Formed on the basis of old friendships and an abundance of talent and energy, the Raconteurs surprised and excited fans who know its members from their other projects. The band is composed of power pop solo artist Brendan Benson; Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler from the Cincinnati-based garage band the Greenhornes; and Jack White, the male counterpart of internationally successful rock/pop group White Stripes. Within two years of their debut in 2006, the four members managed to craft a sound that is eclectic, familiar, and fun. Lorraine Ali of Newsweek described the first single from their release Broken Boy Soldier, "Steady, As She Goes," in glowing terms: "[It] already sounds like a classic hit from some alternate universe where go-go beats and new-wave quirkiness dance hand in hand."
The Raconteurs came about when Benson found himself with music and no lyrics and nothing coming to mind. He invited White to write some lyrics for him. It was 2004 and by this time White had been performing for seven years with his ex-wife in the White Stripes. Just as Benson was tired of doing it all on his own, White was ready to try a different style as well. When asked if there was anything different about writing songs to Benson's music, White responded to Brian Hiatt of Rolling Stone, "It felt just like anything else—like writing lyrics to one of my songs, or mowing the lawn." Sensing they needed to add more to their sound, Benson and White invited Lawrence and Keeler to play along with them. White told Hiatt, "By the third song, it turned into a band." Keeler and Lawrence, also longtime friends of White's, had collaborated with him on Loretta Lynn's Grammy winning 2004 release Van Lear Rose. White produced the album for Lynn and called in Keeler and Lawrence to play in the band named the Do-Whaters.
Benson and White first met in the late 1990s, when they were both hanging out and performing in the Detroit music scene. Benson recalls their first meeting to Hiatt, "I remember meeting Jack for the first time and thinking he was very strange—in the best possible way." They quickly became friends and admirers of each other's work, to the point of staging a show performing each other's songs. White told Hiatt he did it mostly as a statement directed toward what he called "garage rockers" who seemed more concerned with looking cool than creating quality lyrics.
Benson was born in Detroit then moved outside of New Orleans. His father was a welder and his mother a waitress. When he was 12, he moved back to Detroit with his mother. As a teenager Benson started out in local punk rock bands, but by 15 he was working on his solo career. By his late teens, he had moved to California and created his first album One Mississippi. Laura Barton of the Guardian wrote that Benson is "Widely considered to be one of modern music's finest songwriters, his tunes possessing a peculiar, heart-winning radiance, an infusion of Beach Boys-ish harmonies, McCartney-style exuberance, and Elliot Smith-tinged wistfulness." White told Barton, "I envy his melodies," when he spoke about his regard for Benson's songwriting skills.
Born John Anthony Gillis into a large family in Detroit, Jack White began playing instruments at a young age. In addition to singing and songwriting, White plays guitar, piano, Theremin, and marimba. He has also taken successful side roads into acting as well as producing. In 2005, his work with Loretta Lynn on Van Lear Rose garnered her two Grammy Awards. One for best country album and one for best country collaboration with vocals for the single "Portland Oregon." He was once married to Meg White, the other half of White Stripes. In 2005, he married Karen Elson, a model, in a canoe on the Amazon River in Brazil. He has two children with her.
In 2005, Benson revealed to Barton, "I'm just sorta sick of myself." As someone who had largely shunned working with others, Benson seemed ready to delve into something different. Luckily, he found an excellent collaborator. Around that time he and White had just pulled together enough material to release the Raconteurs first album, Broken Boy Soldiers. It was released in 2006 and not long afterward, he, along with the other three members, relocated to Nashville, Tennessee.
Even though solidifying the idea of being the Raconteurs was important to the members and the motivation to move to the same city, all of them kept up with their previous work as well. In 2005, Benson had finished his album The Alternative to Love and the Greenhornes released the EP East Grand Blues, which was produced by Benson. In mid-2008, after a yearlong hiatus, White announced plans to work on a seventh album with his long standing band the White Stripes.
After the release of their first album, the Raconteurs went on a heavily scheduled tour that had them traveling across the United States and in Europe. Drawn primarily by White's celebrity from his work with the White Stripes, crowds flocked to see them perform despite their status as a new band. They also made an appearance on MTV's Video Music Awards show that year. In November of 2006, they opened for folk rock legend Bob Dylan on several of his tour dates.
In early 2008, the Raconteurs came together to record their second album, Consolers of the Lonely. After a whirlwind recording session, the band released the album in March of 2008 to the public as well as critics and reviewers. Most albums enjoy a substantial buildup by industry insiders listening, playing, and reviewing advance copies before going public with sales. The Raconteurs bypassed that, handing the album over to everyone, and then going on tour. Tour dates included performances in White and Benson's old stomping grounds of Detroit and in Tennessee at the Bonnaroo Festival, a yearly four-day outdoor festival featuring numerous artists.
There seems to be no end to the creative energy the members of the Raconteurs have to expend. Their performances excite fans of both Benson and White while giving everyone a taste of what a true collaboration sounds like. As a reviewer for NPR wrote, "White brings his lyrical word play, distinctive voice and thundering guitar work to the group, while Benson lends his gift for song craft and production." It appears that the Raconteurs will have stories to tell for many years to come.
For the Record …
Members include Brendan Benson (born 1970, in Detroit, MI), guitar, vocals, keyboards; Patrick Keeler , drums; Jack Lawrence , bass guitar; Jack White (born on July 9, 1975, in Detroit, MI; youngest of ten siblings), guitar, vocals, keyboards.
Formed in Detroit, MI, a collaboration of Jack White (of White Stripes) and Brendan Benson (solo artist), 2004; Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler added to fill out band, 2005; debut album, Broken Boy Soldiers, released, 2006; toured North America and Europe extensively, performed at MTV Video Music Awards, 2006; nominated for Grammy for Best Rock Album, 2007; released Consolers of the Lonely, 2008.
Awards: Mojo Magazine, Album of the Year for Broken Boy Soldiers, 2007.
Addresses: Record company—XL Recordings, One Codrington Mews, London, W11 2EH; 304 Hudson St., 7th Fl., New York, NY 10013. Warner Brothers, 4000 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505. Web site—The Raconteurs Official Web site: http://www.theraconteurs.com/.
Broken Boy Soldiers, XL Recordings, 2006.
Consolers of the Lonely, Warner Brothers, 2008.
Guardian (London), March 25, 2005, p. 11.
Newsweek (Pacific Edition), June 5, 2006, p. 54.
Rolling Stone, May 4, 2006, p. 16.
"The Raconteurs in Concert," NPR,http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90769922 (June 30, 2008).