Every band has its own distinctive story replete with drugs, alcohol, conflicts, line up changes, dead ends, regrettable gigs, setbacks, struggles, battles with record companies, managers, accountants, and bar owners. Every band pays its dues. There is no such fantasy as an overnight success.
A decade ago they were simply Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney from Akron, Ohio; seven albums later they are the critically acclaimed, Grammy award winning darlings of the Rock world. But their beginnings, like so many rock and roll bands, are humble, unassuming, somewhat innocent.
In 1996, Auerbach was learning guitar, while Carney owned a drum set and four-track recorder. They started jamming and laying tracks down on Carney's four-track, but nothing ever really transpired. And like so many of us at seventeen or eighteen who don't really know what we want to do with our lives, they enrolled in the University of Akron but dropped out shortly after.
Auerbach started playing local bars but needed a demo in order to get to the next level. That's when Patrick Carney entered the picture once again. Carney provided the recording equipment and his basement, while Auerbach provided the rest of the backing band. The only problem was that Auerbach's musician buddies failed to show up. Apparently "they preferred to get stoned and play video games," so Carney and Auerbach jammed that afternoon and haven't stopped jamming.
In the end, they formed The Black Keys as a duo, taking the band's name from a schizophrenic artist, Alfred McMoore, who left unintelligible phone messages, referring to "their fathers as 'black keys' such as 'D flat' when he was upset with them."
In 2001, they recorded a six song demo (again in Carney's basement) and were eventually signed by the indie label Alive. For their debut album, The Big Come Up, they returned to Carney's basement to record eight lo-fi bluesy rock tunes, a mixture of originals and covers (Muddy Waters, Junior Kimbrough and The Beatles) that was released in 2002.
When it was time to go on tour in support of the album, Auerbach and Carney mowed lawns in order to help fund it. Their first gig at Cleveland's Beachland Ballroom and Tavern was poorly attended, but that didn't slow The Black Keys down.
The Big Come Up didn't sell particularly well, but that didn't slow The Black Keys down either. In due time, the album captured a cult following, garnered favorable reviews from the critics, and secured the group a deal with Fat Possum Records.
And the rest is history...