By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
So, why exactly does music back-sourced so far in time resonate with the new generation of musicians? Well, consider the crap they grew up inhaling in the pop mediasphere; an Island A&R man observed recently in The New York Times, “For young, middle-class, suburban American kids of above-average intelligence, there hasn’t been any challenging, soulful music for them, ever. It’s all either pop or rap-rock — music with no sensitivity, no intellectual heft.” You can see why the young bands might be looking for inspiration to music that hasn’t had currency with youths for decades. Also, they’re the first generation to grow up with parents who experienced the late ’60s and ’70s as teenagers. The Cuts’ singer-guitarist-songwriter Andy Jordan was born in 1980 to a couple who had met while working on the original Maximumrocknroll radio show. (Jordan’s father now owns the vintage-jazz record shop D.B.A. Brown in Oakland.)
“I’ve always been into shit that wasn’t going on right now,” says Jordan. “I was living in East Oakland with a small group of friends, and we would just listen to punk from the ’80s — the Clash, the Lurkers, the Damned. But I didn’t have a context for them. No one understood what the fuck we were talking about or doing. You know, if you don’t have dreadlocks and black clothes . . . But we loved it! Then I met Chuck, our bass player. He was obsessed with the Ramones, and if you hear about the Ramones, then you go, Oh, what’s this Ramones flier with the Pagans on it? My mom had a copy of the original Nuggets double record. It said ‘punk,’ so I was like, Oh really? Gradually I started to realize where those people — the Ramones, the Dead Boys, all those people — what they were working off of. Pictures were instrumental, ’cause you look at a picture of the DMZ and you go, These guys look cool, and they’ve got long hair . . . And then you look at a picture of Tommy James or the Shadows of Knight or Love and you go, Well, they look really cool. You could kinda see how that music really was heavy and wild as fuck at that time. All this shit just added up to some kind of aesthetic.”
When he was a teenager, the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach (born in 1980) was given a Son House record by his dad. It changed his life.
“My friends in high school were all listening to the Dave Matthews Band, smoking a lot of weed, drinking beers,” he says. “But I was in my own little world.”
Auerbach happened upon Junior Kimbrough’s All Night Long album at a local chain record store: The cover caught his eye, and the music eventually caught his ear. The liner notes, written by the album’s producer, ex–New York Times music critic Robert Palmer, led him to the local superbookstore (the kind of expansively stocked outlet that didn’t exist in the sticks prior to the mid-’90s), in search of Palmer’s definitive blues tome Deep Blues. He found a copy. The book was a lifeline.
“Deep Bluesgot me hip to a lot of stuff. I’d read about it, and then I’d go try to look for it on the Internet. Normally I could find it — like the Bear Family CD reissues from Germany. Then I started listening to Furry Lewis, and those Memphis guys, and Sam Chatmon. I got an Arhoolie comp of George Mitchell recordings, with R.L. Burnside doing ‘Jumper on the Line.’
“The Internet opens up this whole database for people to search and get wacko about music. Especially growing up in Akron, there were no good record stores. I worked at a record store that was the local independent; there were, like, four of them in a chain around Akron, and it was just fuckin’ pathetic.”
I ask Auerbach where he’d be if he hadn’t had access to all this music — if, say, he’d grown up in the ’80s instead of the ’90s.
He chuckles. “I’d probably be playing Richard Marx covers.”
Instead, Auerbach and his Black Keys partner, drummer Patrick Carney, are doing covers of Kimbrough and the Beatles alongside their own blistering, beard-rawk, soul-in-denims tunes. Thickfreakness is their second album in two years, and their first on Fat Possum (the same label that released Kimbrough’s album; in a sweet coincidence, Fat Possum last month reissued on CD those same Furry Lewis recordings that Auerbach ordered from Germany when he was a teenager).
Weirdie folk-sprite Devendra Banhart, born in 1981, found inspiration in a number of obscure musicians from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Like Auerbach, he followed trails of clues — some from older hipster friends, some from record-album sleeves and fan Web sites — to locate music that spoke to him. The Internet was invaluable.
“I could go to a record store, but you know these records aren’t gonna be there,” he says. “But if you type it in the Internet, there’s gonna be some information. First you hear about people like Nick Drake, and then you get interested in who else was published by Warlock Music, which was the publisher for Nick Drake. So I read about [doomed ’60s dust-bowl blues folknik] Karen Dalton and [sparkly pastoral Gypsy folk singer] Vashti Bunyan, and Linda Perhacs, who was like the queen-goddess-mother of the world.”