“Put me last on the bill,” says Robert Finley, “because the party’s going to go as high as it’s going to go when I’m playing.”
If his debut album, Age Don’t Mean a Thing, is any indication, the 63-year-old Winnsboro, Louisiana native might not be lying. The record, which officially drops September 30 via Big Legal Mess, offers a delightful mix of old school blues, soul and R&B, with all of it propelled by Finley’s gritty-yet-laid-back voice and equally effortless guitar work.
It’s a surprisingly confident effort from a first-time recording artist who spent the bulk of his life working as a carpenter. Of course, that description doesn’t do justice to the breadth of Finley’s musical experience, a story that began when his age was in the single digits. Back then he was singing gospel–the only kind of music his parents allowed–but things took a turn when he bought a guitar with his shoe money at age 11. A few years later Finley was stationed in Germany with the US Army, working on helicopters by day and leading a band that specialized in the music of artists like Joe Simon, Tyrone Davis, Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye by night.
Those early musical ambitions never really came to a head back home in Bernice, Louisiana, where Finley began working as a carpenter after his stint with the military. Nevertheless, the singer/guitarist continued to hone his craft in his spare time, taking up gigs whenever and wherever he could. At 63, Finley is now legally blind, but his dream of bringing his music to wider audiences hasn’t died. In fact, it’s finally being realized.
“Here I am at my age, just now fulfilling my childhood dream,” Finley says with his warm and ever-present smile. “It’s like the song says, ‘Age Don’t Mean a Thing.’ See, you’ve got to hold to your dream; don’t ever let somebody tell you what you can’t do.”
Finley plays guitar and sings on each of Age Don’t Mean A Thing’s nine tracks, seven of which he penned himself. The LP was recorded in Memphis with members of The Bo-Keys, an assortment of top-notch players from the city’s famed soul scene that includes Howard Grimes (Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, OV Wright), Marc Franklin (Bobby “Blue” Bland), Jimbo Mathus (Elvis Costello), Al Gamble (St. Paul & The Broken Bones, the Hold Steady), Kirk Smothers (Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Guy), Reba Russell (U2, BB King), Harold Thomas (James Carr) and Daunielle Hill (Solomon Burke).
“Once I get the music, the lyrics just come natural,” Finley explains. “All you’ve got to do is look around. Just about anything you’d want to write about, somebody’s going through it. It’s hard to miss. Every day is a song, really.”
Finley will celebrate Age Don’t Mean a Thing with a record release show at Lafayette’s Music Room in Memphis on Thursday, October 6, but you can give his debut album a listen now.