The Black Keys
More Recommended If You Like
Very few bands “make it.” Far more toil in relative obscurity, only sometimes earning a fan base and a living wage for their art. Many of these little- or under-known acts, though, are the inspiration for or the compatriots of those bigger acts that make it. Thus, The A.V. Club’s Recommended If You Like, where we start with a bigger band—Mumford And Sons, for example—and run down a few acts that the bigger band’s fans might be into.
To call The Black Keys’ career trajectory from bluesy muck-rock oddballs to legit rock stars surprising would be a kind understatement. From garage and arena rock to soul, rockabilly, and blues, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney welcome a lot of diverse influences into their comparatively limited palette. Funk along with The A.V. Club as we take a look down influence lane in time for the Keys’ show May 16 at the Bradley Center.
Fat Possum Records
The beginning is always the easiest place to start, and oftentimes the most obvious. Of all the styles and musical genres the Keys welcome into their musical realm, blues is the one that jumps out and coldcocks listeners in the jaw. Whether fans prefer the scrappier work of the duo’s earlier days or the more streamlined sounds of albums like Brothers and El Camino, they’re bound to hear not-so-subtle nods to various blues gurus throughout, with names like Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, and Buddy Guy springing immediately to mind. But try turning that aural attention to Fat Possum Records, which during the ’90s and early 2000s turned out some stellar records from Delta blues heavyweights like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Both artists walked a fine line between keeping to the traditional Delta sound and satisfying their need to get their rocks off, so it’s easy to see where Auerbach and Carney got the inspiration to mash the two philosophies together headfirst. Kimbrough in particular proved to be a kindred spirit to the Keys, whose 2006 release Chulahoma was an all-covers record dedicated to the late bluesman.
Flat Duo Jets
While the two-person garage blues phenomenon has made sizable stars out of both the Keys and The White Stripes over the past decade, Dexter Romweber gets a lot of the credit for originating the form. As the driving creative force behind the rowdy shit-kicking sounds of the Flat Duo Jets, Romweber, along with drummer Chris “Crow” Smith, were more than a decade into their minimalist rock antics before the Keys and Stripes captured all the glory. The Jets’ music had a much more deliberate early American rock ’n’ roll lean to it, kind of like Link Wray on speed, but the duo made a strong case for how much hell-raising fun you could have with a small setup.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Nobody has had as much fun fucking with traditional blues and turning it on its ear as Jon Spencer, who during the ’90s made a valiant career as a punk-infused blues-rock renegade. Albums like Extra Width, Orange, and Now I Got Worry were freakish trips on the wild side, with Spencer and company perilously throwing together their love of noise and garage rock with more traditional blues and rockabilly styles. Did it always work? Nope. But when it did, it’s hard to find more delirious fun on record. While Auerbach and Carney have never dared to get as weird as Spencer, the Keys’ early records definitely share his love of all things loud.
Some have lamented the Keys’ deviation from their trash-rock roots in recent years, but a sonic leap forward was more or less inevitable for the duo. Enter Brothers, which saw much of the duo’s then-patented stoned riffage replaced with the softer, more sophisticated sounds of ’60s and ’70s soul and R&B. Bits and pieces of Al Green, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding found themselves occupying space on record previously reserved for the likes of Hendrix and Zeppelin, but it was Curtis Mayfield whose influence really found its way into the Keys’ newer, glossier sound. From Auerbach’s sultry guitar work to his soulful vocals, Superfly’s presence is hard to miss.
Left Lane Cruiser
There are more than a few bands working today that share the Keys’ flair for ugly blues rock. Fort Wayne’s Left Lane Cruiser is one such act perfectly suited for fans who miss the days when Auerbach used to sport long hair and that rank beard. The band’s 2007 record Bring Yo’ Ass To The Table is purebred scuzz blues. Without an overdub in sight, it’s a great listen for anyone stubbornly waiting for Thickfreakness Part II.
Cambridge, Massachusetts isn’t quite the natural safe haven for blues as Chicago or even Akron, but the Tarbox Ramblers have been turning out mud-caked southern rock and blues there for almost 20 years to virtually no complaints. Michael Tarbox might not look the part of a seasoned bluesman, but dude can do work with a slide. Another natural fit for those jonesing for that early Keys sound.