Patrick Carney & Dan Auerbach, The Black Keys, Musicians


The Black Keys At the 55th annual Grammy Awards, The Black Keys scored a rock ‘n’ roll hat trick, winning Grammy’s for Best Rock Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album. Akron natives Dan Auerbach and Patr ick Car ney could revel in performing their band’s hit song “Lonely Boy” with Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the live, televised awards ceremony, knowing all the time, effort and passion that went into getting where they are, and that things weren’t always as glamorous.

“They’ve worked very hard, had great music from the start, and knew they were lucky to come around at a certain time,” attests Jim Carney, Patrick’s father. “I still can’t believe that it’s happened the way it has that they are known around the world.”

Back in the late ‘90s, when they were just young guys who grew up together jamming in different bands and working odd jobs like most of their friends, they were certainly lucky that the original drummer was more interested in his girlfriend than the deeply blues-inflected rock music Dan was driven to make. When said musician didn’t show up for a recording session in the Carney’s basement, Patrick sat down behind the drum kit, despite not having any formal instruction. The rest, as they say, is rock history.

“Every time Dan would come home from Patrick’s house, he was very enthusiastic, because they were playing stuff closer to what he loved than anyone else he had played with,” recalls Chuck Auerbach, Dan’s father. “Anything that helped him get close to that really raw, barebones, hypnotic sound that he wanted made him very happy.” The band’s innovative music is rooted in the northern Mississippi blues of Muddy Waters, Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and the Fat Possum blues recording artists, with a little ‘60s guitardriven “garage rock” and a dash of Led Zeppelin power barrage in the mix.

They officially formed as The Black Keys in 2001. The low-pressure, no-expectations environment of Akron allowed the pair to refine and perfect their sound and write and record as they wished, leading to their first album, The Big Come Up, on an independent label in 2002. They also played their first gig at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland shortly afterward.

“At that time, they were juxtaposing this Akron punk rock legacy with a downhome blues sensibility, and it was just very powerful,” remembers Cindy Barber, owner of the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern and 2007 Arts Prize winner, who also helped the young musicians land their first booking agent and manager. “They both have tremendous energy on stage, and even from that early point, you could see their band was going to command attention.”

Since that time, The Black Keys have released seven albums, five of which they recorded in Northeast Ohio, and switched to the highly respected blues-based label they admired, Fat Possum, and then to the major label Nonesuch in 2006. Throughout that time they never allowed their music to become locked into the blues or blues rock traditions. Instead, they experimented sonically, blending their stripped-down sound with hip hop, funk and soul. Their music has continued to evolve and grow together, and that makes them special, too, according to David Giffels, an accomplished musician himself who’s known the two for many years from the Akron band circuit. “The thing that’s hard to put into words is the authenticity that they have as musicians,” says the assistant professor of English at the University of Akron and 2010 Arts Prize winner. “There’s something completely natural about them, and they’ve been careful not to become affected or turn themselves into rock ‘n’ roll caricatures.”

During the decade of the 2000s, The Black Keys toured extensively, usually cramped in a van, playing for audiences all over the country and drawing rave reviews wherever they performed. In 2003, they even crossed the Atlantic to perform on John Peel’s program on the BBC’s Radio 1 in front of 200 people packed into a little club in Brighton, England. “Man, that was unbelievable, seeing them play for an audience in England,” says Jim, who timed a trip to visit his wife’s family in England with The Black Keys’ first European appearance.

Most music pundits consider 2010 their breakthrough year, with the recording of Brothers, which soared to #2 on the Billboard Top 200 and garnered two Grammy Awards. Released at the end of 2011, their next album, El Camino, reached an even wider audience, won the three Grammy’s mentioned above, and achieved certified Platinum status from the Recording Industry Association of America (RI AA). Internationally, the record is Gold in Belgium, Spain and Holland; Platinum in Ireland, France and the UK; and double Platinum in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The band was also named the #1 most-played artist at Alternative and AAA radio formats for 2012. “The Akron, Ohiobred pair… have for the last decade tapped into the rich, deep well of American roots music and have proved over and over again that they understand the Truth of rock and roll, blues, country and western, and rhythm and blues,” wrote Randall Roberts in the Los Angeles Times.

The Black Keys now make their headquarters in Nashville, TN, to give them easy access to a greater range of some of the finest musicians on earth, should they need them for recording. Currently, they are almost finished with an extensive European and American tour and are taking time this summer to record their next album.

“They remain very independent souls,” concludes Chuck Auerbach. “They are certainly aware that commercial success has helped them, but they’re still only going to make the music they like, not what someone else tells them to make.” Jim Carney claims he never saw the band’s international stardom status coming, despite watching their audience numbers and performance venues get bigger each step of the way, “I don’t think there was ever a point where I said, ‘Wow, they’ve made it,’” he reveals, adding with a laugh, “I guess they have now.”


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