Going blind opened singer, guitarist’s eyes to music

At a cursory glance, Louisiana-based singer and guitarist Robert Finley is a textbook overnight success. The soul and blues man’s debut album, 2016’s Age Don’t Mean A Thing, caught the eye of Black Keys’ bandleader Dan Auerbach, and together, they released last year’s GOIN’ PLATINUM! on Auerbach’s Nashville-based Easy Eye Sound label.

And now, Finley is on tour with Auerbach as part of The Easy Eye Sound Revue that hits The Observatory for a sold-out show on Monday night.

But Finley’s quick ascent to appearing as a headliner on national tours and releasing full-length albums was more than 50 years in the making.

While the story goes that an 11-year-old Finley bought a guitar with the money his father gave him to buy shoes, it’s only in recent years that he’s used it to make a living.

The 65-year-old musician started out with a stint in the Army as a helicopter technician, but left as a guitarist and bandleader in the Army band. However, once he got home, Finley made his living as a carpenter.

That is, until a few years ago when he was declared legally blind and forced to give it up. So Finley picked up his guitar again.

And at a local gig, the singer was “discovered” by the Music Maker Relief Foundation. The nonprofit, dedicated to supporting musicians and musical traditions of the South, helped Finley book gigs and put a press kit together.

Today, he’s two albums deep and hitting the national touring circuit doing what he loves best.        

PACIFC recently caught up with him from his home in Bernice, Louisiana, to chat about it all.

PACIFIC: First, congratulations. Yours is a pretty awesome success story.

Robert Finely: Well, thank you. But that’s why it’s important to stay focused — to stay with the dream. It’s not over. And the victory has not been won. The victory party comes after the game has been won. And in my case, the game is just getting started. I’m grateful, but at the same time, I have to stay focused and make sure that when I wake up in the morning my head hasn’t swollen and I can still put a 7¼ hat on my head (laughs).

And I know that 25 or 30 years ago I couldn’t have handled this type of success. I don’t think I would’ve been mentally prepared for it. Growing up as a sharecropper, and having a dad who was a sharecropper, even today, I don’t think we ever got out of share. I’m used to things going south. But I’m trying to get used to things going right.

I just thank God for everything he’s done — and is doing. I’m just looking forward to trying to do more. A winner never quits and a quitter never wins. You have to keep trying to get better at what you do. It’s like running a race. There’s always someone right behind you. If you’re slacking, you’re going to get beat to the finish line. I need to get my Grammy and I need to go platinum! (laughs)

Well, you’re not off to a bad start…

That’s the whole thing. Don’t quit. Life itself is the dream. And if you ever wake up, you’re dead. So keep dreaming. As long as you’ve got a dream and you’ve got breath, you’ve got a chance.

You’re no stranger to multi-act bills, but this is all under Dan’s umbrella. Do you know how it’s going to work each night?

Most of the time, Dan does his show and then he’ll call me out to do a few songs. But this time I don’t know. There are going to be other acts on the bill. But I always just keep in it neutral. I go with the way that it flows, so it makes everything run as smooth as possible for everybody. But when it’s my time to shine, I just try to stay focused.

I don’t focus on any of the business things. I just do the partying. I just party (laughs).

Seems like you’re getting the better end of that stick.

That’s right! It’s been an uphill journey, so I want to make sure to sit back and enjoy the ride — let someone else worry about the technicalities of it. I’m doing what I always wanted to do. I’m living my childhood dream. And I’m not going to let anything break my train of thought. Like the song says, “Take it when you can get it, and get it while you can.” We’re not taking any prisoners. We’re just giving it our best shot — and loving every minute of it.

Have you thought about how your newfound success gives inspiration to others?

That’s the greatest part — inspiring other people. I’ve had a lot of people call me. And I don’t know who told anyone I’d be the one for counseling. My life is so screwed up it’s pathetic. I mean, that’s what gave me the blues in the first place (laughs). But so many people have called me and asked advice and I tell them all to stay positive. Everyone looks at these last two years. But what they fail to see is the 50 years of struggling that came before it.

I was a successful carpenter. Not the wealthiest, but I was successful. I made a decent living. Then, all of a sudden, when I lost my sight, I was forced to reach for something else. I could have gone into a nursing home and cried my life away. But instead of having a pity-party, or feeling sorry for myself, I saw it as a chance to do something that I’ve always wanted to do — to live my life to the fullest.

It sounds bad, but it was almost a blessing to lose my sight. Because without that, I’d still be climbing up on top of houses — crawling around trying to make a living. But I found a way to make a better living doing what I most love to do. So, right now, I guess I’m partying for a living!

What’s next?

I’m still writing. I’m still making songs. Hopefully, the next time Dan and I get in the studio, we’ll be recording some gospel tracks. I’ve written a lot of gospel songs, and so has he, so I hope we’ll have the time to do both of our styles. But it’s all a lot of fun. I enjoy being in the studio with him and I enjoy traveling down the road with him. There’s always a lot of laughter on the highway. And really, we’re partying for a living. What more can you ask for?

Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound Revue featuring Robert Finley

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 19

Where: Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave, North Park

Cost: Sold out

Online: observatorysd.com

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