Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke
We talk with lead singer Charlie Starr ahead of their show at the Macon City Auditorium on October 29th about the latest album, working with Gregg Allman and the state of Americana music today.
It is very difficult to place the band Blackberry Smoke into any particular genre just because of the wide ranging and varying musical styles that make them up. For over 16 years, this band has traveled the world and played with Gregg Allman and Billy Gibbons just to name a few. We had a chance to talk with lead singer Charlie Starr ahead of their show at the Macon City Auditorium on October 29th about the latest album, working with Gregg Allman and the state of Americana music today.
Thank you so much for taking some time with us. Now yourself, Richard and Brit Turner, Paul Jackson and Brandon Still make up Blackberry Smoke and you all are going to be here on October 29th at the Macon City Auditorium promoting the latest album Like A Arrow, how has the response to the album and the touring been?
It’s been fantastic. We’re actually working on a new album, funny enough, but still working Like An Arrow. We are constantly on the road so it never really feels like a tour for an album. It’s just been great. The fans are happy and we are happy. It’s all good.
Now I know with all musicians there’s one significant moment that we hear a song that introduces us to this mistress named music and changed our lives forever. What was that moment for you personally?
I don’t know. I was sort of born into a very musical family. There was always singing and music around. My dad is a singer and a bluegrass guitar player and my grandmother’s brothers were a gospel quintet called Swanee River Boys back in the 50’s and 60’s so music was always there.
You guys are originally out of Atlanta and you all have played The Red Eye and The Hummingbird during the early stages of your careers. How did the band originally get together?
We got together in Atlanta probably around 2000 or so. We were all in different bands and we just wound up together. I think a lot of us would frequent the same late night bars at that point. And there weren’t a lot of people that played the same kind of music that we do so we sort of gravitated towards one another.
Like An Arrow is the band’s sixth studio album and you all are currently working on new music. How do you feel the band’s sound has evolved over this 16 year span?
When I listen to the records, and i don’t do that often because we play them every night. But when I do, i notice that we seem to have settled down a little as far as the way that we play and we’ve found a groove with one another. And I hear that evolution from record to record. And it feels really good to me> You start to know one another like the back of one another’s hand musically and i think that’s where i can’t tell it.
I wanted to talk about a couple of the songs of the latest album. First off, one of my favorite songs on the album is Sunrise in Texas and I was reading that it was a song that you performed live but never recorded it for an album. What was the decision process around putting it on this album?
I think we just played it one night. Like someone literally requested it. And it had been a long time since we had played the song. We played it and it felt really good and it was sort of one of those “Oh Yea” moments. Because the first time I ever heard part of the song was because of Michael Tolcher. He played it years ago and I said that’s beautiful, what is that. He said it wasn’t finished. I sort of took the liberty and wrote some lyrics here and there for it. So I asked him later after we worked it up and decided to record it for Like An Arrow. I contacted him and said do you mind if we put this song on the record and he said go right ahead so we did it.
And the other song I wanted to talk about was the last song on the album, “Free On The Wing” featuring the late great Gregg Allman and even in the band bio you say that it is a very Macon, Georgia kind of song.
Well, The Allman Brothers Band. If it weren’t for their music, we probably wouldn’t be a band for sure. Not playing the kind of music that we play at any rate. But Macon, Georgia itself with Otis and Little Richard. There has to be a theory. I think someone said once that it’s in the river. Someone said it’s in every river. That’s where that stuff comes from. Even the Beatles in Liverpool. It just comes out of the river. So over the years, I met Gregg through Chank Middleton. I met Chank first and then he introduced me to Gregg. That was such a moment you know because Gregg was just such a powerful presence. We played some shows over the years. We did the Peach Festival and a couple of Laid Back Festivals with Gregg himself. So I went down to the Cox Capitol Theatre a year and a half ago and I worked up the courage to ask if he would sing on this song. I wrote that song with our keyboard player Brandon and I felt like that song just felt like Macon. It’s got that sort of swagger to it. It’s sort of greasy. It’s just got that thing. So I worked up the courage to ask Gregg if he would sing on it. And at that time I didn’t know that Gregg was that ill. He didn’t let on and he didn’t say anything about it. So I asked him if he would and he said let me hear the song. So i let him hear him it and he said ok I’ll do the song. And I would have been happy right there with him just agreeing to it. So that night he asked me if I wanted to play one with him and I said absolutely I do. So we jammed that night and it was beautiful and I will treasure that memory forever. But then unfortunately we weren’t able to be there when he recorded his vocal on that song because we were in Europe. So he came in with his engineer and our engineer and recorded it. I talked to him a little after that and thanked him profusely and it gives me chills to listen to it now.
And to wrap it up I will ask this last question. With the diverse music styles that embody the Blackberry Smoke sound, it seems fit that you fall right in line with this genre defying thing we call Americana music. How do you feel the state of the genre itself is and its current place within the mainstream music industry?
I think that it’s a constant. It seems like with each generation, we are beat over the head with bad pop music. But if you look for it, there’s always good music to be found and for me that over the years has been the Americana genre. I remember back in the early 90’s you could find bands like The Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo that became Wilco and Son Volt. But there were always bands like that. And then if you think about it Tom Petty was from time to time an Americana artist. Literally and figuratively. So it’s always music like that which stands the test of time.