Inside Dan Auerbach's Old-School New Solo LP

Black Keys guitarist recruits legendary sidemen for an album saluting Music Row's raw heyday

Dan Auerbach, Duane Eddy and John Prine (front, from left) at Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville. The Black Keys guitarist discusses why he took an old-school approach to making his upcoming solo LP. Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

It's not often you see Dan Auerbach dancing. Yet he can't help but snap his fingers and shuffle across the checkerboard floor of his Nashville studio, Easy Eye Sound, as he blasts "Waiting on a Song," a three-chord singalong featuring female backing vocals and a frenetic solo by 78-year-old guitar legend Duane Eddy. Eddy, sitting nearby, says it sounds even better than it did when he recorded it. "That's not how I remember it," he cracks.

Auerbach is holding a listening party for the musicians who played on his first solo album since 2009 (due in the spring). They include bassist Dave Roe (who for 22 years backed Johnny Cash), plus drummer Gene Chrisman and pianist Bobby Wood, both of whom played on hits by Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley as part of Memphis' American Sound Studios house band. "I learned so much from these guys," Auerbach says, calling the album "a whole history of everything I love about music."

Auerbach moved to Nashville in 2010, producing acts like Ray LaMontagne and Lana Del Rey at Easy Eye. But as he became familiar with the town's history, he found many of its veterans still had a lot to offer. Last summer he spent Mondays through Wednesdays co-writing with John Prine and David "Fergie" Ferguson (who engineered Cash's American Recordings releases). Then, from Thursday through Sunday, he'd hit the studio. He emerged with about 60 songs, including "Malibu Man," a tribute to friend Rick Rubin, and "Shine on Me," featuring rhythm guitar from Mark Knopfler. Though Knopfler sent in his track from England, the rest of the LP was done live: "These guys tell me they're genuinely thrilled to be here because we're making records like they used to," says Auerbach.

The process re-energized Auerbach after years of heavy touring with the Black Keys. The Keys are still on break. "It's hard to turn away money, but you have to recharge," he says. But he doesn't hesitate when asked if he'll tour his new record: "How can you not?" he says with a smile.