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Dusty the Kid: A folk spirit in contemporary Montana

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Dusty the Kid

Dusty the Kid, "Days of Love & Rage"

The influence of iconoclasts and icons such as Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan on American culture and music is unrivaled.

Inspired by their lines of harmony and lyrical imagery, Missoula musician Tyson Gerhardt, aka Dusty the Kid, draws from these massive quarries in his first full-length solo album called “Days of Love & Rage.”

“I think it's quite apparent that there's Guthrie and Ochs and Dylan all over the record,” Gerhardt said.

Indeed, it is essential for anyone interested in following the tradition of a street poet, social critic and pop icon such as Bob Dylan to remain remarkably attentive to lyrics and the potent powers of description. Gerhardt hopes that he has the scholarship and the soul to do this type of folk-ballad engineering — which includes an ode to labor leader Frank Little, who was assassinated and buried in Butte in 1917, and a nod to the rise of the predominant Bethlehem Steel Corp. — proper justice.

“I love stories,” said Gerhardt. “I have a lot of interest in labor history, which is why I love Butte, and general American history. I have done a lot of studies on Irish history, especially around the Irish Republican Army and the troubles. I love Irish music.”

His mother’s family hails from Ireland and his father is Romanian. Both of them grew up in New Jersey. When his father was a teenager, he hitchhiked to California and never looked back.

“He wandered around the West for most of his life,” Gerhardt said. “He was, like, a cowboy. ... My mom grew up in the '60s, and likewise, she made the pilgrimage to California. And then they wound up meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico.”

His parents eventually settled in Paradise Valley, Montana, where Gerhardt was raised with a free-spirited eschewing of boundaries. He has latched onto the music as a way of making sense out of his self-willed identity as a young man.

“This album, I really feel like I found my voice,” said Gerhardt, 26. “Since I was a teenager with punk bands, it always was very emulative, trying to sound like and write for hardcore punk bands. This project, it's the first time that I feel like I really found my musical and lyrical voice.”

The record captures of phase of growth seasoned on the streets of Missoula, where many summer nights he and friends performed at the corner of Higgins and Broadway or planted themselves on a bench outside of the Union Club.

“I think a lot of that came from playing on the street, and only having access to an acoustic guitar or banjo from traveling and lots of busking," Gerhardt said. "When the pandemic happened, I didn't have a job. I was stuck in Missoula. There was nowhere to play. So I got back into playing on the street. I've been playing on the streets since I was a kid. And in the process of that, I formed my band The Recession Special, also a bunch of buskers, and we decided to form a street band.”

On “Days of Love & Rage” Gerhardt invents and toys with a persona more detectable than one of a nameless and faceless street-playing aspirant; it’s the arrival of an assurance and range possessed by the command of independence, and confidence expanding folk’s naturalism as it tinkers with the language of surrealism. It all jibes neatly with the continuing saga of Gerhardt's relationship within himself.

“Dusty the Kid is the only nickname that’s ever been given to me,” said Gerhardt. “I have always figured that if I were to do a solo project I’d have a different name for it. I love stories. I love theatricality and an alter ego or nickname. It's always a little easier to bear heart and face if you've got a little bit of a costume on.”

Most of the material comprising the album was written during the spring and summer 2020, with the production completed in Missoula the following winter. At the time Tyson was living out of his 1984 Toyota truck, which he usually parked overnight and slept in the driveway of a friend’s house. Following a brilliant twist of serendipity, he showed how a sense of adventure can keep a stylistic experiment alive.

“Some friends from back home had just got a house in Missoula, and they were letting me take showers over there. Halloween, there was a blizzard. And they came out in the driveway and said, ‘Why don't you come live in the closet?’ So I moved into their closet at that house. And it was two of my musician friends, who figured that I should just record at the house as long as I was there. We built out the mudroom in the basement of the house to a home studio, with a bunch of scraps from Home ReSource. Quint Bishop used his great talent to engineer the album.”

Raw in its approach, Gerhardt's method succeeds in making familiar material seem fresh, the textual elements of storytelling at the forefront. Their very simplicity underscores the relief these songs call out for, the mood that prevails against the idea that surface is all, that life is but a myth.

Indeed, he isn’t as interested in being popular as he is in being felt. Primed with a newly minted sense of mission, Gerhardt said that Dusty the Kid plans to hit the road with his suitcase full of stories and take them to wherever they might need to be heard.

“The acoustic way that we've been able to make music for hundreds of years is the perfect way for me to play,” said Gerhardt. “To be able to play acoustically anywhere, to be able to play acoustically on the street, to be able to play acoustically in a pub or a concert hall. It’s a revolutionary tool and you can take it anywhere.”

Brian D’Ambrosio is a journalist and licensed private investigator. His next book, “Montana Eccentrics,” will be released in the spring. He may be reached at dambrosiobrian@hotmail.com

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