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Black Keys

Rock music and advertisers have had a checkered relationship. In fact, for a long time there was no relationship at all. Musicians often didn't want to license their songs for commercials because they felt it cheapened their "art." When publishing contracts allowed songs to be used without a band's permission, it was the fans who got up in arms. And even when a group/performer wanted to license a song, they asked for a fortune.

So why spend half your advertising budget to use a tune that might tick off fans, the very people you're trying to reach? Maybe a better course is to find an up and coming band that will license their music cheap and appreciate the exposure.

Though Black Keys' "Girl Is On My Mind" was heard in an '06 Sony Ericsson ad (for mobile phones), it was Victoria's Secret's use of "The Desperate Man" that turned heads, and not because the commercial featured Heidi Plum (OK, maybe it was mostly Plum).

Formed in Akron, OH, the one-time bowling capital of America, Blues-Rock duo Black Keys were part of the early 00's lo-fi movement (stripping away all the technical enhancements to get to a more organic or real sound). Oddly, they didn't acquire their name from a piano (the black keys are the flats or sharps, depending on the key). Turns out, the group took their moniker from a term an artist friend used to describe things he didn't like or trust.

Black Keys' 02 debut, "The Big Come Up," was recorded in 14 hours in Pat Carney's basement using an '80s Tascam deck. And just as planned, that's exactly how it sounded.

"Thickfreakness" rolled out in 03. "Set You Free" wound up in the Jack Black flick School Of Rock. "Rubber Factory" was 04's effort and a live DVD recorded in Sydney, Australia, arrived a year later. Paying tribute to Mississippi Blues musician Junior Kimbrough, Black Keys recorded six of his songs for the May, '06, EP "Chulahoma." A few months later (September), the full-length, "Magic Potion," the group's first release on Nonesuch records, dropped.

'08 saw the arrival of "Attack & Release." The set, produced by Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), featured the single "Strange Times." There was concern Danger Mouse, a Trip-Hop innovator, might alter Black Keys sound. Considering DM founded the hugely successful Gnarls Barkley (with Cee-Lo) and produced "The Grey Album" (his remix of "The Beatles - White Album" and Jay-Z's "The Black Album") to say nothing of his solo career, had Black Keys fans on edge. But Danger Mouse had also produced Sparklehorse's "Dreamt For Light Years In the Belly Of A Mountain" ('06) and The Good, The Bad And The Queen's self-titled debut ('07), so Black Keys weren't entirely unfamiliar turf.

Prior to the arrival of "Attack & Release," Black Keys embarked on a successful tour which resulted in the Black Keys Live At The Crystal Ballroom DVD. Then the pair busied themselves with outside projects. Auerbach issued his solo debut, "Keep It Hid" and Carney joined Drummer, a band consisting of Ohio-based drummers. For this project Carney played bass. Their debut album, "Feel Good Together," was also out in '09.

A year later, Black Keys regrouped to issue "Brothers" which sold over 73,000 copies in its first week landing at #3 on the Billboard Albums chart. Also, the single "Tighten Up" topped the US Alternative charts. It was later named the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 53rd Grammy Awards.

Rolling Stone magazine placed "Brothers" at #2 on the Best Albums of 2010 list (behind Kanye West's 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"). Meanwhile over at Spin magazine, The Black Keys were the Artist of the Year for 2010.

"Chop And Change," which was not on "Brothers," appeared on The Twilight Saga: Eclipse soundtrack. The Black Keys then released an iTunes Sessions which was part of a series of live albums released exclusively on iTunes. And to round out the year, they received Grammy nominations for Best Rock Song and Best Alternative Album (which they won).

In March, '11, Black Keys began work in Nashville, at Auerbach's studio, on their seventh studio effort, "El Camino." They took a break from recording to headline the 10th annual Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, TN.

"El Camino" featured the single "Lonely Boy" which Auerbach described as "raw, driving, and back to basics." The accompanying video, which logged slightly less than four million YouTube views, had a man dancing outside his office while lip-syncing the words to the song.

Meanwhile, the album sold 206,000 copies in its first week to debut at #2 on the Billboard Album Chart (behind Michael Buble's "Christmas"). It was a career best for the duo.

At the '13 Grammys "El Camino" was awarded the Best Rock Album honor while "Lonely Boy" won Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song.

Black Keys issued a six-song EP in '12 titled "Tour Rehearsal Tapes." The set featured live-in-the-studio versions of four songs from the platinum-selling "El Camino" ("Dead And Gone," "Gold On The Ceiling," "Lonely Boy" and "Run Right Back"), and a pair of tunes from "Brothers" ("Next Girl" and "Tighten Up"). The EP, recorded in late '11 while prepping for an upcoming tour, was initially available exclusively on iTunes.

Not everything was in harmony. Auerbach went through a nasty divorce in '13. His ex-wife, Stephanie Gonis, received $5 million. But here's the kicker. She was also awarded one of Auerbach's prized possessions - a lock of Bob Dylan's hair.

The band began recording what would become "Turn Blue" in January '13 as Auerbach waded through the emotional wreckage and being a single dad. That difficult period was reflected in the '14 release which contained the title track single and "Fever."

"Turn Blue" went straight to #1 on the Billboard 200, selling 164,000 copies in its first week. It was the Black Keys' first album to top the chart.

Not ones to sit on their laurels for very long, Auerbach produced Lana Del Ray's '14 album "Ultraviolence." Meanwhile, Carney played drums on The Rentals single "Thought Of Sound."

Auerbach then found a project that was probably more trouble than it was worth. He agreed to serve as the director and executive producer of the documentary Smokestack Lightning: The Legendary Howlin' Wolf, a film honoring the late Blues great. But left following budget disputes.

The film's production company sued Auerbach accusing him of a breach of a verbal agreement, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unfair business practices and negligent misrepresentation. The company sought $100,000 in damages.

In June of '17, Auerbach returned to music with his sophomore solo album, "Waiting On A Song." The set featured the track "Shine On Me" with guitarist Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits).

Black Keys Discography

Studio Releases:

2002 The Big Come Up
2003 Thickfreakness
2004 Rubber Factory
2006 Magic Potion
2008 Attack & Release
2010 Brothers
2011 El Camino
2014 Turn Blue


2004 The Moan
2006 Chulahoma: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough
2006 Your Touch - The EP
2012 Tour Rehearsal Tapes

Grammy Awards:

2011 - Awarded Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Tighten Up".
2011 - Awarded Best Alternative Music Album for "Brothers."
2011 - Awarded Best Recording Package for "Brothers."

The genius of the Black Keys is that they can take fans down familiar roads and make it all sound fresh and spontaneous.

Auerbach must have spent half his life listening to late 40's/50's Chicago Blues. He does a good job channeling the sound through his down and dirty guitar and crude recording techniques. Seeping through is what sounds like a pre-Zeppelin Jimmy Page, when the then-session guitarist occasionally issued a Blues track.

Due to the sparse arrangements (though the guitar is sometimes double tracked) and the absence of a bass player there is an improvised, loose, open feeling to Black Keys songs. It's like listen to a couple musicians in a dank club at 1:00 am.

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