In February, Dan Auerbach is hitting the road with the Easy Eye Sound Revue featuring Robert Finley, Shannon Shaw, and special guests Shannon and the Clams. We recently caught up with the Black Keys singer-guitarist – whose latest solo LP, Waiting on a Song, came out last year – to discuss his five favorite songs where the first line is also the title, à la his own “Never in My Wildest Dreams.”
Robert Finley just has one of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard. I first heard it when someone sent me a video of him singing on the street that they’d taken at some blues festival. I just kept it in my files in my brain and then like a year later I was offered the opportunity to do a soundtrack to this graphic novel Murder Ballads, which is about this fictional juke-joint singer. I immediately thought of Robert. We did that whole soundtrack, but it was too good to leave it as a soundtrack, so we kept going and cut a whole album. “Medicine Woman” was one of those songs. He just knocked it out of the park. Every time he opened his mouth in front of the microphone he filled up the control room.
This was a big jam for me when I was a little kid. I loved that song and loved all the Beatles movies. I would watch them whenever I stayed him sick from school. They had a big impact on me growing up. I sort of feel like all Beatles songs are unique. They didn’t stick to a formula, which I loved. They were always trying to do something new. “Help” is like that for me. Everyone in the band was so naturally charismatic. They were such stars. I don’t know how they had all that confidence as 20-year-olds. You couldn’t groom kids to be that good. They were so funny onstage and on camera, always joking and looking cool, but also goofy at the same time, which is the perfect combination, always.
This song was cut with of the greatest studio bands of all time and one of the best producers ever, Willie Mitchell. And Al Green makes it so special. There’s something about his recordings from this time. They tapped into something special. They had their own sound. There were all those other places in Memphis that were cutting records, but his always sounded so cool. The horns were really in your face. All the playing was really subtle since they were grooving so hard. It must have been the most perfectly oiled machine, that studio, to get a feeling across like that so consistently. You can only do that having a regular band that plays together all the time.
“Love and Happiness” is a hybrid of gospel, but it’s a really personal style of gospel. It’s not the big Ray Charles gospel-pop thing. It’s this intimate thing, which is different. It makes you feel like you’re soul-searching when you listen to it. It’s less about being uplifted, but looking inside yourself.
Don worked with this band for his whole recording career, just like Al Green. Those guys transformed Nashville. Nothing sounded like these records in Nashville when they came out. It was the first time anyone was playing conga drum instead of a drum kit. It’s a lot like “Love and Happiness” in that it’s so intimate and light and soulful. It gives those songs so much more depth and meaning. They feel more genuine.
When they were putting together Don Williams’ records, they worked for almost a year trying to come up with a sound. Allen Reynolds, the producer, told me they’d keep taking things away, breaking it down. The bassist doesn’t do walk-ups in the choruses. There’s no flair anywhere. They just bring it down to the bare bones and that’s what gave Don Williams his whole thing, when they stripped everything back. Allen told me that’s when he started to have success is when he stopped listening to the radio and stopped caring and tried to make something he believed in.
“Blue Skies” is just a good song off a really good record. It’s an old song, not really Willlie’s, but he did have a Number One hit. It’s crazy someone could take a Broadway song from the 1920s and have a Number One hit in the 1970s with it, an outlaw country guy. I still think that is is possible, though. A good song is a good song. If you have a good performance by someone with charisma it can reach the masses.
I’ve learned that when you stop listening to what everyone else is doing you create your own voice. Nobody typifies that like Willie Nelson. When he started he was signing like everyone else. At some point he was like “fuck it” and started singing like Willie Nelson and he’s been on the Mount Rushmore of country ever since.