Musical variety spices Blackberry Smoke's Southern-rock stew

There was plenty of variety in Charlie Starr's musical diet growing up in rural Alabama. Maybe that's why his band, Blackberry Smoke, cooks up such a savory Southern-rock stew.
BY GENE TRIPLETT etriplett@opubco.com Published: March 15, 2013
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And all these ingredients combine to form the Blackberry Smoke recipe for Southern rock — with seasonings of gospel, bluegrass, arena rock and a hard dash of outlaw country — that can be heard on the band's third full-length album, “The Whippoorwill,” released last August on Zac Brown's Southern Ground label.

Reaping the rewards

Together since 2000, the Atlanta-based quintet (Starr on vocals and guitar, bassist-vocalist Richard Turner, drummer Brit Turner, guitarist-vocalist Paul Jackson, keyboardist Brandon Still) is now averaging up to 250 dates per year, and their labors have paid off. The band has toured with and befriended idols such as the Marshall Tucker Band, ZZ Top (Billy Gibbons jammed with the band on a Florida stop), Lynyrd Skynyrd and George Jones. The band was even asked to play for Jones on his 80th birthday, not long after the country legend did a guest shot on Blackberry Smoke's sophomore album, “Little Piece of Dixie.”

“It was unbelievable,” Starr recalled of the occasion. “I got the opportunity to sing a duet with him of ‘Yesterday's Wine' at the Ryman (Auditorium in Nashville), and then later in the year our full band went up to the Grand Ole Opry at Opryland and performed for his birthday along with a lot of other artists that were there. You know, Jimmy Johnson and Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack, and it was great. And we were honored to be allowed to be a part of that.”

Blackberry Smoke's current tour brings them to the Wormy Dog Saloon in Bricktown on Friday. It'll be their second gig at the venue, which was recommended to them by their old friends in the now-defunct Stillwater-bred Cross Canadian Ragweed.

“We wound up tourin' with 'em off and on for a few years,” Starr said. “They became really good friends of ours and still are, Cody (Canada) and the guys. We didn't play there with them, but they always would tell us, Cody in particular, and Grady Cross, ‘You guys have got to go play the Wormy Dog,' so we finally did. And it's fabulous. A very storied venue.”

And patrons may notice some very attractive women in the front row at the show, but men should keep their distance. Those will be some of the wives of Blackberry Smoke, who sometimes come out on the road with their men, despite the grueling yearly touring schedule.

“It's not easy, but this is what we were doin' when we married 'em, so they don't really know any different,” Starr said. “And it takes a special kind of woman, definitely. And children, too. It's an understanding. You know, it's just like we were in the military or we were sellin' vacuum cleaners door to door. Whatever keeps you away from home is tough, but in this case it's what we dedicated our lives to. And we're lucky to get to do what we love so much for a livin'.”


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