Sound Advice: The Black Keys' Cincinnati Connections Set to Electrify Riverbend Music Center

Don't miss the garage blues artists who have teamed up repeatedly with Cincinnati musicians.

click to enlarge The Black Keys - Photo: Alysse Gafkjen
Photo: Alysse Gafkjen
The Black Keys

Before becoming global sensations, the Black Keys were home-state garage blues heroes who ultimately made several lasting connections in the Cincinnati area.

The Akron duo of guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney had music in their DNA from the start – legendary cult guitarist Robert Quine was Auerbach’s cousin, and saxophonist Ralph Carney, who played with Ohio art rock unit Tin Huey, Tom Waits and many others, was Carney’s uncle – but they quickly established their own credentials with their first recordings as the Keys.

The duo’s acclaimed third full length, 2004’s Rubber Factory, named for the abandoned tire-manufacturing plant which served as their recording space at the time, featured a liner note thanking “Thee Creepy Shams,” a reference to local garage rock trio Thee Shams, who shared many early local/regional bills with the Keys. Thee Shams, led by bassist/vocalist Zach Gabbard and his guitarist/vocalist brother Andrew, soon morphed into Buffalo Killers, and the band maintained close ties with the Keys; Auerbach produced their 2008 album Let It Ride and Buffalo Killers opened for the Keys on major tours.

As the Keys’ sonic complexity expanded in the studio, they added a coterie of musical friends to flesh out their live sound. For the past several years, the Gabbards have been vital components of the Black Keys’ touring band.

The Keys also crossed paths with local polymath Brian Olive, who contributed to the sessions for Auerbach’s side project, the Arcs. Olive used Auerbach as his co-producer on his sophomore solo album, 2011’s Two of Everything, and Auerbach then invited Olive to participate as a horn player on the sessions for iconic New Orleans artist Dr. John on his Grammy-winning 2012 album Locked Down, which Auerbach produced.

Given all this, there are plenty of reasons to witness the tour for the Black Keys’ heralded new album Dropout Boogie, the latest entry in the band’s 21-year history and 11-album catalog. There’s the opportunity to see the Gabbards in action before their own tour sets sail with the newly christened Gabbard Brothers, the off chance that Olive might pop up for a saxophone cameo, or just the thrill of seeing one of the country’s most engaging purveyors of punkish garage-tinged blues and rock.

The Black Keys perform at 7 p.m. Sept. 3 at Riverbend Music Center. Doors Open at 5:30 p.m. Band of Horses and Early James will open the show. There are no COVID-19 protocols. Info: riverbend.org.

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