For decades, blues, soul and gospel singer-guitarist Robert Finley stayed in north Louisiana. A resident of the small town of Bernice, he backed gospel quartets, played music for local TV programs and performed solo at a restaurant.
In 2016, Finley released his debut album, Age Don’t Mean a Thing. In August, Z2 Comics released New Orleans writer Gabe Soria’s graphic novel, Murder Ballads. Finley sings the novel’s five-song soundtrack, a companion project produced by Soria’s friend, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys.
After Murder Ballads, Finley and Auerbach collaborated again to record Finley’s second album. Easy Eye Sound (Nonesuch) is expected to release Goin’ Platinum later this year. “A lot of my friends say I’m taking it too easy,” Finley says of his late-career breakthroughs. “I do realize how serious it is, but at the same time I’m trying to stay focused.”
Finley, who’s playing the Crescent City Blues and BBQ Festival on October 15, doesn’t want to get his hopes too high. “I would rather be surprised than disappointed,” he said. “I would rather go beyond what I expected than hope too much and not make it.”
With that in mind, Finley gives everything he’s got to every performance he plays. “I focus on delivering the songs and keeping the audience captivated while we’re performing them,” he said.
To captivate his audience, Finley knows that he, too, must be captivated. “The goal is for people to love what I do,” he said. “Of course, I’ve got to love it first.”
The forthcoming Going Platinum album is a departure from the vintage soul–oriented Age Don’t Mean a Thing. “It’s a musical gumbo because you got soul, rock ‘n’ roll, a touch of jazz, country and western,” Finley said.
Unlike Age Don’t Mean a Thing, Finley didn’t write any of the songs on Murder Ballads or Going Platinum. Auerbach composed and arranged both projects. “He gave me the idea of what he was trying to say, and what the song was about,” Finley said. “But he wasn’t bound to one thing. He gave me freedom to express it in my own way.”
Auerbach would later tell Rolling Stone magazine that Finley is “the greatest living soul singer, as far as I’m concerned.”
“The Music Maker Relief Foundation, they really started the ball rolling,” Finley said of the organization that supports American roots musicians. “I’ll be forever appreciative for them. They turned the light on and gave me a chance to shine. I’m just along for the ride, but I’m taking it seriously because it’s an opportunity that any musician, young or old, would love to have.”