By ROB DUGUAY
Every creative profession requires paid dues. What I mean by that is that it takes time, effort, sacrifice and effort to accompany real talent. Since the 1970s, Bernice, Robert Finley of Louisiana has been paying his dues, but in recent years it seems that those dues have started to pay off. After the release of his debut album, Age Don’t Mean A Thing, in 2016, he linked up with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and label Easy Eye Sound, which went on to produce his next two albums, including Sharecropper’s Son which came out last May. On January 30, he will play some songs from those records at Askew at 150 Chestnut Street in Providence with I&R featuring Coventry native Josh Cournoyer opening the show.
Finley and I had a pre-show chat about growing up with gospel music, three tracks from the new album that originally started as one, a gig in Germany that opened a lot of doors and still remains positive.
Rob Duguay: You grew up in Louisiana with gospel music, so how much influence do you consider the church and the choir to have on you as a musician?
Robert Finley: It still has an influence on me, whenever I’m off the road I still go to church and I still sing in the choir. You don’t forget where you come from and I think it has a bit to do with everything, I would say, because I’m still in the choir.
RD: In terms of blues and soul music, do you think they’re symbiotic with gospel and church in terms of the roots of it all?
RF: In the roots, yes. 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 what they call it. As long as it’s real, it’s something people can relate to. Anyone who grew up in the 50s and 60s, even if they weren’t there, knows what life on the farm was like. Not being able to go to school or just going to school for a few months of the year between breeding and harvesting and there’s not much in between.
There’s always something that gets too big for the terrain and there’s always something that needs to be picked so that there isn’t a lot of downtime. There is always something to do and the work is never done. You have to put corn and stuff for the winter with what you need to put in place for you and your family. Farm animals have to eat all winter too, so you have to put corn in the barn or hay in the barn for them. The history books will tell the story, but no one bothers to read them anymore, so I think the reason why [my new album] Sharecropper’s Son hit the charts so quickly, it’s because so many people have gone down that road and been there and done it 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 really fun because most of the time it was laughter. As long as he got the music he wanted, and he knew what he wanted, and you could hit the notes, there was no problem. 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 with everyone 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 in my own way and everyone involved was kind of like, “This is your story, this is your life. and you have to tell it and we’ll just put some music to it.
No one but you can tell your story because only you have lived it, not in life but from your perspective. You have to hold your own rank and you are the only one to hold your rank so only you know what you had to go through. It was great to work with the guys and we had a lot of fun, we didn’t take all the air time to write the songs so it took more time to produce and create the music than to write the words. 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 love about Easy Eye is that they don’t believe not that their music sounds like any other musician’s music. You won’t hear another song that sounds the same unless it was produced by someone else.
I have a few songs on the album that sound the same but that was intentional because we started singing a song and as the story got more and more interesting we kept telling it until we had to break it down into three different songs. this. These are the three songs I mentioned earlier, they were each made at the same time. It came from being creative and freestyling, there wasn’t a lot of pen to paper and note writing on those particular songs. The band and I were just warming up in the studio everyone loved it so everyone kept playing and when we finally stopped and laughed it was way too long for the radio happening, that’s why we cut them while still telling the whole story.
RD: It’s really unique that you were able to turn one long song into three different songs and still have a fun atmosphere while doing it, which is awesome. You had a very interesting music career, you spent time in the military and you were in a band there and you toured with a lot of different musicians in your career since the 70s. In your opinion, the moment you are most proud of as a musician?
RF: I think the first time I played in Germany, I guess. I was a 19-year-old soldier away from home in a foreign country and I didn’t know anyone. I happened to discover a guitar and once I started playing it, people got closer and closer to me. The next thing I know is a guy walks up and says, “Do you want to play in our band? We have a show tomorrow. I didn’t know anything about their music, I didn’t know anything about anything but they said “Look, we don’t have a guitarist and we don’t have a lead singer, so you sing and play what you know and we We had a few hours of rehearsal and then we had to do a show, which was for the whole battalion, so everyone was there with their families.
I had an opportunity and was put on the spot to do the show but when it went well it opened so many doors. I didn’t know anyone in a foreign country and then everyone started to know me, but I still didn’t know anyone. It opened so many doors for me and gave me opportunities to do things that I wouldn’t have had the chance to do if it wasn’t for playing music.
RD: It’s great. After this series of shows to come until February, what are your plans for spring and summer? Are you working on new music?
RF: I never really stop working on new music. Every minute brings the possibility of a song and I try to write about real life, not make-believe stuff. I try to write about things I know people can relate to and things I wish people knew so it’s not hard to sit down and make a song I just need music. There’s always something positive to say, and if you can get the world to listen to what you’re trying to say, focus on trying to say something positive. The world contains enough negativity as it is, people have enough problems that they don’t really 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. These days you can watch blues, soul, R&B and all together and it’s up to the songwriter to decide what they’re talking about. You can have the greatest voice in the world, but if your song doesn’t make sense, you always miss the point. It’s really important that you tell a story when you write a song, it has to be like a novel. When a person listens to a song, it should be like listening to a short novel because they need to get something out of it, they need a happy ending or a way out.
There are people right now today who are struggling harder than I was in the 60s because there are still hard times. There are still homeless people, so when you do something positive, it gives those people hope. I played for 50 years before I was recognized enough to be a rock star, but it was consistency that always worked, never giving up and never giving up. When people tell you that you’re not going to make it and that you should give up, that’s a sign that you should try a little harder. When people talk about you, don’t take it negatively no matter what they say, because if they wake up in the morning talking about you with everything going on in the world, you must be pretty important.