Last year, Dan Auerbach turned down a lucrative tour with the Black Keys: “I was going crazy playing the same songs every night.” Instead, he hunkered down in his Nashville studio to work with some of the city’s session greats. The result is his excellent LP Waiting on a Song, which he recently discussed on the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast. Here’s a guide to the album’s biggest influences.
Auerbach recently started having “picking parties” at his home in Nashville’s West End neighborhood. One guest was McCoury, 78. A veteran of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, he is one of the last living links to bluegrass’s golden era. “He flies Bill Monroe’s flag hard,” Auerbach says. “I was raised on the Stanley Brothers. I didn’t know that you can’t be in both camps – bluegrass beef, man.” Those parties pushed Auerbach to start writing on acoustic guitar. “It couldn’t be a fragment supported by studio magic,” he says. “I wanted to be able to sit down and just play ’em and have them work. I’ve never been able to do that.”
Auerbach loves both garage-punk icons the Cramps and swamp-blues great Junior Kimbrough. Both have a common influence: Feathers, the Mississippi rockabilly great who scored hits like 1955’s “Peepin’ Eyes” for Sun Records. He also arranged hits for Elvis, but clashes with boss Sam Phillips got him fired from the label. Auerbach isn’t surprised Feathers never broke big. “It’s menacing. Scary, really,” he says. “It’s the kind of music that gets played before somebody jumps out of the closet and stabs you in the heart.”
A couple of years ago, Auerbach went to see Prine – most famous for trippy folk songs like “Angel From Montgomery” and “Hello in There” – at Nashville’s Station Inn. “It was like I was hearing him for the first time,” Auerbach says. They booked a session. Prine doesn’t write much anymore, so they decided to sing about writer’s block. Auerbach calls the song they recorded together, which became the title track to the LP, an “instant singalong.” “It was just great to be around supreme creativity,” he says. Auerbach learned to work fast: “We’d only go about an hour and a half before we’d have to go eat, then you try to close the deal when you get back from lunch. John knows where meatloaf is every day of the week.”
At Sun Records, Clement discovered Jerry Lee Lewis and wrote classics like Johnny Cash’s “Ballad of a Teenage Queen.” Later, as a producer, he became what Auerbach calls “a magnet for a lot of the pot-smoking, hippie country guys in Nashville.” Several of those musicians play on Auerbach’s LP, and Clement’s apprentice David “Fergie” Ferguson co-produced (Clement died in 2013). “He wasn’t afraid of being quirky,” says Auerbach, describing how Clement used Hawaiian lap steel and conga drums on records. He also championed Charley Pride, the first black country star, in the Sixties. “That was his idea – everyone else said no to [Pride],” says Auerbach. “He was a genius.”
“A fucking awesome soloist,” says Auerbach of Eddy, whose 1958 instrumental “Rebel-Rouser” is a twangy staple (its echo was achieved by recording inside a water tank). Eddy puts his trademark licks on Auerbach’s stomper “Living in Sin.” Their friendship was forged over buffalo burgers. “He said he met Elvis in Vegas, and Elvis said, ‘Do you know any way I could get away from the Colonel? I need a new manager.’ ”