Here's what happened when we let Rival Sons loose in a record store

Rival Sons in Dodo Beach Records, Berlin

Opened in 2013 as an offshoot of concert promoters Trinity Music, Berlin record shop Dodo Beach Records has a very straightforward mission statement: ‘It’s All About Music’.

Leaning on the counter, Rival Sons frontman Jay Buchanan casts a glance around the store, at the 30,000 vinyl albums on display, and says: “This is church, man. Record stores are where we go to feed our souls.”

It’s a Wednesday afternoon in the second week of June, and the Long Beach, California four-piece are in Berlin to support Black Sabbath at show number 29 on the Godfathers of Heavy Metal’s farewell tour The End. Loathe as we are to brag, Classic Rock can take some small credit for this pairing, due to the fact that it was at the 2014 Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards in Los Angeles where Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne first saw Rival Sons perform, duly fell in love with the band and offered to take them on the road. Today (because clearly our generosity knows no bounds) we’re in Berlin to take them record shopping, donating the princely sum of 100 Euros to help kick-start their consumerist urges.

As the four musicians dive straight into the record racks, it’s evident immediately that they’re up for the challenge, and equally clear that a budget of 25 Euros apiece won’t be nearly enough to cover their purchases.

“My parents were huge music fans,” says Buchanan, turning over a Scott Walker solo album in his hands, “and their record collection had everything from Joni Mitchell to Jimi Hendrix to Phoebe Snow to Fleetwood Mac to Jeff Beck. We were only allowed to play their scratched forty-fives, but I’d go through the albums when they weren’t around. As a little kid all you know is that these magical sounds come from these black discs that you’re not allowed to touch, and so when you got to take one from its sleeve and set it on the record player and drop the needle, it really felt as if you were being transported into this whole other zone. And I think that then becomes a life-long pursuit of learning what music is. Music is everything. It’s so beautiful that it’s just crushing.”

Rival Sons’ frontman recently relocated his family and their two German shepherd dogs from Long Beach to Tennessee. Unfortunately during the 2,000 mile road trip all four of the record players Buchanan took from California got damaged, meaning that he’s been relying purely on digital files for his music fixes ever since. Before he moved, however, the singer and guitarist Scott Holiday were regular patrons of Fingerprints record store in Long Beach, owned by their friend Rand Foster, which the pair hail as one of the best stockists of vinyl in the Golden State.

“I can just walk in and say to Rand: ‘What’s good? Give me something old, give me something new and give me something I can’t live without’, and he’ll hand me three records and I’ll take them,” says Holiday. “Or on other days I’ll lose eight straight hours in there going through everything.”

The first albums Holiday remembers buying with his own money are ZZ Top’s Eliminator (on cassette) and Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen. “I wore the shit out of both of those,” he laughs. As he flicks through vinyl in the Blues, Soul and Funk sections at Dodo Beach, pulling out records by Dr. John, Funkadelic, The J.B.’s and Parliament, it’s clear that the dapper guitarist’s tastes have diversified from straight-ahead rock’n’roll, but he freely admits that as a kid “who didn’t know shit” it was in long-defunct chains such as Liquorice Pizza and Music Plus that he got his musical education.

“You’d roll up to your local record shop and check out what the guys who looked fresh as hell were buying, and you’d end up with albums that changed your life,” he recalls. “Obviously a lot of those superstore, mass-consumer chains are gone now, but what’s springing up are collectors’ shops, vinyl shops, and they’re actually doing great. My friends who own record shops are not crying, they’re not hurting. Which is awesome, because the idea that there wouldn’t be record shops any more is tragic. I don’t think this so-called ‘return of vinyl’ is a trend, I think this is a turning of the tide. I hope so, anyway.”

From the black ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll’ doormat at its entrance to the ‘Jesus is Music (and beer)’ slogan painted on a kitsch crucifix adjacent to the New Releases section, it’s clear that owner Thomas Spindler has designed Dodo Beach as a proper ‘destination’ record shop. When it opened, in April 2013, Spindler freely admits that friends considered him “crazy”. But his faith has paid dividends, with today’s busy lunchtime crowd a testament to the shop’s burgeoning success. Browsing beneath Queens Of The Stone Age, Pentagram and King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard posters, below the Velvet Underground, Springsteen and Sonic Youth box sets, there’s a wealth of fabulous curios to be discovered, from the Cambodian Cassette Archives’ Khmer Folk And Pop Music Vol. 1 compilation to Chug-A-Lug: Blues & Rhythm, Popcorn, Exotica And Tittyshakers Vol. 8. While bassist Dave Beste pulls out Bjork and Stereolab albums for inspection, in the Jazz section drummer Michael Miley spots a triple-vinyl pressing of his friend Kamasi Washington’s 2015 debut album The Epic, and immediately snaps a ‘selfie’ with the album to send back to the Californian saxophonist.

Drummer Michael Riley in vinyl heaven

Drummer Michael Riley in vinyl heaven
(Image: © Ross Halfin)

“I could spend all day sifting through the Rock section, so I like to put blinkers on and look for specific things,” says Miley, clutching albums by Billie Holiday, Chet Baker and Miles Davis. “I played in a jazz band in high school and college, and when you immerse yourself in that culture you just get indoctrinated, and you learn about all the musicians that play on the records. I could name you all the Miles Davis eras, for instance, purely by his drummers.”

Raised on his father’s record collection – “Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, The Eagles, Kenny Loggins… yacht rock, basically” – Miley was nine when he got his first drum kit, and received a gift certificate to Music Land, in Fullerton, Orange County alongside the purchase, which he subsequently spent on Mötley Crüe’s Shout At The Devil and Madonna’s self-titled debut album: “I wanted to groove and
I wanted to rock,” he explains with a smile. These days his record collection is split between homes in California and Estonia, but with Rival Sons’ intensive touring schedules, he freely confesses that he rarely has time to immerse himself in his records at either location.

“We listen to music in two distinct ways these days,” says Scott Holiday. “We want to take five billion tracks everywhere with us, so we put them on our phones. Plus we have proper audiophile set-ups at home, where you can flip through your records and sit down and read through the jacket and just let the music sink in. The CD is outdated, it’s over. When we make a record now we’re thinking of vinyl, in terms of presentation and layout and sequencing and artwork.”

Mention of making records naturally brings the conversation around to Rival Sons’ new album, Hollow Bones, the much anticipated follow-up to Great Western Valkyrie, which was chosen as 2014’s Album Of The Year by both Classic Rock’s writers and its redoubtable readers. Having received acclaim from Jimmy Page and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, among others, Rival Sons are undeniably one of the rising stars of the modern rock scene, but if the quartet are feeling the pressure of expectations, there’s little sign of it on their loose-limbed and powerful fifth album.

“Our music is for rock’n’roll fans,” Holiday states simply. “If you’re tired thumbing through your mum and dad’s record collection, we’re here to remind you that there are still bands out there making great rock’n’roll, and I’d like to think we’re one of those bands. If you want to buy a record from a band that doesn’t fuck around, that makes hard-core rock’n’roll, maybe you should check us out.

“Respect only comes one way,” he adds. “You earn it. If you want to show that you’re something special, prove it. We’ve played with Purple and Priest and Aerosmith and AC/DC. And each time, we can feel the struggle at the start of the show where we’re having to turn people on, and by the end people are out of their seats having a good time and we’ve done our job. It couldn’t be more obvious to us that we’re picking up fans every time we hit the road. Respect isn’t free and it’s not cheap, but we’ll earn that respect and we’ll fucking command it.”

The truth of Holiday’s words will be apparent later this evening, when Rival Sons step out in front of 22,000 Black Sabbath fans and proceed to shrink the beautiful Waldbühne amphitheatre down to club size with a poised, passionate and fearless performance which captivates all in attendance. “Do you know what it’s like to open for Black Sabbath?” Jay Buchanan asks at the outset. “No you don’t. But I’m going to tell you: it’s incredible.”

If record shops are where these Californian musicians got their education, it’s on the road where they’ve translated their deep-rooted love of music into something genuinely special in its own right. That reverence and respect for music which Jay Buchanan recalled when first placing black vinyl discs on his parents’ record player remains intrinsic to the music that Rival Sons make, but their determination to succeed on their own terms and carve out their own niche in rock history is palpable.

“When you play with your heroes, sometimes you do think: ‘Wow. How did this happen?’” admits Dave Beste. “And then these people become friends, and that’s even weirder. But we’re not just here to honour the past, we have ambitions of our own to do something special.”

There are 30,000 records in Dodo Beach Records, and when Hollow Bones is released there’ll be one more. So why should anyone seek it out in the Rival Sons section when they have the entire history of rock’n’roll to choose from here?

“That’s very simple,” says Beste, with a smile at his bandmates. “Because our record is better than all thirty thousand of those records combined!”

How did Rival Sons allocate their budget?

“We should all just pick Led Zeppelin IV,” Scott Holiday laughs when Rival Sons are set their shopping task. In the end the four musicians selected albums which reflect the diversity and depth of the Californian band’s sound.

Jay Buchanan (vocals)

The Meters – Fire On The Bayou (1975)

“The Meters are an incredible band and this is just a great record. And it’s got the bonus tracks here, like Keep On Marching, which is one of my favourite songs ever. I have this on CD but it’s nice to have it on vinyl now too.”

Scott Holiday (guitar)

JB’s – Food For Thought (1972)

“This is a great, great record by one of the finest bands ever… And it comes with a bonus forty-five, which is a nice touch. The beauty of music is that you can always keep discovering albums that will blow your mind. So if anyone hasn’t heard this, I guarantee it’ll change your life.”

Dave Beste (bass)

Stereolab – Dots And Loops (1997)

“I’ve been a fan of Stereolab since the early 2000s, and this record in particular is wonderful. When you’re a musician there’ll always be someone trying to turn you on to new music, so I think I just heard this first from someone passing records around.”

Michael Miley (drums)

John Coltrane – Newport ’61

“This has only three songs on it, but what a record. It features Elvin Jones, one of my favourite drummers ever, and it’s Coltrane at his very best. I don’t get an opportunity to perform jazz much, but if we ever had some proper time off I’d love to put a little jazz project together.”

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