67 year-old, Winnsboro, LA-born, Bernice, LA-based singer/songwriter Robert Finley was born into a family of sharecroppers, and was one of eight children. As a child, a young Finley was unable to regularly attend school and often worked with his family in the cotton fields. When he was a teenager, he attended a segregated school, but dropped out in the 10th grade to help financially support his family and himself.
Finley is an army veteran and was a skilled carpenter, who has lived a full, complicated and often messy life: he’s survived house fires, a bad auto accident and a divorce. Sadly, Finley lost his sight in his 60s as a result of glaucoma, and although he was forced to retire, the Winnsboro-born, Bernice-based singer/songwriter realized that he had an opportunity to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a musician. Finley believes that his sight was improved by the power of prayer and his faith has also helped him focus on launching a music career in his 60s. According to Finley “losing my sight, gave me the perspective to see my true identity.”
Robert Finley’s rise has been rapid: As the story goes, Dan Auerbach immediately saw Finley’s potential, quickly proclaiming that the Louisiana-born and-based artist is “the greatest living soul singer.” He walked in like he was straight out of the swamp.” Auerbach recalls in press notes, adding, “He had leather pants, snakeskin boots, a big Country & Western belt buckle, a leather cowboy hat and a three-quarter-length leather duster. The final touch was the folding cane the legally blind Finley wore on his hip, in a holster. Basically, he was dressed for national television.”
Auerbach went on to produce Finley’s 2017 breakthrough sophomore album Goin’ Platinum, an album released to widespread critical acclaim from the likes of the Associated Press, who praised Finley’s ability to lend “instant credibility to any song” and The Observer, who wrote “Finley’s versatile voice ranges from prime Motown holler to heartbroken falsetto croon.” The Louisiana-born and-based singer/songwriter went on to support the album with tours of 10 countries — with his live show drawing praise from a number of publications, including The New York Times and several others. Finley was also profiled on PBS NewsHour, which led him to becoming a contestant on the 2019 season of America’s Got Talent, eventually reaching the semi-finals.
Finley’s third album Sharecropper’s Son is slated for a May 21, 2021 release through Easy Eye Sound. The album, continues the Louisiana-born and-based singer/songwriter’s successful collaboration with Auerbach and features songwriting from Finley, Auerbach, Bobby Wood and Pat McLaughlin and an an All-Star backing band that includes Auerbach (guitar); Kenny Brown (guitar), a member of R.L Burnside‘s backing band; studio legends Russ Pahl (pedal steel) and Louisiana-born, Nashville-based Billy Sanford (guitar); Bobby Wood (keys and as previously mentioned songwriting); Gene Chrisman (drums), who’s a Memphis and Nashville music legend; as well as contributions The Dap Kings‘ Nick Movshon (bass), Eric Deaton (guitar); Dave Roe (bass), who was member of Johnny Cash‘s backing band; Sam Bacco (percussion) and a full horn section.
Sharecropper’s Son may arguably be the most personal album of Finley’s growing catalog, drawing directly from his life and experience. “I was ready to tell my story, and Dan and his guys knew me so well by then that they knew it almost like I do, so they had my back all the way,” Finley says in press notes. “Working in the cotton fields wasn’t a pleasant place to be, but it was part of my life. I went from the cotton fields to Beverly Hills. We stayed in the neighborhood most of our childhood. It wasn’t really all that safe to be out by yourself. One of the things I love about music is that, when I was a boy growing up in the South, nobody wanted to hear what I had to say or what I thought about anything. But when I started putting it in songs, people listened.”
Last month, I wrote about album single “Country Boy,” a swampy and funky bit of country soul featured a tight, strutting groove, bluesy guitar lines, shimmering organ and Finley’s soulful and creaky falsetto paired with autobiographic lyrics, which were improvised on the spot with the tape rolling. “When we play live, I always leave room in the show for lyrics I make up on the spot while the band hits a groove,” Finley explains. “I guess the younger generation calls it free-styling, but for me, it’s just speaking from my mind, straight from my soul.” Lyrically, the song touches upon classic blues fare — heartbreak, loneliness, being broke, being a stranger from far away from home and so on. But the song is fueled by the fact that Finley, like the blues greats actually lived the experiences they talked about. And as a result, the song has a deep and soulful sincerity.
Sharecropper’s Son‘s latest single is album title track “Sharecropper’s Son,” a strutting, blues holler featuring James Cotton-like blasts of harmonica, shimmering Rhodes, a chugging groove, a classic blues solo, and Finley’s creaky and soulful crooning and shouts. And much like its predecessor, the song is fueled by both the lived-in experiences of its writer and the novelistic details within the song: you can feel the hot sun on Finley’s and his siblings’ skin, the sore muscles of backbreaking and unending labor in the fields. But throughout the song, its narrator expresses pride in his family doing whatever they could do legally to survive and keep food on the table.
Directed by Tim Hardman, the recently released video continues Hardman’s collaboration with Finley and Auerbach and was shot in Finley’s hometown of Bernice, LA — and it’s an intimate tour of small-town life: the cotton and corn fields where a young Finley and his family toiled, the local movie theater, the barber shop and what not. And while has lived a tough life, his joy and pride have never been taken from him.