Formed in Akron, OH, the one-time bowling capital of America, Blues-Rock duo Black Keys (Dan Auerbach – guitar/vocals and Pat Carney – drums) were part of the early ‘00s lo-fi movement (stripping away all the technical enhancements to get to a more organic 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.
“Thickfreakness” rolled out in 03. “Set You Free” wound up in the Jack Black flick “School Of Rock.”
Jumping ahead, ’08 saw the arrival of “Attack & Release.” The set, produced by Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), featured the single “Strange Times.”
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), so Black Keys weren’t entirely unfamiliar turf.
A year later, Black Keys issued “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 U.S. Alternative charts. It was later named the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the 53rd Grammy Awards.
“Chop And Change,” which was not on “Brothers,” appeared on “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” soundtrack. 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.
In addition, “Lonely Boy went platinum (one million sales) in ’13 and double platinum eight years later. “Gold On The Ceiling,” another single from “El Camino,” hit the platinum mark in ’18 then took just three years to go double platinum. Finally, “Little Black Submarines” achieved platinum status in ’21.
But 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 Black Keys began recording what would become “Turn Blue” in January ’13 as Auerbach waded through the emotional wreckage from the divorce 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.
After a five-year break, the longest of their career, the Keys issued ‘Let’s Rock’. Carney called the album a “homage to electric guitar.” The single “Lo/Hi” simultaneously topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock, Adult Alternative, Rock Airplay and Alternative Songs charts – a first.
The album debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200 on first week sales of 52,000 units.
“Delta Kream” (pictured at the top of the page), a covers album of Blues songs (the Keys’ roots), dropped two years later. John Lee Hooker, R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough were among those represented. The set went straight to #1 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart while the title track single debuted at#6 on the Billboard 200.
The band’s 10th album was recorded in Nashville “in about 10 hours” over two afternoons at Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound studio.
The Keys eleventh album, “Dropout Boogie,” a ’22 release, went to #8 on the Billboard 200.