Dan Auerbach's 63 Year-Old Protégé Robert Finley Shares Soulful Video 'Medicine Woman': Interview
Louisiana-based singer Robert Finley is a prime example that talent only improves with age. The 63 year-old has teamed up with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys for his sophomore album Goin’ Platinum!, along with a studio full of seasoned musicians who have recorded with the likes of Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, among others -- a fitting lineup, since many of the same artists were featured on Finley’s favorite albums from his childhood.
Finley’s work with Auerbach sounds like the ideal juxtaposition of the textbook Black-Keys-groove with larger-than-life blues vocals. It seems only fateful that a video of Finley performing to a street crowd in Arkansas made its way to Auerbach, and started Finley’s long-awaited career in music.
Auerbach has nothing but praise for Finley, who he quickly signed to his label Easy Eye Sound. “I realized very quickly Robert’s capable of doing so much more than old blues songs. He’s a blues guitar player, but when he puts his guitar down, you could set him in front of an orchestra and he would sing just as good as Ray Charles on the first take," he says. "He has that magnetic hugeness about his voice and just knows where to put it in the pocket, always.”
Finley tells Billboard that, while the new sound he worked on with Auerbach was completely foreign to him, that he’s giving this once-in-a-lifetime chance all he has. “This dream is going to come true or it's going to wake up a nightmare, but shoot the best shot,” says Finley. His album title, Goin’ Platinum!, is exactly what he plans to do with this chance at his childhood dream of being a singer. While in the studio, he explained, “I looked over on the shelf and I see seven or eight Grammy's on the shelf and I'm like, 'Okay man, I gotta get me some of these. How do I go about getting them?’ So I said it as a joke. I said ‘We goin' platinum,’ and Dan thought it was a great name for the album.”
Today, Finley shares the visuals for Goin’ Platinum!’s lead single “Medicine Woman.” Watch the video, and read the full Q&A below.
How did you get connected with Dan, and how did your working relationship get started?
I met Dan through music, and we didn't have any problems working together at all -- it was great. He's an excellent songwriter. You know, my vision is kind of messed up, he would have to tell me in my ear the words and that was kind of an experience 'til I got it memorized. But other than that I thought it was a great experience 'cause, but people call it work, but this was a musical fun time. Creative time, I would say. Kind of was outside the box for me 'cause it was totally different from what I'd been doing but I enjoyed doing it.
What does your process for writing and recording usually look like, and how did that sort of change when Dan came into the picture?
Well, I guess it's just like being an actor or whatever, you gotta pretty much get yourself in the tradition of the artist and try to capture the feeling that they had, and try to be convincing telling somebody else's stories. That's another thing. I mean, telling it is okay, but you gotta tell it to where you know it's convincing. In other words, you gotta feel it in order for the audience to feel it. Gotta put yourself in that situation or that position. I'm trying to go from there. But I'd say it was a fun experience.
It was new and kind of surprising, 'cause we did it a lot faster than we anticipated. I would say once we passed the first song or whatever we kind of got used to one another. I guess that was the biggest thing was trying to put myself in a position that he was in and try and deliver the song with a convincing attitude which I felt went over pretty well. And I think I become the character so it was a great, great experience.
The music was outside my comfort zone and I was definitely having to break new bounds so it was a challenge, but a great challenge. It was something that you don't know you can do until you're put into a situation with the opportunity to do it.
I think that was the greatest part with me, was trying to capture the moment, capture the character and then be able to play it, I guess. 'Cause a great song should be like reading a short novel, the song should tell a story. All the songs that Dan wrote had great meaning to them, so it wasn't hard. It comes natural when it's something you always wanted to do anyway -- when you're living your childhood dream.
How do you think entering the music industry so much later in life affected your approach/attitude going into it? You definitely have an extended approach to getting into the industry.
Well to be honest, things are happening so rapidly in the success, I think now at this age I'm more mentally prepared and so it was easy to deliver, where at a young age I don't know if I would have taken it as sincere. Because when you're young, you think you've got forever to do things. But at my age now, I feel like every shot I shoot needs to be my best shot 'cause it could possibly be my last shot.
I feel like I'm more sincere and take things more serious at this age than I would have at a young age. And I don't know if I would have been mentally even prepared to have a success at such a fast level, fast rate. Because all of this is kind of like happening overnight. It's like, two years ago, we're coming out with the second album, and two years ago this was still part of the dream. Watching the dream unfold to reality is a rewarding experience.
It's hard to find the right words to describe. It’s an experience you pretty much just have to live to get the 100 percent understanding of. 'Cause I think out of all the people in the world, this was an opportunity that was given to me at this age in my life. It's just overwhelming to even be considered. Because you go from kicking it on the sidewalk and singing in the church choir and the next thing you know, two years later you're hanging out with rock stars and it's a whole different atmosphere. But the greatest thing is these guys kind of just opened up and took me in, and I'm just so grateful they took the time to hear what I was saying.
I guess it's all about being in the right place at the right time. Out of all the places in the world I could have been and things I could have been doing, here we were on the sidewalk having fun. It was really just something to do to relax your mind. I never though it would have reached to this capacity, to where we are now. I'm really convinced that dreams come true.
What were some of your formative albums and artists you listened to growing up that really shaped your music taste?
I listened to everybody from James Brown to B.B. King, Bobby Bland, The Temptations. I guess I heard more Tyrone Davis and Joe Simon, basically what was playing on the jukeboxes at the little club down the street -- but I wasn't allowed to play it at home. But the neighborhood we lived in, you couldn't help but hear it because of the jukeboxes in the juke joint down the street. But you know, you'd learn it, you'd imitate it. I listened to everything from The Beatles to… as a matter of fact, some of the guys that played with me now, Elvis Presley, some of the guys on one of my albums actually were in Elvis Presley's band.
With these guys, every song you name, it was like somebody had recorded on it or somebody pretty much had something to do with all the great hits. And here I am at this age, it's almost too good to be true. I'm sitting across the table from all these guys at my age, at 63 I was the youngest in the band -- you know, other than Dan. So he brought in the best of the best and it really made it, it was just a great opportunity because he had some of the greatest musicians in the world right there in the room. With an opportunity like that you give it your best shot and I was, like I said, honored to be chosen so I knew that it was a situation now or never.