The Truth About Jack White And The Black Keys' Feud

Jack White and The Black Keys' history isn't exactly black and white. The musicians had a public feud that lasted for half a decade, including bitterness and hostility, apologies and reconciliation, reignited anger, and misunderstanding. 

The rockers' differences were rooted in their striking similarities. The band names ring alike, though White started The White Stripes in 1997, and Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney created The Black Keys four years later, in 2001. According to The New Yorker, White moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2005. He opened the headquarters of his record label, Third Man Records, in downtown Nashville in 2009. The following year, Auerbach and Carney moved to Nashville and opened a music studio downtown, per Billboard. Despite their Nashville bases, White, Auerbach, and Carney are all Midwestern: White is from Detroit; Auerbach and Carney started their band in Akron, Ohio.

The Black Keys sound has drawn comparisons to White's two-piece band with its blues-based, garage-rock sound. But White once told Rolling Stone, "I'm a lot more to do with Jay-Z than the Black Keys." In 2012, Rolling Stone reported that allegedly White had blocked Auerbach from entering his studio in Nashville, but Auerbach wouldn't talk about it. To that, White said, "Anything you've ever heard anyone say about me is 100% accurate," but that was only the beginning.

The Black Keys were pulled into Jack White's divorce proceedings

Jack White's distaste for The Black Keys was made even plainer during his 2013 custody battle with his ex-wife, British model Karen Elson. Court documents showed that White had pushed Elson to move their children to a different school because they attended the same school as an unnamed Nashville musician who he believed had "ripped off" his music, per Rolling Stone.

Emails submitted to the court as evidence for the motion revealed that the musician in question was The Black Keys' guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach. "My conce[r]n with Auerbach is because I don't want the kids involved in any of that crap," White wrote in an email to Elson (via Rolling Stone). "That's a possible 12 f****** years I'm going to have to be sitting in kids chairs next to that a**hole with other people trying to lump us in together. He gets yet another free [rein] to follow me around and copy me and push himself into my world."

Jack White wrote an open letter wishing The Black Keys well

In 2014 — the year after Jack White's emails about The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach had been made public — White wrote an open letter addressing his now public opinions. White said he felt pressure to publicly address his thoughts on The Black Keys because "...of lawyers trying to villainize me in a private legal scenario, my private letters were made public for reasons I still don't understand" (via Rolling Stone). 

White seemed to want to patch things up with Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, or at least clear the air. White said he could relate to The Black Keys' experience due to their similarities, and wished them well. 

"I wish the band the Black Keys all the success that they can get," he wrote. "Lord knows that I can tell you myself how hard it is to get people to pay attention to a two piece band with a plastic guitar, so any attention that the Black Keys can get in this world I wish it for them, and I hope their record stays in the top ten for many months and they have many more successful albums in their career."

A 2015 run-in reignited old grievances between Jack White and The Black Keys

In September 2015, more than a year after Jack White shared his well-wishes with The Black Keys, White ran into the band's drummer, Patrick Carney, in a bar in New York City. Following the encounter, Carney took to Twitter to claim — in a now-deleted flurry of tweets — that White had tried to fight him, per the Independent. The drummer stated that the run-in was the first time he and White had met. "I don't fight and don't get fighting but he was mad!!!" Carney wrote.

"He is why I play music," Carney wrote, "The bully a**holes who made me feel like nothing. Music was a private non competitive thing."

The drummer finished off his Twitter spree with some name-calling. "40-year-old bully tried to fight the 35-year-old nerd," he wrote. "It might get loud but it might also get really really sad and pathetic ... Jack White is basically Billy Corgan's dumb ass zero t-shirt in human form." (His final tweet was a baffling reference to a shirt worn habitually by The Smashing Pumpkins frontman, as outlined by 101.1 WKQX.) Later, in a public statement, Carney added that "to get macho bull**** from within the musical community makes me angry and sad" (via Pitchfork).

Jack White and Patrick Carney seemed to patch things up once and for all

Shortly after their run-in and the drummer's Twitter spree, Jack White and Patrick Carney made amends. "Nobody tried to fight you, Patrick," White said in response to Carney's allegations (via Pitchfork). "Nobody touched you or 'bullied' you. You were asked a question you couldn't answer so you walked away. So quit whining to the internet and speak face to face like a human being. End of story."

Carney must have taken White's statement as an invitation because the pair seemed to have resolved their issues later that day. The Independent reported (via Pitchfork in a now-deleted tweet) that Carney wrote, "Talked to Jack for an hour he's cool. All good." White then offered his own statement of concession via the Third Man Records Twitter account: "From one musician to another, you have my respect Patrick Carney."

As of 2021, White and The Black Keys have not had any public beef in the six years since they made their amends. Hopefully, the musicians are busy focusing on the less dramatic, and more essential, part of rock 'n' roll: the music itself.