When The Black Keys went on hiatus, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney worked on their own projects. Drummer Carney collaborated with his wife, Michelle Branch, while Auerbach saw his dreams come true.
He produced music by a slew of artists but, to him, the most notable musical partner was fellow Ohioan Glenn Schwartz, the James Gang’s original guitar player in the mid-1960s.
“When I was 16 to 17, I saw him play religiously at a small club in Cleveland,” says Auerbach, an Akron, Ohio, native. “He was this wild guitar player who built his own guitar. He was a big influence while we were making the first Black Keys record.”
The Black Keys’ guitarist/vocalist, Auerbach invited Schwartz to travel to Auerbach’s Nashville studio, Easy Eye Sound, to record. But he also asked someone to join them—the legendary Joe Walsh.
“He was Joe Walsh’s guitar hero,” Auerbach says. “Me, Joe and Glenn were all playing these loud, electric guitar sounds. It was incredible.”
Walsh recalled seeing Schwartz perform in Bowling Green atop a fan’s shoulders, wearing no shirt and purple bell bottoms.
“The same way that Joe saw Glenn and got inspired to make music, I did exactly the same,” Auerbach says.
Auerbach was not only starry-eyed; he was motivated to do something else.
“It made me want to make a Black Keys record,” he says. “As soon as I finished, I called Pat and we put the session on the books.”
The result of the Carney-Auerbach session is “Let’s Rock,” an album they call an ode to the electric guitar. Released on June 28, The Black Keys’ ninth studio album was its first album since 2014’s “Turn Blue.” The duo eschewed keyboards and armed themselves with guitar, drums and vocals.
“Making music for Pat and I is always easy,” Auerbach says. “The chemistry we have is just undeniable. We hadn’t been in the studio together for five years. As soon as we sat down together, we were working on our very first idea, which was ‘Breaking Down.’”
Once again, the duo produced its own record.
“It’s our favorite hobby and pastime,” Auerbach says. “We learned how to do it together. It’s always fun. Pat and I will always have this special thing no matter what.”
Through Easy Eye Sound, Auerbach has also produced records by Cage the Elephant, Dr. John, Lana Del Rey, Ray LaMontagne, Jake Bugg, and the Pretenders. In addition to winning several Grammy Awards as a member of The Black Keys, Auerbach collected the 2013 Grammy Award for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical.
Last year was the ideal time for The Black Keys to reunite. Auerbach says he’s a “completely different musician from four years ago.”
“All I’ve done in the last four years is work in the studio every day with some of the most incredible musicians who have ever lived,” Auerbach says.
“I feel like I went to graduate school or something. I spent time with John Prine writing songs. I worked with other amazing singers and bands—all writing with these incredible people. I got to feed my brain for a good long time.”
For the tour, to bolster the heavy guitar sound of “Let’s Rock,” The Black Keys recruited longtime friends Thee Shams, who were later members of Buffalo Killers.
“They (Thee Shams) played on our first CD release show,” he says. “Now they’re playing with us on stage. It’s like an Ohio reunion. It’s been really fun.
“We have two guitar players and a bass player. That’s a first for us. That’s a lot of guitars. For me, it feels more like The Black Keys than it ever has on stage. It sounds like our records. I always would layer up the guitars on every record. To hear those guitars layered up on stage is really satisfying.”
Auerbach cherishes the memories with Schwartz and their common Midwestern work ethic.
“This Ohio rock ‘n’ roll connection is hard to define,” Auerbach says. “It was cool to finally meet him. But being from the Midwest, I know every single Tom Petty song and I’ve never owned a Tom Petty record. Growing up in the Midwest is like that. It’s in the air.”
The Black Keys w/Modest Mouse and Shannon and the Clams
Talking Stick Resort Arena, 201 E. Jefferson Street, Phoenix, ticketmaster.com, talkingstickresortarena.com, 7 p.m. Saturday, November 16, tickets start at $54.75.