The Black Keys; The Big Come Up

Two Akron, Ohio kids growing up in the same neighborhood, only houses apart, spent the majority of their adolescence running in different crowds. With occasional interactions, unaware of their mutual passion for the Blues, the likelihood of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney becoming close friends was slim. Nothing less than fate could have aligned these two outstanding musicians in a mutual time and place. Just as Carney has said, “most things in this band are just random accidents,” the Black Keys made their way to international fame with raw talent, inspired tunes, and a bit of serendipity.

Near the end of their high school career, Auerbach’s brother (same age and close friend to Carney’s brother) informed him that Patrick Carney listened and played the same genre of music that Auerbach enjoyed. Not to mention Carney had a drum kit and a four track recorder; the perfect recipe for a jam. It wasn’t long after that Auerbach carried his guitar and amplifier down to Carney’s house and the two instantly clicked. Meeting on random occasions and recording music that sound warped, as if the speakers had been blown, the Black Keys unknowingly began to craft their signature sound.

About a year after graduation, Auerbach and Carney had drifted apart and were experiencing similar stages in life. Equipped with the post high school blues and uncertainty for the future, neither Black Key were motivated about additional education and spent the large majority of time skipping class and obsessing over music. At that time Auerbach was playing in clubs around Akron with a cover band who was in need of recording a demo tape to heighten their chances of obtaining gigs. Knowing Carney had a recording system, Auerbach scheduled a time for his band to meet at Carney’s and record the demo.

As time ticked by it became apparent that Auerbach’s band was not showing. Ready to record, Auerbach began to jam with Carney the way they had on several occasions not too long before. Stripping down and bastardizing licks and riffs they’d heard from Mississippi Blues artists like Junior Kimbrough, the Black Keys spent the rest of their day manipulating and experimenting until they found a sound that felt right to them. Most of all, they were having fun.

A few days after their session, Auerbach called up Carney and pitched the idea of them sending out their unplanned demo to twelve or thirteen record labels, hoping that there may be a sheer chance that someone might appreciate their disorderly and fuzzy sound. Someone did. Patrick Boissel, owner of the small indie record label, Alive Records, received the Black Keys demo and a letter stating, “We the Black Keys have put this demo together, we hope you like it. We’ve been playing shows in and around Cleveland, Ohio. We are young, naïve and road-ready! You can reach us by phone or email. Thanks for your time.”  Funnily enough, they hadn’t been playing shows around Cleveland, they actually hadn’t played any shows together at all. “A white lie,” says Auerbach while he stifles a laugh. A white lie that proved to be worth it.

Their first album, The Big Come Up was released in 2002. The years following that debut, the Keys proved to make up for the shows they had lied about when searching for a record deal. Traveling by van, playing countless gigs, and fighting the jabs provided by some who felt they were nothing but a White Stipes knock off, the Black Keys spent several years spreading their sound and gradually gaining a fandom.

As the years flashed by, several Rock sub-genres came and went. From garage rock, dance rock, and emo rock, the Black Keys never strayed from their iconic sound but continued to evolve and become more proficient at their craft. In 2010, with Rock N’ Roll music at its least popular point since its conception, the Black Keys released, Brothers and proved that rock music was still desired by the masses. In 2011 they followed up their massive hit record with another. This album, El Camino cemented the Black Keys presence in the popular music realm and as a household name.

Acquiring a total of four Grammy’s, with millions of album’s sold around the world, The Black Keys managed to find their stride, their groove, and their moment. Successfully resurrecting sounds from the past and dipping them into a pool of fresh, experimental interpretation, these boys, almost unknowingly, convey the intent of Rock N’ Roll music. To share, inspire, and pass on the music that has bonded us all. “It’s not supposed to happen to a band like us. It’s really not,” said Carney. Well we sure are glad it didn’t happen to anyone else.

–Victoria Shaffer


“The Big Come Up: The Black Keys Relive Their Accidental Start.”, uploaded by Rolling Stone, 13 May 2015,
Hiatt, Brian. “The Rise of the Black Keys.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 19 Jan. 2012,

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