Nashville is a city unlike any other in the world. The sheer level of musical talent lingering in just about every corner is staggering. Without even knowing it, you could be sitting down, plowing through a plate of hot chicken at some local joint staring face-to-face with some anonymous session guy who played on records with Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, or damn near every other towering icon of American music that the mind can imagine. You’d have to be crazy not to harness that depth of experience and knowledge for your own purposes right?
That’s certainly what Dan Auerbach believes. On his 2017 solo album, Waiting On A Song, The Black Keys’ frontman brought together a collection of some truly esteemed musicians that practically nobody, except for the deepest of deep plants in the music industry, are aware of. We’re talking guys like drummer Gene Chrisman and one of the finest Wurlitzer players in the world, Bobby Wood – collected together they’re called the “Memphis Boys” – who played on Dusty Springfield’s immortal “Son Of A Preacher Man.” That’s not to mention more well-known commodities like guitarists Duane Eddy and Mark Knopfler, or the legendary John Prine.
Even more interesting, Auerbach has taken these studio rats out on the road for a new live show called the Easy Eye Sound Revue. I caught the show in Chicago and while remaining aware of the caliber of the musicians onstage, I was still blown away by the tightness of the band as a whole and precision of the playing in particular. In a live setting, with a little more room to stretch their legs, songs like “Cherry Bomb” and Auerbach’s paean to Rick Rubin, “Malibu Man,” take on whole new dimensions of power and force.
The star of the show, however, isn’t even the man at the center of it all. No, it’s his most recent discovery, an older soul singer named Robert Finley, who due to his poor eyesight needed to be guided out onstage by a roadie. But once he found his place, the power of his voice and the size of his personality filled the 2,000 seat Riviera Theater. Shrieking, cajoling, and tipping his cap in a flame red shirt, Finley might as well have been the reincarnated spirit of rock’s wildest wild man, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Clearly, Auerbach is enjoying his time away from the Black Keys, and the wealth of songs he has cooked up — allegedly in the hundreds — his current delight is a sure sign that he’s in no rush to re-enter the studio with his bandmate, Patrick Carney, anytime soon. After the show, I had the chance to catch up with Auerbach and talk about the guys he’s playing with these days, the concert that changed his life, and what he wants to do with the goldmine of musical material he’s sitting on.
I really enjoyed the show! I know you worked with these guys in the studio, were you at all concerned about how that chemistry would translate to the stage?
Man, I just felt so blessed that I even got to hang out with them and that they even considered coming out just to begin with, you know what I mean? So yeah, I mean everything else was gravy.
How did you collect this group of people to work with you?
Word of mouth. Like most of the music I hear, I hear from friends. Someone’ll tell be about some artist or something.
What is the dynamic like between all of you?
It’s just like buzzing. When you’re in the studio, it’s incredible because that’s all they’ve done their whole life is make records. And make interesting records. They made my favorite records. They’re still just completely on fire, obsessed with it. I guess the first time I was ever around a musician that made my eyes bug out of my head was when I was in the studio with Dr. John the first time. I’ve never seen somebody make an instrument…like he made a little electronic keyboard sound like it was alive.
I can only imagine.
When I’m in the studio with all these guys, it’s like every single one of them is on the same level as Dr. John was. So it’s just like a dream come true.
It’s crazy you brought up Dr. John. I’ve been on kind of a kick of his music lately and love that album that you worked on with him.