Blackberry Smoke singer and guitarist Charlie Starr doesn't care whether you call his band a country band, a rock band, or a southern rock band. He leaves it up to you.
Since the dawn of the aughts, this quintessential quintet from Atlanta has been barnstorming the globe with a good-time blend of all three of the afore-mentioned sub-genres. In my humble opinion, it's truly a Southern rock band in the spirit of genre godfathers like the Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd and all that fly under that umbrella of influence. The band also swings with a modern reverence, like The Bottle Rockets or The Black Crowes. But the sound that comes out is surely its own.
The band writes air-punching anthems and salvos to a good time. It rocks with vintage tone and classic panache on all of six of its albums, which includes the brand new "Find a Light."
You've probably caught Blackberry Smoke warming the boards for bands like ZZ Top and Gov't Mule, who the band is on tour with as we speak. Starr paused to cool his heels and gave us a jingle from a tour stop in Lincoln, Nebraska. It's certain he had better things to do, but he was gracious enough to answer a few questions. What a cool cat. An edited transcript follows.
CITY: How did you develop your sound?
Charlie Starr: I don't think we really had sorta any idea what we were doing. I had written a few songs and we jammed on those, and it sounded good. We felt passionately about that immediately and thought, "Hey, let's go play these songs for people." And it's grown from that point literally.
Now you play for thousands. How do you keep your head together?
We're grounded. We're not flighty, now that we're old men. We have strong family roots. We don't have flights of fancy, thinking we can do what we know we can't. I take things one day at a time or one project at a time or one tour at a time.
How do you make your music your own and balance it with your classic leanings?
Not a lot has changed over the years as far as how you play guitar or how you write a three-chord song. I think everything's been said and you just find your little way of saying it.
That being said, how do you find your own little way?
It varies. Sometimes it's a guitar riff because I really am a guitar player at heart. Sometimes it's a phrase I can't shake, a melody I keep humming. It really varies from song to song. It's a feeling I get naturally, you know? If I get that "yes" moment and if it's still there after a couple of days, that's special.
What do you avoid?
I try not to be overly cliché. I'm not good at writing party songs. I mean some people love that shit, but I can't stand it. Steve Earle said it not too long ago in an interview, "Jesus Christ, all people write about in Nashville is about getting fucked up." There's no heart and soul to the art form.
What do you consider a good Blackberry Smoke show?
Well it's not only just playing well. There are some nights I'm not playing that great, but if I get and feel that special energy and the audience is giving it back, that's when it's complete.
Is there anything folks get wrong about you?
People don't always know whether we're a country band, a rock band, a southern rock band or whatever. And I don't think any of them are wrong. Whatever we are to them is what we are. It's up to anyone's interpretation. We just play music. I know we're not a punk band. Some people may compartmentalize to get some closure. "I've got it! They're a Southern rock band."
When it's all said and done, what will they say about Blackberry Smoke?
I hope they say, "Hey man, those guys were pretty good."