Plugged In: Dusty Rhodes and the River Band


Plugged In: Dusty Rhodes and the River Band

Written by Chrissy Mauck


Photo by Joseph Armario

Forget about pigeonholing Dusty Rhodes and the River Band into any one particular genre. The Fullerton-formed indie outfit is just at home opening for Flogging Molly as they are Blind Melon, Brand New or even the Aquabats.

“It’s just straight up good music,” says the band’s drummer Eric Chirco. “I think it’s for anybody who likes different styles of music. We’ve really been able to capture a lot of people who you’d think wouldn’t be into our music. We might play in front of a total punker crowd or an older hippy crowd and I think they all see our show and leave thinking, ‘Wow, that was good music.’”

Indicative of their crossover appeal, the diverse sextet was honored at the Orange County Music Awards in March as the Best Country/Americana Band, Best Rock Band and Best Live Band.

“I think the reason why we are able to reach out to so many people across different genres is because of this childlike energy that we have,” shared vocalist/guitarist Edson Choi. “It’s very disarming. A lot of these kids are like, ‘These guys don’t give a f–k about being cool; they are just having fun doing their thing.’ We are really about the music and really about putting out good energy so I feel like people naturally respond to that.”

But despite carving out a comfortable niche on the local SoCal music scene, Dusty Rhodes and the River Band have struggled to build a strong following elsewhere. Given the unique phrasing by lead singer Dusty Apodaca, their collective creative songwriting, pitch-perfect harmonies, fine musicianship and that good vibe Choi referenced, we’re of the opinion that Dusty Rhodes and the River Band is long overdue some national exposure.

So allow us to introduce this sensational bunch of misfits.

There’s the goofball Apodaca, who could easily replace Kevin Heffernan in a sequel to Super Troopers, but plans to run instead for the Anaheim City Council this fall. The band’s frontman initially had his keyboard and equipment bankrolled by the settlement he received after getting hit by a car on his way home from a parking lot shift at Disneyland.

“I was riding my scooter and a car ran this red light and I kind of ended up on top of this guy’s hood,” shares Apodaca. “I got enough money out of it to buy equipment and so I decided to go to Fullerton Junior College to meet people and start a band.”

Through school, he eventually met Choi and guitarist/vocalist Kyle Divine. Best known as the guy who got a cheese tattoo on TLC’s popular show LA Ink, Divine received a cash settlement after getting smashed by a car and losing 19 inches of his small intestine.

“I was working at Trader Joe’s and I was unloading a delivery truck and walking backwards in the parking lot with a hand truck forklift when this car hit me from behind,” shares Divine. 

Despite the horrific incident, Trader Joe’s proved to be an excellent place to recruit band members. It’s where Divine met Andrea Babinski, whose whimsical voice and haunting violin work shine so brightly on the band’s new eponymous album, and where Babinski met Chirco.

Just over a year ago, Babinski convinced her older brother Brad to come back from Argentina — where he was studying Spanish — to play the bass in the River Band, thus rounding out the current lineup.

“I had been a fan of the band for many years,” said the elder Babinski. “So I thought why not come home and play live music and go on the road with them. It’s been a really fun experience and definitely worth it to be able to play with my little sister.”

Random tidbit, the Babinski siblings also share in the dubious distinction of having been hit by cars. Brad was on his skateboard when he met moving steel, while Andrea was testing out her new bike (a birthday gift from Divine) when she got drilled. 

“I got hit by a guy going to a frat party,” says Andrea. “Kyle had built this bike for me and it was my very first ride ever on it and it just got totaled.”

Life on the road hasn’t been any easier for this passionate but basically broke bunch. As much as they love touring, it often means crashing on the couches of strangers and rolling out sleeping bags on hardwoord floors. And that’s if they’re lucky, because when they’re not, it means uncomfortable nights in the van.

“It’s hard sometimes,” says Andrea. “You wonder how much longer you can go on trying to make this dream really happen.”

In fact, because of finances — or lack thereof — the band put a stop to releasing a movie that would have ideally accompanied this summer’s CD release.

Purchase the new album at Amazon or CD Baby.

“The only thing I can think to compare the movie to is how Magic Mystery Tour was a full movie with a soundtrack album, although the album in itself is a great album,” Divine says. “That’s kind of what we’ve been working towards. It’s beautiful what we’ve shot so far.”

Fans can still get a glimpse of the band on film by checking out their new disco-themed music video for up-tempo rock number “All One.”

“It’s got a lot of energy and sums up our band really well,” says Divine of the tune. “In the first minute, you know there are three harmonizing singers and then just this guy (Dusty) being crazy. It’s a good thesis for us.”

In terms of energy, Divine is absolutely right. But in terms of range, “All One” is merely one tentacle of the band’s third studio project, which earns an A+ for originality. The album offers infectious folksy-tunes like “Dear Honey,” soulful ballads such as the David Karesh-cult inspired “Branch Davidians,” the country bluegrass-sounding “Leaving Tennessee” and the accordion-driven closer “Highest Mountain.”

“‘Highest Mountain’ is actually a really old song for the band,” shares Choi. “Dusty and Kyle wrote it and it’s one of the songs that really won me over when they first asked me to play with the band. There’s this coffee shop in downtown Fullerton, it’s closed now, but I saw them play one weekday night and it started raining and they started playing this waltz song. It’s a great song with simple lyrics, and it’s really got a lot of charm. So it’s one of the oldest songs that we play and to have it come out on this new record, something about it just brings things full circle.”

The chorus to the song is also significant for a band looking to finally break out: “And it’s been so long,” croons Apodaca on the album finisher.

And that it has. Dusty Rhodes and the River Band formed back in 2002. Eight years later and three studio albums deep, it’s time for everyone to plug-in and give this multi-faceted indie band and their new album a thorough listening.



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