I won’t do it. I’m finished with it. I had a great run but now I’m not interested in returning to production work.

MER: With all this interest in Dust at the moment, what are the chances of a few shows together or maybe some new material?

RICHIE: It’s all very exciting for this to come back out after so long. It’s come out of the blue and to see some of the history coming out again is great. I look back on that time with complete fondness. I have a feeling there will be a Dust reunion but I won’t be onstage. I haven’t played electric guitar in 39 years. If Kenny and Marc decide to play live together they’ll have to get someone else to play guitar and sing and I’d love to see that and maybe I’d come along and sing a song or two at some point .

MER: What about the future? What are your plans for the coming months?

RICHIE: I’m semi-retired. I’m not a youngster anymore. I have a wonderful family and a wife who I’ve been married to for 40 years. My daughter is getting married this year so we’re looking forward to that. My son and daughter in law are planning on having a family soon so I’m having the time of my life right now. I’m lucky to have my health and I’m enjoying life.

Dust and Hard Attack are out now on Sony Legacy.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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