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