Like The Black Keys? Dig Their Musical Roots
The Black Keys
What a wonder prime time slots at Coachella two years in a row will do for you.
Everything's coming up Milhouse for The Black Keys these days. The blues/indie/garage group played a sold-out show at Mesa Amphitheatre last year and will return to a much larger venue in October. Thanks to the success of Brothers and El Camino, the boys from Akron, Ohio, are scheduled to perform on Tuesday, October 9, at US Airways Center.
The band has managed to break through to the the mainstream, a rare feat for acts not called Foster the People, though their band's formula -- a pinch of Delta blues, some garage rock, and a dash classic soul, is nothing new. It's the kind of a sound that's always had a place on the rock 'n' roll FM dial. Which isn't to say that the band rips anything off. Rather, they blend influences like craftsmen, and are quick to shout out their reference points (check out songwriter Dan Auerbach's spot-on production for Dr. John and Nathaniel Mayer).
Indeed, the Black Keys' stew is a tasty one. Let's take a closer look at some of the ingredients.
Without Junior Kimbrough, The Black Keys may not exist. I'm sure Dan Auerbach still would have still ended up making music, but it wouldn't sound quite like the end result of The Black Keys. Kimbrough is probably the greatest influence on The Black Keys' sound -- just listen to his raw guitar style and soulful vocals. Case in point, their EP Chulahoma is a tribute album to Kimbrough.
Another of the classic Fat Possum/Alive bluesmen, James Lewis Carter "T-Model" Ford is clearly an influence on Auerbach's vocal stylings. Plus, dude's a straight badass. He has 26 children, he served on a chain gang in his early years, and he taught himself how to play guitar after his fifth wife left him. He didn't have any formal guitar training -- he just imitated Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, resulting in an utterly unique style.
Burnside and his contemporaries were once described as "present-day exponents of an edgier, electrified version of the raw, uncut Delta blues sound. Sounds a lot like a description of The Black Keys (who were also influenced by Jon Spencer, who blew out the speakers with Burnside as part of the burgeoning punk-blues movement of the late '90s/early '00s).
Wait, what? On the surface, The Black Keys aren't funky enough to be in the same category as Mayfield, but his influence can be heard on El Camino, especially in the chorus of "Gold on the Ceiling." It may not be Super Fly, but "Gold" would be a great candidate for a retro music video.
Captain Beefheart is subtle influence that can be heard in The Black Keys' song structures and offbeat-but-soulful guitar style. The Keys' similar arrangements can really be heard in their cover of "I'm Glad."
Add Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard to Captain Beefheart and you have a supergroup that would sound a lot like The Black Keys. Gibbons and Auerbach both have a quick and dirty approach to guitar, as well as similar vocal styles. No wonder Gibbons asked The Black Keys to help out on the next ZZ Top album.
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