Dusty Rhodes: Winning You Over

At first all I had was a guitar, but when I got hit by a truck I was like, 'Yes!' and I got like four keyboards and a nice big box Buckingham amp. I got an accordion, too, and a van - a 1987 Mitsubishi. It was so cool looking; it was like a starship. If it wasn't for me getting hit by a car, we probably wouldn't be doing this.

-Dustin Apodaca

Photo by: Matt Grayson

Dusty Rhodes and the River Band
By Jake Krolick
The band's debut, First You Live, was a solid release, even if it was even more diverse than Palace and Stage, including a couple straight-up country songs. But where the band has earned its credibility over the past five years has been on stage, where Apodaca serves as a gyrating focal point, though several other members take lead vocal duties and also show off skills of their own. Guitarists Kyle Divine and Edson Choi both throw impressive licks, and also take the lead vocal duties from time to time as Andrea Babinski (her brother Brad Babinski plays bass) provides the lone female voice as well as violin and mandolin, adding another layer to an already thick mix anchored by drummer Eric Chirco.

At the show in Bend, the band kicked off with a medley of cuts from Palace and Stage then peppered in a few rootsier, almost honky-tonk numbers from First You Live. Then, they do something that pretty much sums up this band – they launch into a cover of "The Weight" by The Band, trading verses between band members, all of them returning to shout out the chorus with the crowd joining in. Next, they cruise through a string of more pop-rock influenced tunes, yet the people who've flocked to the stage during "The Weight" don't leave and are still dancing along. This is typical for Dusty Rhodes, a band that has opened for Flogging Molly AND Jonny Lang, as well as Blind Melon and Los Lobos, and can also headline a street festival like this or fit in perfectly at jammy gatherings like Wakarusa and High Sierra, as they did this summer, gaining across-the-board positive reviews (read JamBase's review of Dusty Rhodes at HSMF here).

Dustin Apodaca by Max Knies
Kyle Divine, the slender guitarist who is wearing a mustache, oversized glasses and a hoodie bearing the name of label mate Gogol Bordello when we meet, says that the band's accessibility has been both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they sometimes fall by the wayside without a genre to nestle into, but conversely, they can pretty much play anywhere and be accepted. It's a weird place to be in, and Divine realizes that.

"We've always just been about playing anywhere, anytime for whatever crowd because we know we can win them over wherever we are," says Divine, "I think it's because we have so many influences of our own that we appreciate all kinds of music."

Neither Divine nor Apodaca is a fan of the band's name, which has provided them with some strange experiences, including but hardly limited to playing with cowboy band openers and also having their lead singer mistakenly introduced as "Dusty Rhodes," which, of course, isn't his real name. The band's genesis came after Apodaca and Divine met when Apodaca was taking a community college screen-printing class with Divine's roommate. "This is where brilliant minds come together, in screen-printing class at a community college," Apodaca says of the experience, pointing out that Divine was his scholastic superior, enrolled at Cal State Fullerton at the time. They originally wanted to name the band Dusty Rhodes and the Santa Ana River Band, in honor of both the brand name of Dustin's old electric piano and the concrete sludge canal near their hometown, but decided it was too long. Never fans of the name, the band actually wanted to change their name with the release of Palace and Stage, which, for obvious reasons, wasn't realistic.

Dusty Rhodes and the River Band by Brent Murrell
"We did want to change it and we still do. But, when you're 19 you make up ridiculous names, you know, so we just kind of stuck with it," says Apodaca, who in the band's earlier days would claim his real name to be Dusty Rhodes but now says he's planning on going by Frances, his middle name, to alleviate the confusion.

As this name debate illustrates, Dusty Rhodes and the River Band is, in a way, one of the first long-term specimens of the current DIY era in music. As Apodaca puts it, they started doing things the way they wanted to do them, playing whatever music felt right, and there was really no one there to tell them to stop, so they didn't and they haven't. They haven't concerned themselves much with fitting into any given genre or meshing particularly well with any concert bill or festival lineup. But the funny thing is in being so flagrantly autonomous they have created a massively accessible brand of music with an almost confusingly broad appeal.

"Indie rock, in general, is so broad and you can do whatever you want. That's what we're going to do, and no one has really told us 'no' yet. The label hasn't told us 'no;' they've let us do whatever we want. It's almost 2010. It's about time we just get on with making music," says Apodaca, "who cares what it sounds like or what genre it's supposed to be. If it's cool, then it's cool, and if you like making music like that then just do it. If you're touring with no label or no booking agent, just do whatever you want, and that's how we started this band. Again, man, it's almost 2010. Get over the whole genre thing."

Dusty Rhodes and the River Band has been forced to cancel their current East Coast tour because bass player Brad Babinski is ill with mono and shingles.

JamBase | Dusted Up
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[Published on: 8/13/09]

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