So yes, I own a guitar from one of my favorite all-time guitar players. Yes I do. I’ve been following the Black Keys from the beginning, always dragging my friends to concerts, learning all the Keys songs, and really just admiring them from afar. There’s a short story that goes along with this guitar, and really my love of old blues music and the Fat Possum record label led me down the path. It’s a little strange to think about, but Dan and I really have a TON of things in common, and I feel honored to own a guitar from a kindred spirit, so to speak. Let me take you back about 10 years.
I’ve always been into a real wide range of music, and one of my loves was old blues. I was the only one of my friends that listened to it, even though I was never exposed to it as a kid. But when the Robert Johnson CDs came out in the 80s/90s, I really got into blues in a serious way and started buying old vinyl and reading books. I had been really digging old blues for a while when I happened to see that “Deep Blues” movie. Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside were playing and I was mesmerized. Seriously, that moment I heard music I had never known before, and from there I started to change my approach to playing the guitar. I also decided I had to travel to Mississippi to meet Junior and R.L. A few years later Dan Auerbach made the same trip to meet the same guys!
My ever-expanding love of vinyl records gave me an appreciation for the independents like Bomp Records. So one day I decide to order this album from Bomp by a band called the Black Keys. I liked it, but at first I didn’t love it. I thought it was OK on the first listen, but kept coming back to the album because there was an honesty there that I wasn’t used to, and it wasn’t like anything else on the Bomp label at the time. It grew on me, like a lot of good albums often do. Then a little while later the Black Keys come out with another album on my beloved Fat Possum label and this one I liked even more. At first I thought these guys were just like typical white boy blues, but after a few listens, I realized their music had depth and soul and I was hooked. You couldn’t help but root for a band with integrity like the Keys, and for many years all I cared about was listening to the Keys.
Every time the boys from Akron came to the northeast US we went out and saw their concerts. I would always sort of laugh because Dan used all kinds of fuzz pedals and I would think to myself, how here’s another guy addicted to fuzz pedals like me! Dan was also into Teisco and Harmony guitars, and I just started to admire him for using these old guitars as gigging instruments, and how he used, and controlled, high gain fuzz on stage. Hey, the guy earned my respect! The albums kept pouring out of these boys and each one seemed better than before, and when the Chulahoma record came out, I was just floored! It was like Dan went to the crossroads or something! That album is one of my favorite records of all time.
On the following tour they stopped for a show in Philly and I thought I’d to stay after the show and talk to this guy, try to connect in some way. Dan came out and was really nice, totally unassuming, and we talked briefly about fuzz pedals and guitars. He used a Harmony Stratotone for the entire set that night and I told him how I owned the same guitar, and used the same fuzz pedals he used. It was a cool moment! Around that same time my wife and I had our first child, and soon after that Dan and his wife had their first child (both girls)! I wanted to invite him over for dinner!!!! I was seriously thinking that at the time!! How weird. I figured our kids could play, the wives could chat, and we could go into the studio and play guitars and fuzz pedals!! I know it’s crazy. The thing I didn’t realize is that when you’re a performer or achieve even a small level of fame, things can change in sort of sad ways for these people. I think it can be harder to connect with “regular” people, and the music business is such a drag in so many ways.
Then in 2008 Dan was selling some things on ebay through his tour manager’s account (Jamie from Earthquaker Devices) and Dan had this guitar for sale. It was a Fender Mustang that was so beat up I loved it immediately. I had always loved Mustangs since I saw Kurt Cobain use them and Dan’s was so worn, and it was in my favorite color! Here’s the way Dan described the guitar in the ebay ad:
This is a great Mustang for anyone looking for a cool looking Mustang. It plays better than any Mustang I’ve ever used! And i’m not just saying that! The body was found in the basement of a Cleveland, Ohio guitar shop and the tech there put it back together in his spare time using top of the line new Custom Fender relic replacement parts including pickups, trem arm, tuners and neck. The Custom shop neck is a dream and the wear of the body is cool as hell! I’d imagine this is what Keith Richard’s Mustang would look like if he owned one! A true one of a kind and an amazing player! Would never sell this but I’m saving up to buy a Rickenbacker…wish me luck! Comes with gig bag.
I later found out that Dan bought the Mustang at Heights Guitar in Cleveland a couple years prior. When I bought this guitar it was around the time of the Black Keys album Attack and Release and the boys also put out a DVD where you can catch a glimpse of this guitar sitting in a rack of other gits! I had to laugh when I opened the box and saw Dan’s packing material- empty diaper boxes! Having a baby at home and changing diapers all day, well, let’s just say you really go through diapers! As I went over the guitar the first thing I noticed was that the body had actually been split in half at one time! By the way, Dan did buy that Rick, and he used it on his solo album “Keep It Hid.”
I was also in for a nice surprise when I started to take apart the Mustang. I took off the neck and saw a 1965 date stamp!! This wasn’t a custom shop neck!! There were some new parts on the Mustang like the tuners and tremolo arm, but most of the guitar was rebuilt using vintage or original parts. The pickups look to be late 60s/early 70s. But Dan was right when he said that this Mustang played great! And really, I don’t care what’s original and what isn’t. I’m happy to own a guitar that came from a player I have a lot of respect for.
Nowadays the Keys seem to be everywhere and their music is in like every other commercial! It’s crazy! I really miss the huge beard and long hair days of a few years ago when the boys weren’t so popular, but I am happy for them to be able to make a living at something they love. It ain’t easy to live through your art, but as Dan’s dad once said on the old Black Keys forum, Dan was a musician “at the sub-atomic level.” Understand? It’s like my favorite literary quote: A rabid dog cannot choose, he bites.
Soon after I got the Mustang I wrote a letter to Dan (his return address was on the box!!) but I never heard back from him. And at the last Black Keys show I saw in 2010, Dan skipped out early and I missed him after the show. And then the old Black Keys forum shut down, to my great sadness! I usually dislike forums but I was an active member of that forum and one day it was just GONE! I knew it was the change of something. I always wondered if this guitar ever made it onto any recordings?
Now the Keys are playing HUGE venues and gone are the days of smaller shows. I’ve often wondered how one fan can connect without seeming like a stalker or some crazed yippy, adoring puppy or something? I never wrote another letter or sought him out again, but I have always wondered if he recorded with this Mustang. I remember I wrote in the letter about my love for Valco guitars, and I was so happy to see him using them for the Brothers album. And no, I’m not saying I influenced him!
One of my big regrets in life was never talking to Kurt Cobain while he was alive. I saw Nirvana several times in concert, and when I saw them in Hoboken in 1989 I was right up by the stage (come to think of it, I’m not even sure there was a stage!). When he killed himself I was shook to the core and wondered if I would’ve been able to help him somehow. Totally delusional thinking, but hey, I was young. I am glad I got to converse a little with Dan. There’s a similar admiration on a creative level. I’m really proud of Dan and Pat. It’s not that often a band with some integrity gets to hit the big time. I’ll tell you what though, I’d still like to talk fuzz pedals and department store guitars with him one day. Maybe even dinner! Of course Pat too!
Finally, check out Mike Dugan playing the Auerbach Mustang!