When you think of southern rock, a few legendary names come to mind: Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, the Allman Brothers. There’s no doubt that Blackberry Smoke will climb the ranks and land on this list one day. This quintet from Atlanta, Georgia is taking the southern rock world by storm with their authentic, down home southern rock. Their sophomore release, Little Piece of Dixie, is 11 songs of good ol’ fashioned rock with just enough outlaw country to make it twang. I recently caught up with singer/guitarist, Charlie Starr, in between recording with “The Possum” himself and a sold out show in Ohio.
HRH:. Tell me about how you guys all came together. Were you guys in different bands? Did you always play southern rock?
BBS: Brit, Richard and I were in a band for a few years with another singer. That situation didn’t work
out, so we left his band and started banging around as a trio. We quickly realized that it would be hard for a three piece band to win a fight with a five or six piece, so we added another guitar player. I ran into Paul, my old goofball buddy, playing in a little bar in LaGrange, Ga. He joined the band and here we are. We’ve all played different types of music, I guess, but this is pretty much the sound that is made when we play together. It just kinda comes naturally I guess. We play the sounds to fit the songs and if it’s comfortable, we roll on.
HRH: How did you come up with your name?
BBS: We were having problems coming up with a name and asked our long time friends Steve Gorman and Chris Robinson to help. After several weeks of both ridiculous and hilarious suggestions, Chris came up with THE BLACKBERRY SMOKE. So we were off and running.
HRH: Tell me about your new album, Little Piece of Dixie. How would you compare it to your first album, Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime?
BBS: I’d say the new album is us picking up where we left off. Once again we didn’t spend a lot of time over thinking the recording process. I’m afraid of what might happen if we find ourselves with a shit load of time to spend in the studio! Maybe a triple concept album.
HRH: Blackberry Smoke is a good mix of good old fashioned rock & roll and good old fashioned country. Who are some of your influences from both genres?
BBS: Short list: Stones, Little Feat, Skynyrd, Allman Bros., Marshall Tucker, Gram Parsons, Crowes, Satellites, Four Horsemen, Free, Humble Pie, Frankie Miller…Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Stanley Bros., Hank Williams, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Flatt n Scruggs, Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart!
HRH: Do you think this sound has hindered you in any way since some may feel the band is too country for rock and too rock for country?
BBS: It has kept the people away that we really shouldn’t be working with anyway.
HRH: You recently recorded a song with George Jones and Jamey Johnson. What song did you record and how did this come about? How was it working with country legend George Jones?
BBS: We recorded “Yesterday’s Wine.” I was listening to Merle and George’s duet of the song, and I called Jamey and asked if he would record it with us. He said he would love to! I called the guys from Bama Jam records and told them about the idea. They loved it and said they would mention it to Mr. George Jones. They did and he loved it! He showed up at the studio, and the rest is history. Unbelievable. Thank you Mr. Jones and Mr. Johnson!
HRH: You have had the opportunity to work with a lot of legends. You’ve toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. You’ve shared the stage with tons of people including Ricky Medlock and Slash. And now you’ve recorded with George Jones. Does working with such amazing artists intimidate you or just make you work harder? Is there one moment that stands out from the rest?
BBS: All of those opportunities are so amazing, it’s impossible to single one out. I love the fact that all those guys are still such music lovers.
HRH: You are going over to Europe in December. Have you played over there before? Are you excited?
BBS: We are VERY excited to go and play Europe. We have never played in Europe before and feel like it is time to go over and do some exploring.
HRH: You have been on the Lynyrd Skynyrd Simple Man cruise and the Rock Boat and seem to be permanent fixtures on both. How did you guys get on these cruises and what do you think is the secret to your success since you are one of the very few bands who are invited back every year? Are there any other cruises in your future? Do you like one cruise better than the other?
BBS: We were asked to be on the cruise by the great Lynyrd Skynyrd band. We had such a great experience the very first time and were asked back on the next Skynyrd cruise and offered a spot on the ROCK BOAT!
HRH: You have quite a nice collection of guitars. Can you tell me how you acquired some of them? For example: the Les Paul Jr., the carved Telecaster, and the Dan Armstrong.
BBS: I bought the Junior about 15 years ago. It was one of Rick Richards from the Georgia Satellites’ guitars. The carved Tele came from my old buddy Ted Lathangue in Atlanta. He got it from Haggis of The Four Horsemen. I’ve since become friends with Haggis and he told me the story of when the guitar was built and later carved. If I told you, I’d have to kill you. The clear Dan Armstrong is a gift from the coolest guitar player on the planet, the one and only Rev. Billy F. Gibbons! Thank you Billy G., Haggis and Rick!
HRH: What made you decide to add Brandon on the keys?
BBS: We have always wanted keyboards on recordings and as a permanent fixture. All of our favorite bands have piano and B-3 throughout their songs. We just couldn’t fit anyone else in our van in the beginning!
HRH: Who does most of the writing? And what is your writing process? Do you actually sit down with the intent of writing a song, or does it just come to you?
BBS: I write most of them at my house, then take em to Brit’s house where we all arrange them in ‘lectrified form. The last couple of years, we’ve made some great songwriter buddies and have all collaborated and written a bunch of great songs, in my opinion. I guess there’s no specific process, they just come when they come. Whether we’re all together, or with a collaborator, or I’m by myself.
HRH: Which one of your songs is your favorite and why?
BBS: I have several favorites at any given time. Today they are “We Got Company”, “I’d Be Lyin”, “Everybody Knows She’s Mine”, and “Ain’t Much Left of Me”.
HRH: What bands/music are you listening to you now?
BBS: Frankie Miller live @ the BBC. Grateful Dead Europe ’72. Jimmie Rodgers Standing on the Corner. Willie and the Family Live. And always, Exile on Main St.
Check out Blackberry Smoke at http://blackberrysmoke.com/. Their new album, Little Piece of Dixie, is available at Best Buy and Walmart. Thanks to Charlie Starr for taking the time to answer these questions. Hope you guys kick ass in Europe!