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Straight out of the musical holy land that is Atlanta, Georgia, comes a band that encompasses all the great things about old-fashioned Southern rock. From their seventies-inspired cowboy threads and mountain-man beards to their expert musicianship and soulful lyrics, Blackberry Smoke seems to be reviving an edgier version of the music they all grew up listening to. Taking a cue from bands like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, these guys make no frills, no fuss jams that beg to be heard with a beer in your hand.
Blackberry Smoke is notorious for living life on the road, often playing up to 250 shows a year. Unlike some other bands, lead singer Charlie Starr talks about time on the road as an actual reality instead of a just a portion of their professional lives. “It’s truly a gypsy way to live,” Starr says. In fact, the band lives so off the grid that they recorded their third and latest album, The Whippoorwill, in just five days. “We’ve never had the luxury of spending too much time in the studio because we tour so much,” explains Starr. “Hopefully, that will change one of these days and we can go in and get a little more comfortable in a chair.”
Starr was kind enough to take some time in between a sound check and going on stage in Lubbock to answer our oddball questions. He also shared his thoughts on the success of their good friend Zac Brown, who’s Southern Ground label they’re signed to. “It’s been such a great experience, before we were signed to his label, to watch him garner such success and win Grammy’s and blah blah blah. We’d been friends for so long so when they’d play an award show and just kill, we’d be so proud like, ‘Look at them go!’ Working with him in the music business is…it’s a good place to be.”
Blackberry Smoke is going to knock your socks off when they hit the stage at House of Blues tonight with support from Drake White and Prophets & Outlaws. You really won’t want to miss this one, folks.
FrontRow: What is the best concert and the worst concert you have ever been to?
Charlie Starr: The best was the Rolling Stones back on the Voodoo Lounge tour. I couldn’t remember if it was Voodoo Lounge or Steel Wheels, but it was Voodoo Lounge.
The worst is a hard one because I really haven’t been to many that were really bad, I guess. Let me think about that for a second. Well…okay, I can’t tell you the name of the band, but I saw a band in Atlanta years ago at Smith’s Olde Bar that sang a song about frogs. They were serious. They were this hippie band and they had a song called “Frog Nation Speaks,” and they were complaining before the song about how many frogs were being killed by deforestation and things like that. So it was their protest song, stop killing the frogs. That was the worst.
FR: What was the first movie you saw in the theaters?
CS: E.T. I cried.
FR: What’s the closest you have ever come to dying?
CS: A couple of car accidents that weren’t what you would consider bad really but they scared the s*** out of me, so I guess I thought I was supposed to die.
One time we spent 10 years touring in a van, driving ourselves around like most bands do for years and years and years, paying those dues, and I drove us into a forest fire. It was like four in the morning and I didn’t do it on purpose, but unbeknownst to me, there was a forest fire and I thought it was fog. The further I drove, the smokier and smokier it got until I couldn’t see the road in front of me or behind me. So basically, Richard had to get out of the van with a laser pointer and get us turned around. I figured we probably could have all died from smoke inhalation if we hadn’t thought on our feet. Thank God for laser pointers.
FR: If you could choose any decade to live in, which would it be?
CS: I’ve often thought about that. It would be cool to live in the 60’s and the 70’s just to see…well I did live in the 70’s but I was a kid. But to be an adult in the mid-60’s, early 70’s would’ve been cool to go see all the people we wish we could have seen. My wife and I talked about it and as hard as it might have been to keep yourself alive in the late 1800s, I’d like to live in the mountains, a la Jeremiah Johnson. I have a very romantic view of that. It would probably completely suck. If I got there, I’d be like, “Get me outta here! This place sucks.” But they make it look so easy in the movies. They build their cabin in five minutes.
FR: What was your favorite toy as a kid?
CS: I always really enjoyed my BB gun. I had a little lever action baby BB gun, so probably that. I killed a blue jay once and got in big trouble. My dad wasn’t so bothered by it but my grandmother really was irritated by that, just killing that bird for no reason. You want to go kill something, go kill a crow for crying out loud.
FR: Should the United States adopt a national healthcare system similar to the United Kingdom or Canada?
CS: It seems to work for them. It does. I had a friend who broke his leg in Amsterdam, he got hit by a car and it was a freak little thing. Well, I guess it was a big thing since his leg was broken, but he was treated and released in two hours. Here, obviously, he wouldn’t have seen a doctor yet. He would’ve been in the emergency room with people bleeding. That doesn’t really say anything about the better healthcare system officially, it just seems more efficient.
I don’t know. I mean, far be it for me to try and tell these guys how to fix their problems, but it seems like we should pay attention to some of the ways that things are done in Europe.
FR: If global warming melted the ice caps covering 90 percent of the known world with water, what city would you hope was spared so you could live there?
CS: I would have to say where I live, Carrollton, Georgia. I really love it. That would be tough to only be able to choose one because I really love Austin and Nashville. I really love New York City. It just has such an identity, whereas Los Angeles is more fake and plastic. But New York City is just a tough city, you know? It’s tough, I love that. You can’t take it down. So my answer would change, I wouldn’t have to pick. New York City would survive it. And New Orleans too. I mean gosh, that’s just an impossible question to answer.
FR: If you could change one law — make something that is illegal legal, or something legal illegal — what would it be?
CS: I would say that pot should be legal. It’s ridiculous that it’s illegal. I mean, it really is. It’s ridiculous.
The other way is a little tougher…I’m drawing a blank. I’ve been smoking cigarettes for years and it’s so hard to quit. I haven’t been able to successfully quit for any length of time yet. I would say not to make smoking cigarettes illegal, but to make it a whole hell of a lot tougher for kids to get them. I mean, I don’t know how you would go about doing that. I wish everyday that I had never wanted to smoke a cigarette when I was 16. But I love them so much, I really do. I wish that I didn’t love them so much. I think cigarettes is the thing. I love them, but they suck.
FR: If you weren’t playing music and had the talent and circumstances to do anything else, what would it be?
CS: I would work on cars and I did that for years and years – body and paint work. But you know what? I don’t think I would go back to do that by choice. I would probably build instruments and be a luthier.
FR: What’s on your playlist right now?
CS: I just got Phosphorescent’s new album called Muchacho and he’s quirky, but brilliant. Heartless Bastards have their newest record called Arrow, I really like that. I like Alabama Shakes. I like everything Jack White does. He just seems to have such a vision. I listen to the Stones, Marshall Tucker Band, and the Allman Brothers daily.