Published on January 22nd, 2019 | by Michael Ray0
Interview: Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke
by Michael Ray
With dates all over the country and world in their sights, Blackberry Smoke of Atlanta, Georgia, may just be the hardest working band in the business. The band will be making a stop in Oxford on the first leg of the “Find a Light” tour, at The Lyric on Thursday, January 24.
Blackberry Smoke was formed almost 20 years ago by lead singer and guitarist, Charlie Starr. Hailing from the South, the comparisons to other rock legends from below the Mason Dixon were inevitable. When I recently talked with Charlie to ask him about being labeled “Southern Rock” he had this to say:
“People are going to put music in a genre and if they want to put us in Southern Rock, I am perfectly happy with that. The problem with genres is that it tends to stifle folk’s creativity though. I don’t mind it all because I am always trying to come up with something new.”
With six full length albums to their credit, including two Billboard Country number ones, Find A Light, the most current album, reached number three on the country charts and number two on Billboards Indie releases, as the band puts out music on its own label, 3 Legged Dog Records. New music is due later this year.
Starr said, “Writing new is songs hard! I always look back on what I have written and ask myself ‘did I say this already’ when I’m working on a song. I am a huge Tom Waits fan and that doesn’t help for sure, cause I look at his work and think ‘man I suck’ and it makes me work harder.”
Being compared to greats like The Allman Brothers Band certainly does have its advantages, when in 2016 during the recording for Like An Arrow, Charlie was able to collaborate with one of his early influences and idols in legendary musician Gregg Allman on the track “Free On the Wing.”
“Man it was scary asking him to do that. He said to send him the song, he listened to it and said, ‘Ok let’s do it.’ It was such an amazing experience to get to do that. Gregg was so accommodating and nice. When I hear that song now, since Gregg passed, it’s an emotional experience for me. To have been able to do that was such an honor and a privilege.”
In 2009, country star George Jones made a guest appearance on the release
Little Pieces of Dixie beside Chris Stapleton, to record a new version of his 1982 duet “Yesterday’s Wine.”
“That got everyone’s attention. Some people who were not into us, noticed that, one being my Dad. He was all ‘wait a minute now, now you’re doing something, playing with George Jones!’ So of course, that will always be something special. We don’t really seek out anyone to collaborate with, it just kinda falls into our lap and we run with it. Being able to cover Tom Petty on The Southern Ground Sessions was something else that was afforded to us, you know with him being from Florida and considered a southern artist too.”
This second part of the “Find a Light” tour takes them from Mississippi out to the West Coast, then back to the South to close the tour in Nashville at The Ryman Auditorium. The far-reaching appeal of the music is evident in shows and festivals on the horizon for them, that are far removed from the South. 2019 will see them in Sweden, France (at a metal festival called Hellfest), Brazil, Peru, England, and for the first time, Mexico City at The Domination Music Fest with such acts as Kiss and Alice Cooper.
“We’re a touring band. It’s what we do. I love being on the road. The South is always a special place to play, especially when we’re home in Atlanta. That is always a party. We love playing Oxford and look forward to a great show! I really don’t have one favorite place to be honest. People react differently in different places. One of the rowdiest crowds we ever had was in Glasgow, Scotland. Our music seems to sometimes attract the hooligans ya know? But it does seem that the smaller cities give us a bigger reception. Of course, it all depends on the day too. People are different on a Tuesday night show than a Saturday night one.”
The engine that is Blackberry Smoke will continue to spread the gospel of the Southern greats like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, and Blackfoot, while being damn proud about it and perfectly all right being hailed as the heir apparent to the Southern Rock crown.