Robert Finley wants El Dorado residents to celebrate his 65th birthday with him this Wednesday, and he says he will bring the entertainment.
“I’m only going to be 65 for this one day, because the next day I’ll be 65 plus. So take it while you can get it and get it while you can,” Finley said, laughing.
Finley, a Louisiana native, only recently made a name for himself in show business. The singer-songwriter grew up singing gospel and playing guitar in church bands, but it wasn’t until he was 60 years old that he had the opportunity to cut his first record.
“That’s when most people retire, but that’s when I come alive. I’m not interested in retiring to a rocking chair; it’s going to be rock ‘n’ roll,” Finley said.
Five years ago, Finley hit a major bump in the road. His eyesight deteriorated enough that he was no longer able to work as a carpenter, a trade he’d practiced his whole life; he got divorced; he lost his house; then he lost the trailer he’d moved into after his divorce to a fire.
Finley never let that get him down, though; instead, he started pursuing a career playing music harder than he had ever before. Growing up, he said, he’d never been allowed to sing the blues; it was gospel or nothing.
“I’m the only one in the family that really ever stepped out and played the blues,” he said.
He decided to travel through the South playing his signature mix of blues, Southern soul and R&B. At a festival in Helena, representatives from the Music Maker’s Relief Foundation, a nonprofit that works to preserve southern and American music, heard him and offered to help him cut a record.
“It was the opportunity I’d been waiting on. I don’t think they could have kept me too many hours,” he said.
His first record, “Age Don’t Mean a Thing,” was released in September 2016. It was just the beginning for Finley.
He was soon discovered by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who helped him to get a record deal with Fat Possum Records. Auerbach wrote songs for Finley’s second album, “Goin’ Platinum!,” which was released in December 2017, and later toured with Finley on his Easy Eye Sound Revue tour.
“I’m not sad that it took so long, because I don’t think I was mentally or physically ready to handle it then,” Finley said. “Thirty years ago I couldn’t have handled success.”
Since then, he has toured multiple times throughout the United States and Europe. He said he hopes to bring Auerbach to El Dorado so he can get a taste of what the South has to offer. While he enjoys the busy tours, he said the shows he plays in his area of the South are the most rewarding.
“I love traveling around the world, but the local shows are best for me because I know everybody and everybody knows me,” he said. “When you get people there that’s been knowing you your whole life, that kind of tells a story.”
While Finley’s music is first and foremost blues, other influences, particularly rock ‘n’ roll storytelling and gospel, are easy to hear. He said he wants listeners to walk away from his shows feeling joyful.
“Every song should be like reading a short novel, or like reading a book. Every song should tell you something and leave you with a way out of something, or at least a way to deal with something,” he said. “You gotta tell a story and it has to be convincing.”
Finley said that currently, he and Auerbach are both writing for his third album, which he is hoping to see released by the end of the year.
“It’s all about things people can relate to – everyday life, you know, daily life,” he said. “It’s mostly about reality and just telling the stories of life through music. Trying to do it in a joyful way so even if it’s a negative problem we can at least look at it in a positive way.”
Positivity is a recurring theme for Finley. Even when he lost what most people would call their whole lives (spouse, career, home), he persevered, and that perseverance ended up landing him smack dab in the middle of his childhood dream.
“I’m one of those people, I don’t believe in quitting,” Finley said. “I’m touched to be able to live my childhood dream and bring joy and happiness to other people’s lives at the same time.”
He said he tries to use every song he plays to connect with his audiences. Although he plays the blues, he said his primary mission is to bring joy to the people that listen to his music.
“People think you’ve got to be down and out and miserable, but the blues bring joy,” he said. “You can dance, you can rock. It’s up to the audience its presented to whether it’s a happy occasion or a sad occasion.”
Finley still resides in Bernice, Louisiana, where he plays guitar for his church band and rehearses with his local band mates Joe, Vincent, Jay and Tico. They will perform with Finley at his birthday concert, along with opening act Kiko Pryor.
“I tried to use the local talent and local musicians rather than flying in musicians from all over the country,” he said. “Giving the local people time to display their talent.”
For other musicians looking to break into show business, Finley’s advice centered around authenticity.
“It can’t be about the dollar. You’ve got to have some love for it. That’s the most important thing is you’ve got to have love for it, because if you have love for it, the dollar will come,” he said. “You’re not going to get there unless you make the first step. You’ve got to step out and you’ve got to believe in yourself. It’s got to be an ‘I can and I’m gonna’ kind of situation.”
Wednesday’s concert will be held at the Griffin Restaurant, beginning at 8 p.m. with Pryor, followed by Finley’s headline performance at 9 p.m. A whiskey drink special will be available in Finley’s honor. He joked that he couldn’t reveal too much about the drink special since he has an upcoming performance at church as well.
Doors open at 6 p.m. Reserved seating tickets are $25 and general admission tickets are $15 through Tuesday. Tickets purchased on the day of the show will cost $30 for reserved seats and $20 for general admission.
Finley will turn 65 years old Wednesday and asks that concertgoers come prepared for a party.
“Make sure they’ve got on some comfortable clothes and dancing shoes, because they won’t be able to sit through this one,” Finley said.
Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.