Dan Auerbach was in his Easy Eye Sound studio in Nashville producing an album for the soul singer Robert Finley when he had the urge to call his drummer in the Black Keys, Patrick Carney. Guitarist Kenny Brown and bassist Eric Deaton, who played with bluesmen R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, respectively, were together in the same room at Easy Eye and Auerbach couldn’t resist the chance to jam on the vintage blues songs that shaped the Black Keys with the very men who played them. “It was just too much. I had to call Pat and invite him over,” says Auerbach. The unexpected result is Delta Kream, the Black Keys’ 10th studio album. “I wasn’t thinking about making a record… We just wanted to play some of these songs that we loved. That’s what this record is. It took us a day to do it. Most of the thing is first or second takes.”
Delta Kream celebrates the Hill Country blues of northern Mississippi, particularly the songs of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Why do those two players deserve a closer look?
They were so pivotal in our careers, Pat and I. It’s what brought us together. It was the concentric circle, where on the outside, he and I liked totally different things, but in the middle it was Junior and R.L. We could drive down the highway all night and listen to them. It was just endless inspiration for us. We loved how raw it was, we loved how simple it was. Sometimes it’s got like the charm of [Sixties female rock band] the Shaggs, sometimes it sounds like the Velvet Underground or the Grateful Dead. And it’s hypnotic.
The sessions happened a few weeks after the Black Keys’ Let’s Rock Tour ended. Were you and Pat musically in lockstep after being on the road for a year?
Yeah, man. I feel like we’ve been on a pretty good wavelength recently. We didn’t talk about making this record. Absolutely zero conversation. And then Pat walked in the room and we just banged it out. We’ve always had this connection. It’s part of who we are.
You never got the chance to see Kimbrough play live, but you did make a pilgrimage to his juke joint in Chulahoma, Mississippi. How old were you?
I was like 18. I went with my dad down there. That’s when his son Kenny told us that [Junior had] been sick and he had like a leg amputated a couple of months earlier. We had no idea. But [Kenny] said, “My brother is in jail right now. If you loan us money for the bond to get him out, we’ll pay you back. And he plays all Dad’s songs.” And it was David Kimbrough. So I heard all of Junior’s songs and it was really amazing.
Did you put up the money for his bail?
Yeah, it was like $24. They paid us back at the end of the night.
You sing in a really high falsetto in “Going Down South.” Where does that come from?
Falsetto has always been a natural thing for me to do. I like singing falsetto. I loved high harmony in bluegrass, which is what I grew up listening to my family play. I love soul music when they’d do the falsetto; Smokey Robinson is probably my favorite Motown artist. I think the first time I tried to do it on record was on Brothers with “Everlasting Light.” It was just so simple and fun. I’ve been doing it ever since.