10 Things You Didn’t Know about Robert Finley

10 Things You Didn’t Know about Robert Finley

65-year-old Robert Finley has been dazzling the judges on this season’s America’s Got Talent with his original compositions, soulful voice, and incredible spirit. 54 years after he picked up his first guitar, Finley is finally realizing his lifelong ambition of making music on a national stage. With 2 albums already under his belt, Finley is by no means a newcomer to the industry, but he’s hoping AGT brings his music to a whole new audience and cement’s his place in musical history. Judging by the audience’s reaction to his performances, he’s already achieved both. Find out more about the bluesman with the 10 fast facts.

1. He lost his sight to glaucoma

Finley began losing his sight around 5 years ago. The deterioration in his eyesight is caused by glaucoma, a progressive, usually inherited, eye condition that causes damage to the optic nerve and is often caused by a buildup of pressure in the eye. Finley hasn’t let the condition slow him down, as he shared with the AGT audience. “My daughter bought me a rocking chair, and I told our baby, you can take it back to the store and get your money back because I’m not sitting in a rocking chair,” he joked. “I’m rocking and rolling.”

2. He’s been playing guitar since he was 11

Finley has been strumming the guitar since he was a child, which may explain why he’s such a virtuoso. When he just 11 years old, his father gave him enough money to go into town to buy a pair of new shoes. After weighing up the options and deciding learning an instrument would get him further in life than some shoes, Finley decided to rebel and spend the money on a guitar instead.

3. He made his debut at 63 years old

In 2016, Finley released his debut album, Age Don’t Mean A Thing. Speaking to WBUR about his decision to enter the industry at the age of 63, Finley noted “You know, you never give up on your dream, until the end. I guess this was a childhood dream, but it was something I really never stepped out on. And then, after I lost my sight, partially – I got to where I couldn’t read the tape measure or build a square building – I just reached back and grabbed a guitar, which I’d been playing all along, playing at local places here in Monroe. But now I’m heading around the map with it so that’s the good news.”

4. He joined the army at 17

Finlay joined the army at the age of 17 and spent the first few years of service stationed in Germany as a helicopter technician. Unwilling to abandon his love of music, Finlay started a band, spending the rest of his nights at the base treating the troops to his renditions of the songs of artists like Joe Simon, Tyrone Davis, Isaac Hayes, and Marvin Gaye. After his discharge from the Army, Finlay headed back to Louisiana. By day, he earned a living as a carpenter. By night, he continued to hone his skills by taking gigs at whichever bar, club or venue that would have him.

5. Songwriting comes naturally to him

Finlay isn’t someone who struggles with writer’s block; in an interview with offbeat, he described how he manages to find inspiration just by looking around and paying attention to other people’s experiences. “Once I get the music, the lyrics just come natural,” he explained. “All you’ve got to do is look around. Just about anything you’d want to write about, somebody’s going through it. It’s hard to miss. Every day is a song, really.”

6. Busking won him a record deal

In 2015, Finlay was scheduled to appear at King Biscuit Blues Fest in Helena, Arkansas. In the hours leading up to his appearance on stage, Finlay decided to pass the hours by entertaining the crowds with some street music. As he was busy busking, he caught the eye of one passer-by in particular- Tim Duffy of Music Maker Relief Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides support to aging blues musicians. With the organization’s help, Finlay began touring with the likes of Robert Lee Coleman and Alabama Slim and signed a record deal with Big Legal Mess Records.

7. He’s recorded the soundtrack to a graphic novel

In 2017, Finlay teamed up with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys to create the Murder Ballads soundtrack, a collection of four original tracks (including the single Bang Bang) to accompany the release of the graphic novel of the same name. Working with Finlay was obviously a dream come true for the younger Auerbach, who told Rolling Stone “Working with Robert Finley was incredible. He’s the greatest living soul singer as far as I’m concerned.”

8. He wowed the AGT judges

Finlay’s first appearance on AGT went down a storm with both the judges and the viewers. Singing an original composition called Get It While You Can (which includes the lyrics “You gotta take it when you can get it / Get it while you can / Wrap it up in bacon / Sizzle it in your pan”), Finlay got an amazing response from all four members of the judging panel, with Howie Mandel telling him “You’re a great inspiration and a great talent. I love you,” and Gabrielle Union saying Robert had her at “wrap it up in bacon.” Julianna Hough was clearly moved deeply by the performance, while Simon said that Finlay’s voice had aged like a fine wine.

9. He grew up on gospel music

Finlay’s childhood was immersed in music. Blues was banned in the Finlay household, and at home, Finlay could listen to gospel radio only. Outside of the house was a different story entirely: with every store and bar rocking out to its own jukebox, Finlay got to listen to everyone from James Brown to B.B. King, Bobby Bland to The Temptations, Tyrone Davis to Joe Simon. Elvis Presley and the Beatles were also big inspirations- in a strange piece of serendipity, 40 years after Finlay was listening to the King and dreaming of a similar career, he played with several of the music legend’s band during the recording of his second album, Goin’ Platinum.

10. His motto is “quitters never win”

Finlay is living proof of his motto ‘quitters never win’. While Finlay may have spent the majority of his life pursuing a very different career than the one he may have liked, he never gave up on music, and now, at the age of 65 years old, he’s finally living his dream. “I just hung in there and believed I was gonna get a chance someday,” he told The Commercial Appeal. “Music just became a part of me. Whatever happened to me in life, I put it to music.”

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