by Stephanie Serna
It’s deja vu in technicolor. I’m sitting in Chuck Auerbach’s car parked in front of Angel Falls Coffeehouse, listening to not just one song but a whole album of Chuck’s songs, sung by him and backed by some of the best studio musicians in Nashville. His son, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, has recently finished producing the album, which was mixed and partially recorded at his Nashville based Easy Eye Studio, and which does not yet have a release date set.
It was almost 9 years ago that I heard Chuck’s music for the first time, and it too was played through his car stereo, but we were sitting parked in front of The Northside Bar & Grille (now Jilly’s Music). He was becoming a regular at an open mic I ran there. He was just the scruffy looking bearded guy who came in later in the evening and stood by the side door seemingly ready for a quick exit. He always seemed to be watching with intention, but what that intention was I hadn’t a clue.
So when Chuck invited me to listen to one of his songs in his car, I felt a little hesitant.
You want me to go to your car and “listen to music?” Why not just play it on stage?
But Chuck didn’t play an instrument, nor did he sing at that time. He was (and still is) a lyricist.
He played a rough cut recording of “Whispered Words/Pretty Lies”—lyrics by Chuck, music and vocals by Dan, who to me at the time was just the son of the mysterious bearded dude.
I offered him my critique of their song not knowing this version was going to be included in Dan’s solo album “Keep It Hid.” This song was one of the first released Auerbach collaborations.
We’re now sitting on the porch of his Akron home, one of Chuck’s favorite places to be. This is the home where his sons Dan and Geoff grew up, and from where they proclaimed they would not move when there was talk of selling. Chuck is telling me the story about how he got started writing lyrics, sometime around 2002:
“Dan was playing around Akron in bars doing covers, and Mary and I encouraged him to write original material, because we’d seen so many good musicians in Akron get stuck in bars because they didn’t play original material.”
“So Dan started writing original material,” he continues. “But it sounded too much like his influences who were of a different age, a different culture. So we talked about the lyrics and how to make them sound more like Dan rather than his influences. That’s when I got the bug from helping him.”
A few years after that, Chuck sought out musicians for songwriting collaborations. That’s when he showed up as the mysterious guy at The Northside.
“The only reason I came to open mic was to get a musician to use my lyrics and turn them into original songs,” Chuck says. “I had no intention of ever singing in public—you were the one who got me up there.”
I remind him there were many people who loved his lyrics and encouraged him to get on stage and perform them. His performances began as spoken word and then later morphed into a capella singing.
“I remember very well there were two middle-aged women who used to come to open mic and would happily sit there while people performed, but when I got up there, they would run out of the room!” Chuck laughs.
But it was being on stage – the same stage where Dan first performed with his cover band, The Barn Burners – and Chuck’s presentations that sparked the interest of many of the talented musicians in the room to write songs from his lyrics. It became a weekly presentation of “Chuck songs” that culminated into an eight-artist CD called, “Points of View: A Tribute to Chuck Auerbach” recorded by Lemon Records (Hoseff Garcia’s label).
Chuck’s playing in the Big Leagues now. Living part-time in Nashville, he started seeking out some of the best musicians there as songwriting partners. Two of his closest collaborators on this album are Kenny Vaughan and Cory Chisel.
Cory quickly became a good friend after the two met. Chuck recalls, “I saw him perform, thought he did a really interesting job of arranging the lyrics and asked him to come over to the house. I think he came over just as a favor, thinking I’d show him one or two songs. He left with 55 lyric sheets—and kept coming back until the project was recorded.”
Kenny, who has worked with most everyone in Nashville, told Chuck that his voice was “better than 50 percent of the people who sang and more interesting than most.”
Despite Chuck’s barrage of negativity about his own voice, both Kenny and Cory insisted that Chuck sing on his own album. Kenny told him his words were so singular that they needed his voice to make them sound real. Kenny played on the album. Cory did not, but he sat there the whole time and encouraged Chuck on the vocals.
Cory continues to encourage Chuck on his music. This last August, he booked Chuck to perform a debut of the new album at his annual Mile of Music Festival in Appleton, Wisconsin.
“I am a big believer in collaboration… as is Dan,” notes Chuck. “We do our best work when we collaborate.”
Anyone who has the pleasure of hearing the depth and tasty texture of Chuck’s new album would attest to the truth of that statement.
For a more extended version of this article, check out Serna’s blog: tonalityblogg.net/music.