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American Routes Shortcuts: Robert Finley

Robert Finley
American Routes

At 65 years old, Robert Finley is finally getting his due. After serving in an Army band, working as a carpenter, and busking, Robert’s talents were discovered in 2015 by Music Maker Relief Foundation. He released a debut album, “Age Don’t Mean a Thing.” He later connected with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who produced the next one, “Goin’ Platinum.” Robert Finley took us back to his youth in Winnsboro, Louisiana.

Robert Finley: My dad was a sharecropper so I picked my share of cotton. You know, we were poor but we didn’t know it. It was a happy poor.

Nick Spitzer: Now you grew up with gospel music initially. Talk a little about church and gospel and your feelings about the lord and the spirit.

RF: Hey man, you know quite naturally I’d have to be a crazy man to say I didn’t have faith and didn’t believe because I’m living my childhood dream now. My dad was a deacon, and we went to church, and if you want to sing, you sing in the choir. He didn’t allow us to play the blues on the radio, no less talking about singing it.

NS: Now you, I understand, went to the store at eleven years old with money your dad had given you to buy some shoes, but it didn’t go that way.

RF: My buddies we would look, say, “Well, we could shine up the shoes you got, and they’ll do for one more week.” But the guitar was hanging in the window, and I couldn’t go by. It was like $19.95, and I had a $20 bill.

NS: How about your dad, what did he do?

RF: When he came in, I was playing it. He didn’t punish me, but he gave me one of those verbal scoldings that I would rather just have took a licking or two and call it quits. But he was like, “You can’t play ‘Mama’s Baby’ on that thing, and you went and spent that money wasted on it.” And so he made me actually go out, and I had to go find work and make the $20 back and buy the shoes.

NS: Tell me how you met Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys and your impression of him.

RF: They were looking for somebody to do the voiceover on the Murder Ballad book.

NS: Oh that’s a comic narrative story, so you did the Murder Ballads?

RF: Yeah I did the Murder Ballads. And we did it so fast until finally Dan said, “Man look, why don’t you just go and make an album while you’re here?” And he was like, “I got this song, I want you to try it.” I hit it and he said, “No I don’t want you to do it like me, I want you to do it the way you feel it.” And so it was an opportunity for me to be myself. I couldn’t read the lines so we put the Hammond on, and he’d tell me the next verse in my ear, and as far as they were concerned I was nailing it. When they go excited, then I got excited. I took the guards down, and I could go for it even harder, you know, because I’m in the room with some legendary historical people that have been with some of the best in the world. I still, to tell you the truth, hadn’t accepted it 100% because it ain’t finished happening yet. When I first started to lose my sight and had to close my construction business, that was just a way of me becoming what I am. I think the good lord had to take my sight so that I could really see. And I guess the reason I take it so seriously now is because I waited so long and there’s so much I haven’t done that I should have already did, so I got to do what I got to do now and try to do that that I should’ve done did.

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