NOTE: This Q&A was originally printed in Volume 1, Issue 2 of The Devil Strip.
How do you raise a rock star? You don’t. At least not with the intention to—not if you want them to be natural in their process, remain grounded and most importantly, just grow up feeling normal, not pressured, just nurtured. Just ask Chuck Auerbach, the songwriting father of Firestone High School grad turned Grammy-winner Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. I relish conversations with Chuck, a retired antiques dealer, not because of what we talk about so much as the way he talks about it, whatever it is. His sarcasm, honesty and sincerity are welcome in my presence anytime and have turned me into as big a fan of his as I am of his offspring. He and his wife Mary, a retired French teacher, raised their two sons right here in Akron. This issue seemed like the right opportunity to ask Chuck about Dan’s early influences—and whether Chuck’s cooking is still in demand in the Auerbach family.
Liz Tyran: Let’s just cut to the chase. Tell us, really and truly, what it’s like to be the father of a modern day rock legend? And if the answer is “fucking awesome” then by all means, feel free to say so—screw being humble for a minute.
Chuck Auerbach: It’s a mixed blessing. It’s great when your kids figure out what they want to do in life, and as they pursue it, find success. But, as they say, the higher you climb, the more your ass is exposed.
LT: What are some examples of what you and Mary listened to that you think shaped Dan’s ear?
CA: Grateful Dead, Little Anthony, Sam Cooke, Robert Johnson, Louis Prima, Hank Williams, Billie Holiday, Beatles, Motown and others.
LT: What type of impact do you think growing up in Akron had on the type of musician Dan became?
CA: Dan always marched to the beat of a different drummer. He never listened to what was popular. He made his own way. What came out of him was very different from the music other people were making. So, to answer your question, the lack of a specific Akron sound, gave Dan the freedom to make the music he wanted. He wasn’t pigeon-holed, like some kid growing up in Seattle, Memphis or New Orleans, as examples.
LT: Does he still turn to you for advice? Personally? Musically?
CA: Sometimes about both. We almost never talk about the music business, however. He’s got good people. I was a good minor league coach, but he’s definitely in the majors.
LT: What were some of your favorite outings—events, restaurants, recreation—as a family in Akron?
CA: Going to Chin’s, was always our favorite meal out, followed by the Seoul Garden. Listening to live music: Mike Lenz and The Numbers Band were always top of the list. And, when Dan and Geoff were younger, seeing them play sports was a big part of family life. Akron’s a great town to raise kids.
LT: I’ve sampled (okay, eaten huge bowls of) some of your incredible soups. Have you always cooked at home for your family? Do you still?
CA: Yes, I’m still the family cook. Mary was a hard-working teacher, and shopping and cooking just fit better into my schedule. Sadie, our granddaughter (Dan’s daughter), wants to open a restaurant. I asked her who was going to cook. She pointed at me. So I guess I’ll be at it for a few more years.
LT: You’ve told me some stories about meeting some pretty famous folks since The Black Keys became internationally known, any favorites?
CA: We’ve met a lot of well-known people, (actors, musicians, etc.) but unless we spend a lot of time together, on multiple occasions, it’s hard to know. There’s an artificiality that’s built in to these encounters. They’re fun, and most everybody is very nice, but you can’t take it seriously. The one thing I learned, and it really surprised me, is that most of these folks are more excited about meeting Dan than vice versa.
LT: Is there a proudest moment for you as a father (related to his musical success)?
CA: I don’t have a single proud moment. I’m proud of his work ethic. I’m proud of him for keeping his eye on the prize, which is making more music. I’m proud of him for working through personal challenges. I’m proud of him for still being a good kid.
BONUS QUESTION FROM THE PEANUT GALLERY:
Chris Horne: How much of a role do you think the musical family connections both Dan—with you and Robert Quine—and Pat—with Ralph Carney—played in their success, whether just their early interest in music or their ability to adapt to the lifestyle of a world-touring band?
CA: I can’t speak for Pat, so that’s an easy answer. Mary and I were friends with Rosalie, Robert Quine’s mom. So, when Robt visited Rosalie, he sat down with Dan on two occasions. They played a bit and talked music. Robt liked Dan’s North Mississippi influences. But, I don’t think he really influenced Dan. He was an incredible guitarist, but he hated everything about the music business. I think my passion for music, and Mary’s family, were the big influences. Every year, Mary’s family, the Quines, would get together. They were all good players, ranging from blues and country blues, to bluegrass and folk. I think that’s where Dan got the bug to play. In fact, his first stage appearance was at a Quine family reunion in Florida. I think Mary’s and my support of his passion, and our help in guiding him in the early days, was very important. And of course, hooking up with Pat. It was definitely a team effort.