Kansas' Kerry Livgren Shares The Story Behind "Dust In The Wind"

Kerry Livgren

“Dust in the Wind”
Point of Know Return (1977)

One of Kansas’ first acoustic songs, the iconic and wistful “Dust in the Wind” peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of April 22, 1978, making it Kansas' only top ten Billboard Hot 100 charting single.

The guitar track comes from two guitarists playing six-string guitars in unison, one in standard tuning and the other in Nashville tuning, to create a chimey sound similar to a twelve-string guitar.

Nashville tuning makes a 6-string guitar sound a bit like a 12-string guitar. In Nashville tuning, strings 1 & 2 (E and B) are left standard but strings 4 through 6 are each tuned a complete octave higher than usual. You can see how this adds stress to these strings, so the only real way to accomplish it is to actually replace strings 4 through 6 with lighter gauge strings. Typically the lighter gauge octave strings from a 12-string set are used for this purpose.

Here guitarist Kerry Livgren shares the inspiration behind the song.“One day I was sitting at home in between tours, and my wife heard me doing this acoustic fingerpicking bit. She said, ‘That sound really nice, You should make it into a song.’ I said, ‘Nah, it’s just an exercise.’ I was reading a book of American Indian poetry at the time, and happened to come across this line: ‘All we are is dust in the wind.’ It really struck me and stuck with me. I was humming that line along with this fingerpicking exercise, and 15 minutes later I had a song. I put it down on a little four-track analog tape recorder and took it to a rehearsal. When I played it for the band, there was stunned silence. Sometimes the things that happen out of a simple inspiration are far more enduring than something you might labor over endlessly ”

Here’s a live performance of “Dust In The Wind”

From the GW archive: This story originally appeared in the February/March 2005 issue of Guitar World Acoustic.