The Black Keys

  • Blues rock band formed in 2001 from Akron Ohio. The members are Dan Auerbach (guitar, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums). Both co-write their songs.
  • The duo grew up in the same neighborhood, and they became friends in high school. In 1996, they began to jam together – Auerbach was learning to play guitar, and Carney had a drum set and some recording equipment. Auerbach had a love of blues music, while Carney was influenced by indie bands and more eclectic artists like Devo and Captain Beefheart. Both briefly attended college, but dropped out. Auerbach began to perform at local bistros around Akron, and realized that he would need to make a demo tape if he hoped to book shows outside of town, so he asked Carney to help in 2001. Carney agreed to make the recording if Auerbach recruited the other musicians for the session. None of them showed up on the date of the recording, so Auerbach and Carney recorded some blues music on their own. The demo was sent to a dozen indie labels, and one based in Los Angeles signed them without without actually visiting them.
  • They chose the name The Black Keys because an acquaintance who suffered from schizophrenia would leave them incoherent  messages on their answering machine, referring to their fathers as “Black Keys” such as “D Flat” when he was mad at them. In 2002, they played their first show in Cleveland in front of 8 people. Three months after signing their record contract, they released their debut album, The Big Come Up, recorded in Carney’s basement with an 8-track tape recorder. The 13 songs included 8 original tracks and covers of other blues songs. They didn’t sell many albums, although the record label reissued it frequently after the band became popular. They started cutting grass to try to save money for a tour to support the album, and soon they had a cult following. Critics reacted favorably to their music, and they signed with another indie label.
  • Their second album, Thickfreakness, was recorded in Carney’s basement again, in a single 12 hour session. After the group performed at the South by Southwest music festival in March 2003, Thickfreakness was released the following month. Three singles were released, but nothing charted, though critics loved the album, with Time magazine naming it the third-best album of the year.
  • Over the next 4 years, three more albums were released. Slowly, they gained traction – 2008’s Attach & Release album peaked at #14 on the Billboard 200 album chart, but their singles still were not getting much attention. In 2009, Auerbach and Carney dabbled in side projects as they dealt with tensions between each other. By the middle of that year, they reconciled and started performing together again.
  • In 2010, they moved to Nashville and established a recording studio. In May that year, they released their sixth studio album, Brothers, and they had their breakthrough. It reached #3 on the album chart and eventually was certified 2x platinum, driven by 2 singles – Tighten Up peaked at #1 on the Alternative Songs chart, and Howlin’ For You reached #3 on the chart. Brothers won the Grammy award for Best Alternative Music Album, and Tighten Up won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.
  • Their most successful album was 2011’s El Camino. The singles Lonely Boy and Gold on the Ceiling both topped the Alternative Songs chart, and Little Black Submarines peaked at #2. The album was certified 2x platinum, and it won a Grammy award for Best Rock Album and it was nominated for Album of the Year. Lonely Boy was the Grammy for Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song and it was nominated for Record of the Year.
  • The Black Keys released 2 more albums during the 10s – Turn Blue in 2014, and after a lengthy hiatus, Let’s Rock in 2019. Each album included a single that topped the chart – Fever in 2014 on the Alternative Songs chart and Lo/Hi in 2019 on the Rock Airplay chart.
  • After years of just getting by, The Black Keys are a mainstream success. They are headlining tours – their 2012 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York sold out in 15 minutes. They performed on SNL twice in one year. Their music has been licensed to scores of commercials, television shows, film and video games. Here’s the video to their Grammy winning song Tighten Up – this video won the 2010 MTV Video Music Award for Breakthrough Video.

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