Everyone can use a little southern comfort at one point or another—but the Atlanta, Georgia, rockers of Blackberry Smoke will replace that mellow mood with tangy, yet oh-so tasteful music. Think smoked barbeque ribs nestled beside a sweet ear of corn during one of those summer cookouts. These musicians pack a powerful punch, what with their hot beats and sweet ‘n’ sour lyrics—no one can resist them. And with their fourth studio album, Holding All The Roses, nabbing that number one spot on Billboard’s Country Rock Album charts this year is proof enough.
Now nearing their 15-year anniversary, Paul Jackson (guitar/vocals), Charlie Starr (guitar/vocals), Brandon Still (keys), Britt Turner (drums), and Richard Turner (bass/vocals) are fired up on the usual mid-tour high as they find themselves halfway through their 250-plus shows. And between their shows, Charlie offered a bit of insight on what it’s like to be in Blackberry Smoke.
First off, how’s the tour going? I see you have a little break right now.
It’s great, it’s been a great first half of the year and we’re actually home taking a little bit of a break and then we’ll head out and do a couple of shows this weekend in Iowa and Milwaukee and then we’re off for two weeks, which is great.
What’ve you been playing while touring? Any new songs, or the older tunes? Maybe a mix?
It’s a mixture of new and old and in between. It’s a different set each night pretty much. We don’t really have a rehearsed show, so to speak. We just throw together a group of songs every night and we have a good many people who come to multiple shows and I figure they’d wanna hear different material. It’s fun for us, too. It keeps it interesting.
You’ve all had a lot on your plates, what with touring 250-plus shows per year—how do you handle all of those shows? How do you feel about playing that many times?
Touring is our way of life. It’s our livelihood, really. We come from the grassroots school of success, so we started touring heavily years ago and it’s something that we can control. That became our bread and butter and it still is. The amount that we tour is debatable: if we love it or not. I mean, we love to tour, but it gets a little exhausting with that many shows but it snowballs before you know it. It’s funny—before you know it you look down and the schedule is as full as it can possibly be, so it’s uh, it’s something to do, let’s say that. Somebody a long time ago said, “Hey, let’s play fewer shows and make more money.” That hasn’t happened yet. At any time we could stop, you know, but nobody wants to. It’s a lot of fun.
Yeah. I saw you’re jumping on board the Grooves & Gravy tour with ZZ Top. How do you feel about teaming up with them again?
Yeah, it’s great. We’ve toured with ZZ Top before over the years—a couple of nice, long tours—and I mean they’re great people. Great band, great people, great crew. It’s just a great fit musically as well. But they’ve become friends, you know, which is something that’s such an amazing thing to be able to say. If you told me that Billy Gibbons would be my friend when I was 12, I would’ve thought that you were crazy. But they’re just great musicians and great icons and they’re just great people.
When you finish a tour, do you ever feel odd about not having to prepare for an upcoming show?
Well, we never really finish a tour. It’s sort of the ongoing cycle. We just take small breaks at a time between traveling. Actually, we do wrap up around the end of the year. Normally we try to take December off for our families and then we put it all back together again for January to start over. And in that case, it is a great feeling to know that we’ll be home for a while. And then it’s a great feeling to know that we’ll get ready to ramp up for the next go around.
Now, I know some performers have a little good luck ritual that has to be done before each show. Do you have one?
No, not anymore. We used to see how much alcohol we could consume but we kinda grew out of that ritual. Most of us. But no. We love one another’s company. We laugh like adolescent kids. Never really having to grow up… it’s one of the positive points I guess. We just hang around one another when we don’t have to. We’re buddies and that’s good. It’s easier to travel with your buddies than with people you don’t like.
I know you guys just released a new album, Holding All The Roses. How do you feel about the record’s success?
It’s great. We appreciate all the people who buy our records. You know, there’s a lot of other records to buy and if they buy ours, it just keeps us going. It’s been a long, slow build, seems like, over the years. Each record does a little bit better than the one before it, and that’s good. We’ve had no runaway success. Just a little bit at a time. I like the excitement that comes out with putting out a new record because not everybody is gonna like it. It’s just the world we live in and the people who do, that’s great and it makes you really appreciate your fan base.
You also mentioned that your new material does a “good job conveying what” you’re all about. To you, what set this apart from your older recordings?
In my opinion, I think each record is a greater example of the evolution of Blackberry Smoke musically. ‘Cause when we started this band, I mean, nobody has an idea how long you’re gonna stay together playing music. Nobody in the band has a crystal ball and the fact that we continue to make records and continue to make music together… this album is different. I love that. Some people don’t and they’ll let you know it. Some fans will say, “This doesn’t sound like your last record, I don’t like it.” And to that I have to say, “Well, sorry, that’s the way that it is.”
We’re not gonna make the same record over and over again. That goes against the whole idea of being creative. We’re not into that whole assembly line idea. Just not gonna keep pumping out the same damn song over and over again just because people liked the first one you did. You have to grow or else that may be why some bands break up; ‘cause they get worn out of doing the same old thing. But if you allow yourself freedom, and if your fans do, then that’s just a plus. We have to keep ourselves happy playing the music that we’re playing, number one, or else it would be pointless.
But I dunno, I just think that the new album is an example of the band growing… And there’s an idea. An unspoken idea that there’s a certain type of music that we play. So it’s not likely that in the near future I’d say, “Let’s make a dance record or a hip-hop record.” There are parameters to what we do and like I said, they’re unspoken.
So, when Holding All The Roses snatched up that number one spot on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, how did you find out? How did you react?
Well, my management called and, actually, we were all together, so that was really cool. We were heading to a show somewhere and we all grinned and were happy but it was a little surreal to have a new record debut at number one; that’s crazy. I wish I could relive that day every day but at the same time, it reminded us of how great our fans are, ‘cause they made it number one. They bought it. Yeah, I don’t even—it’s hard to wrap your brain around. Well, number one, it’s odd for us to have a number one country album out cause we’re a rock ‘n’ roll band. And that’s funny. I mean, people argue about that. But it doesn’t really matter to us what people call us. It was a very pleasant surprise.
Now, I know you just released an album, but while on the tour bus do you play around with new song ideas during downtime?
No, I do it everywhere. Whenever, whatever inspires you, wherever you are, you just have to go ahead and start creating. It happens a lot on the road with little things like guitar riffs and melody ideas; you just jot ‘em down. Most of the songwriting that I do happens at home. In a private and quiet environment, you could say. Or editing. But no, I’ve written a couple complete songs while on the road. It’s not impossible, but one thing about a band that tours like we do, most of the day revolves around the show, so it’s not a whole lot of downtime.
You’ve mentioned your fans often—if there’s one thing you could say to them, what would it be?
I’d say thank you. Simply put.
And finally, what are your plans after the tour?
Uhm, just enjoy time with family. Read some and write some. We’re away from our families so much, that’s number one priority: spending time with family.
Catch up with Blackberry Smoke at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on July 16 and Caesars Atlantic City on Aug. 23. Their most recent record, Holding All The Roses, is available now through Rounder Records. For more on these rockers, visit blackberrysmoke.com.