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Robert Finley

Bernice, Louisiana's Robert Finley is a singer/songwriter and guitarist delivering traditional blues and soul music with elements of R&B and gospel. He performed semi-professionally for decades before going on hiatus to better support his family. He returned to music in 2016 and issued his debut album, Age Don't Mean a Thing, on producer Bruce Watson's Big Legal Mess label. In the aftermath Finley was introduced to Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and the pair became easy collaborators. They composed and released a soundtrack for the graphic novel, Murder Ballads and followed with the album Goin' Platinum! in 2017 for the Nonesuch-distributed Easy Eye Sound label, which Auerbach co-wrote, produced, and played on. After touring together, in 2018 Finley headlined his own shows. The following year he was selected to compete on national television in America's Got Talent--without going through the preliminary auditions -- and in 2021 issued the autobiographical Sharecropper's Son, and the composed in studio Black Bayou in 2023. Finley was born the son of Louisiana sharecroppers in 1954. He developed an early affinity for gospel music and purchased a thrift store guitar at age 11, beginning a lifelong obsession with the instrument. He learned to play by ear and eventually began writing his own songs. Frequent visits to gospel quartet groups had a major impact on him, and his musical abilities flourished during his teens. In 1970, age 16, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Originally enlisted as a helicopter technician in Germany, his skills were quickly recognized and he was soon moved to guitarist and bandleader duties for the military band -- touring with them across Europe and performing songs by artists such as Issac Hayes and Marvin Gaye until he was honorably discharged. Upon returning home, Finley found work as a carpenter and pursued his artistic passions in his spare time; he also worked as a street performer, and led the gospel group Brother Finley and the Gospel Sisters with their own Sunday morning radio show, and then the Young Gospel Brothers. He sometimes played in all three groups, doing three church services weekly. He’s continued to play churches and house parties since. After decades working a day job, Finley was forced to retire from carpentry -- he was losing his eyesight due to glaucoma. By chance he met a member of the Music Maker Foundation (an organization dedicated to promoting the careers of blues musicians) who assisted him in making a return to playing live music. Despite his time playing around the South, Finley's real break didn’t happen until 2015, when, at the suggestion of a friend he attended the King Biscuit Blues Festival. He talked his way into getting to play for five minutes on a side stage. After his riveting performance, everyone wanted to know and/or play with him. Thanks to the success of that live show, Finley met Bruce Watson of Big Legal Mess. Watson brought Finley to Memphis and recorded his debut album, Age Don't Mean a Thing, with the city's premier session outfit, the Bo-Keys. It was issued on Big Legal Mess in late 2016. Written entirely by Finley, reviews of the album were compared to the early work of artists such as James Brown and B.B. King. Given the positive critical response, Finley was able to tour regionally, and along the way met the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. They hit it off and promised to work together. When Z2 Comics presented Finley with the opportunity to compose an original score and record a soundtrack for the graphic novel Murder Ballads, he enlisted Auerbach as a co-writer, producer and guitarist. The collaboration worked so well, Auerbach signed Finley to his WEA/Nonesuch- distributed Easy Eye Sound and produced Goin' Platinum! his sophomore album. Released in 2017, it received glowing critical notice across the globe and allowed for Finley to tour with the Black Keys and to headline some important club and festival dates on his own during the following year. In 2019, at the age of 67, Finley was invited to perform on the reality show competition America's Got Talent without going through auditions. Afterwards, Finley went right back to work touring but in 2020 was sidelined when the global Covid-19 pandemic made that impossible. He began writing a series of autobiographical songs alone and with Auerbach. The producer was motivated by the songs and music Finley was turning in, and enlisted veteran songwriters Bobby Wood and Pat McLaughlin to provide further assistance. After assembling a crew of veteran session aces, Finley recorded in Nashville in late 2020. On May 1 of 2021, Finley performed the title track to Sharecropper's Son on CBS This Morning's Saturday Sessions. The finished album, and third produced by Auerbach, was recorded by country engineer M. Allen Parker, and released by Easy Eye Sound on May 21. Finley toured and played a few festivals in in the aftermath, while the record won glowing reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2023, Finley traveled to Auerbach's Easy Eye Sound in Nashville to cut a fourth album together. Deciding to change up the creative process a bit, they entered the studio without songs. Producer Auerbach played guitar and led a band that included drummers Patrick Carney and Jeffrey Clemens, bassist Eric Deaton, guitarist Kenny Brown, and vocalists Christy Johnson and LaQuindrelyn McMahon—the female singers are Finley's daughter and granddaughter. The musicians worked quickly, devising individual parts spontaneously, usually nailing a song in one take. The finished project, the 11-track Black Bayou, depicts life in northern Louisiana, with Finley as a charismatic, knowledgeable tour guide taking us through the terrain, swamps, and way of life.
© Rob Wacey & Thom Jurek /TiVo
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