Every creative craft requires paid dues. What I mean by that is that it requires time, effort, some sacrifice and some struggle to go along with genuine talent. Since the ‘70s, Bernice, …
Every creative craft requires paid dues. What I mean by that is that it requires time, effort, some sacrifice and some struggle to go along with genuine talent. Since the ‘70s, Bernice, Louisiana’s Robert Finley has been paying his dues but over the past few years it looks like those dues have started to pay off. After the release of his debut album, Age Don’t Mean A Thing, back in 2016 he became connected with Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys and the record label Easy Eye Sound, who then produced his next two albums including Sharecropper’s Son that came out last May. On January 30th, he’ll play some songs off of those records at Askew on 150 Chestnut Street in Providence with I & R featuring Coventry native Josh Cournoyer opening up the show.
Finley and I had a talk ahead of the show about growing up with gospel music, three tracks off the new album that originally started as one, a gig in Germany that opened a lot of doors and always staying positive.
Rob Duguay: You grew up in Louisiana with gospel music, so how much do you consider the church and the choir to have an influence on you as a musician?
Robert Finley: It still does have an influence on me, whenever I’m not on the road I still attend church and I still sing in the choir. You don’t forget where you come from and I think it has quite a bit to do with everything, I would say, because I’m still in the choir.
RD: When it comes to blues and soul music, do you think they’re symbiotic with gospel and the church when it comes to the roots of it all?
RF: In the roots of it, yeah. When I play music they call it blues but I call it the truth and as long as it’s true it doesn’t matter how they label it. As long as it’s real, it’s something that people can relate to. Anybody who grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, even if they were not there, they know what the farm life was about. Not being able to go to school or just going to school for a few months out of the year in between raising and harvesting and there ain’t that much in between.
There’s always something growing too big for the field and there’s always something that needs to be picked so there wasn’t a lot of downtime. There’s always something to do and the work is never done. You have to be putting up corn and stuff for the winter along with what you have to put up for yourself and your family. The farm animals have to eat all winter too so you have to put some corn in the barn or some hay in the barn for them. The history books will tell the story, but nobody bothers to read them anymore so I think the reason why [my new album] Sharecropper’s Son hit the charts so fast is because so many people have been down that road and been there and done that and they know it’s the real deal.
RD: It’s a great record and I really enjoyed listening to it. What was it like working with Dan Auerbach on the album?
RF: It was a lot of fun really because most of the time it was laughter. As long as he was getting the music he wanted, and he knows what he wants, and you can hit the notes then there weren’t any problems. He’s a fun guy to work with and the easiest I’ve ever worked with. I’m in my 60s, he’s in his 30s and for us to be able to connect along with everyone else who was in the studio with us was special. Songs like the title track, “Country Boy” and “Country Child” gave me the chance to tell my story my way and everyone involved was kind of like “It’s your story, it’s your life and you gotta tell it and we’ll just put the music to it.”
Nobody else can tell your story but you because you’re the only one who has experienced it, not in life but in your perspective. You got to hold your own row and you’re the only one holding your row so you’re the only one who knows what you had to go through. The guys were super great to work with and we had some fun, we didn’t take all the airtime for the writing of the songs so it took longer to produce and create the music than it did to put the lyrics down. Like I said, all I had to do was tell my side of the story but the music had to be created because what I like about Easy Eye is that they don’t believe in their music sounding like any other musician’s music. You’re not going to hear another song that sounds the same unless it was produced by someone else.
I do have a couple songs on the album that sound similar but that was intentional because we started off singing one song and as the story got more and more interesting we kept telling it until we had to break it down and make three different songs out of it. Those were three songs I previously mentioned, they each were done at the same time. That came from being creative and freestylin’, there wasn’t a lot of pen to paper and writing notes on those particular songs. The band and I were just warming up in the studio, everybody liked it so everybody kept playing and when we did finally stop and laugh about it, it was way too long to get any radio play so that’s why we cut them down while still telling the whole story.
RD: It’s really unique that you were able to make one long song into three different songs while also having a fun atmosphere while making it, which is great. You’ve had a very interesting music career, you spent time in the Army and you were part of a band there and you’ve toured with a lot of different musicians over your career since the ‘70s. What do you view as your proudest moment of being a musician?
RF: I think the first time I performed in Germany, I’d guess. I was a 19 year old soldier away from home in a foreign country and I didn’t know anybody. I just happened to check out a guitar and once I started playing it people started coming closer and closer to me. Next thing I know, a guy walks up and says “You wanna play in our band? We got a show tomorrow.” I didn’t know any of their music, I didn’t know anything about anything but they said “Look, we don’t have a guitar player and we don’t have a lead singer so you just sing and play what you know and we’ll back you up.” We had a couple hours of rehearsal and then we had to do a show, which was for the whole battalion so everybody was there with their families.
I had an opportunity and I was put on the spot to do the show but when it went over great, that opened so many doors. I didn’t know anybody in a strange land and then everybody started to know about me, but I still didn’t know anybody. It opened so many doors for me and it gave me opportunities to where I got a chance to do things I wouldn’t have had a chance to do if it weren’t for playing music.
RD: That’s awesome. After this upcoming run of shows that you have going on until February, what are your plans for the spring and summer? Are you working on any new music?
RF: I never really stop working on new music. Every minute brings the possibility for a song and I try to write about real life, not the imaginary stuff. I try writing about things that I know people can relate to and stuff that I would want to know so it’s not hard to sit down and basically make a song, I just need the music. There’s always something to talk about that’s positive and if you got an opportunity to get the world to listen to what you’re trying to say then by all means focus on trying to say something positive. The world has got enough negativity in it as it is, people have enough problems so they don’t really don’t want to hear your problems.
That’s why some people don’t like the blues because they think it’s always the same story and nobody wants to be sad. Nowadays you can look at the blues, soul, R&B and all of them together and it’s up to the songwriter on what they’re singing about. You can have the greatest voice in the world but if your song doesn’t make sense, you still miss the point. It’s really important that you tell a story when you write a song, it needs to be like a novel. When a person listens to a song it should be like they’re listening to a short novel because they need to get something out of it, they need to have a happy ending or a way out.
There’s people right now today that are struggling harder than I was picking cotton back in the ‘60s because there’s still hard times. There’s still homeless people, so when you do something positive it gives those people hope. I’ve played for 50 years before I was recognized well enough to be a rock star but it’s the consistency that’s always worked, never quitting and never giving up. When people tell you that you’re not going to make it and you should give up, that’s a sign that you should try a little bit harder. When people go around talking about you, don’t take it negatively regardless of what they’re saying because if they wake up in the morning to talk about you with all this stuff going on in the world you gotta be pretty important.
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