The Black Keys mark a return to their roots on their new album Delta Kream, which honors Mississippi Hill Country blues artists who inspired the duo — including John Lee Hooker, R. L. Burnside, and David “Junior” Kimbrough — through 11 stellar covers.
The Ohio rockers recorded the album in 2019 at the end of their “Let’s Rock Tour” “in about 10 hours, over two afternoons,” according to drummer Patrick Carney. To create an even more authentic approach, the pair brought in esteemed musicians Kenny Brown, who played guitar for Burnside, and Eric Deaton, who played bass in Junior Kimbrough’s band. The resulting effort is an exciting foray into Hill Country blues combined with The Black Keys’ signature garage rock sound.
What’s more, the music has direct ties back to the creation of The Black Keys themselves. Carney and singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach first bonded over their shared love of Burnside, and their first-ever recording sessions produced a cover of Junior Kimbrough’s “Do the Rump” — a track they revisit on Delta Kream. “The only song I suggested was ‘Do the Rump’,” Carney says of creating the new LP’s track list, “because I wanted to have a version of it from 20 years later.”
Ahead of the record’s May 14th release, Carney sat down with Consequence to talk about Delta Kream, playing with the greats, blues drumming, and honoring traditional sounds after finding success as a band.
On recording Delta Kream in 10 hours over two afternoons with legendary blues musicians Kenny Brown and Eric Deaton:
When Dan [Auerbach] and I go to make a record, it’s a very intentional thing for the most part, and we set aside blocks of time and get together. We get sounds and start slowly constructing ideas. It’s a process. Sometimes that happens pretty quickly, usually a song a day or something like that. But this record was pretty accidental. Dan was making a record with Robert Finley and he had Kenny and Eric come up to back up those sessions. And in the middle of one of the days, Dan called me and said, “Do you want to come in tomorrow and hang out with Kenny and jam?”
And we’ve been in a band for 20 years, and it’s been probably 10 years since he’s asked me to do something like that. It wasn’t to make a record or anything. It was just to get together. So I went over there and we sat around in Dan’s studio and told stories and started playing some music. We had put down a take and then before we knew it, we had recorded nine songs between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., and it was sounding pretty cool. But I was thinking like, “Well, you know, a record to me is like, 40 minutes long and we had 30 minutes of music.” So I just was like, “We should all get back together tomorrow.” So they all came back the next day, hung out, had lunch, did a few more, and then the guys went back to Mississippi. And then a month later — this was before COVID-19 — in December 2019, we pulled up the sessions and struggled to mix them. We couldn’t decide what we wanted. So we decided to send them Chad Blake, and he sent it back and we both were like, “Yeah, this should be a record.” It was all kind of accidental.
On forming the track list for Delta Kream and the origins of The Black Keys:
We knew we were going to be doing Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside songs because Eric and Kenny played with them. And if it weren’t for their music, Dan and I wouldn’t have started the band. Back when we formed The Black Keys, Dan and I were neighbors, and we weren’t friends but our brothers were. And at one point, my brother had heard me listening to R.L. Burnside, and had also heard Dan listening to him too. So he gets us to hang out and we jam and then make some recordings here and there. Then, years passed and Dan had started this bar band called the Barn Burners, and he wanted me to record them. So we set aside a day for him to come to my house for me to record him on my little four track recorder — and the band never showed up. So Dan asked me if I would just play drums. I was a guitar player at the time, I had a drum set but I sucked. I said, “I don’t know how to play the drums man,” and he’s like, “Just do what you used to do. It’ll probably sound cool that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
So that afternoon we sat down and recorded five Hill Country blues covers, one of them being “Do the Rump”. And a few days after that, I handed Dan a CD of what we had done. And we decided to put it out and name our band The Black Keys, and that was it. So like, if it weren’t for this music, I wouldn’t be a drummer, and we wouldn’t have started the band. So of course, when we came down to jam with the guys that played with our original inspiration for us, we knew we wanted to play these songs. In the process, a few other songs had be spliced in — Kenny suggested “Louise” after Dan brought out Mississippi Fred McDowell’s Gibson Trini Lopez guitar, and the only song I suggested was “Do the Rump”, because I wanted to have a version of it from 20 years later. Essentially, what happened was Dan, Kenny, and Eric would just talk about what songs they felt like playing, and I just improvised on top of what they were doing.
On blues drumming and what inspires him behind the kit:
I still am a self-taught drummer and I’ve never taken a lesson. I’ve tried to learn how to do certain things that would advance my skill to absolutely no luck. It is what is — I just play the way I play. I definitely was inspired by watching the Robert Palmer-directed documentary Deep Blues when I was 21. Dan played that for me after we made our demo. Watching Junior [Kimbrough] play, and watching the drummer, who played with so much soul but with zero technical ability… I thought, “That’s exactly what I’m into.” This is coming from this pure place, and I try to keep music there to this day. I still get a kick out of listening to those records because they just feel so real, you know. When I was playing these tracks, I was trying to think about, “What would keep the 17-year-old me interested in these songs?” So, I approached this record like it was a live set. What would keep me from looking at my cell phone?
Back when we started, our intention was to appreciate this music and channel the energy of it, and that’s all still the same. As far as my drumming, for instance, I would approach the drums back in the day similar to the guitar, making riffs and then counter riffs with the guitar or something. Now, I approach the drums much differently, but with the same spirit, I guess. My intention from the very get-go of sitting down to jam was to look at Dan and Kenny, and then I realized the importance of what we were about to do. It was all about the songs, and especially the guitar playing, and I had to stay the fuck out of the way!
On the legacy of Hill Country blues and honoring the tradition after finding success as a band:
We had included some covers on our first couple records and did a Junior Kimbrough tribute as an EP, but that was over 16 years ago. Since the band had reached a period of success, we hadn’t really done a proper homage to these dudes — one that was properly promoted, and with the intention of showing how this music changed our lives and inspired the band to exist. And now, we’re playing with the guys that played on those records. If it weren’t for The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion making A Ass Pocket of Whiskey, I wouldn’t have heard R.L. Burnside or any of this stuff. And as we were listening back to these recordings, months after we did it, it just felt like it would be a useful thing to put out. Maybe there’s a 17-year-old kid out there that likes “Gold on the Ceiling” or something. Maybe they need to know that this is actually what’s going on here.