The members of Southern Rock quintet Blackberry Smoke are no strangers to hard work. Playing up to 250 dates each year, the guys are on the road more often than not, and they’ve seen tangible results of their labor. The band has toured with and befriended idols such as The Marshall Tucker Band, ZZ Top (with Billy Gibbons jamming 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 turned in a guest appearance on the band’s sophomore album. They’ve toured Europe thrice over, and had their songs featured in video games (EA Sports’ NASCAR 08) and films (Swing Vote), as well.
Mixing elements of gospel, bluegrass, arena rock, soul and more than a touch of outlaw country, Blackberry Smoke has earned a passionate fanbase that continues to grow as the band itself evolves. The band is as blue collar as the bandanas its members wear. “Our fanbase is as organic as you can get,” says drummer Brit Turner. “Each fan has been won by live performance or good old word of mouth.”
In a little more than a decade together, Blackberry Smoke has released three full-length albums—including 2012’s The Whippoorwill, the band’s first for country megastar Zac Brown’s Southern Ground label—two EPs and a live DVD, Live at the Georgia Theatre, which serves as the perfect showcase for the band’s raucous, rockin’ good-times-for-all take on rock ’n’ roll. A chunk of the DVD’s concert footage has aired numerous times on Palladia, and the band also shot a DirecTV concert that has aired countless times.
Brit, along with singer and guitarist Charlie Starr, bassist and vocalist Richard Turner, guitarist and vocalist Paul Jackson and keyboardist Brandon Still, have slugged it out on the road for more than a decade, but now regularly sell out headline appearances across the country and overseas. The band’s audience, Brit says, feels like more than fans, which is appropriate given that their families are their biggest supporters. (A word to the wise: hitting on the pretty ladies in the front row might get you decked.)
Though these road dogs rarely have downtime, they recently managed to carve out enough time to record their newest batch of songs for The Whippoorwill, an album that serves as a platform for smart, battle-tested songwriting and for the band’s ability to leave audiences breathless. Despite the additional resources at its fingertips, the band decided that The Whippoorwill would be largely an in-house affair—its own songs, done its own way. Consequently, the band is more excited for this album’s release than any effort thus far. “I remember not being able to sleep well at night when we were making this new album,” Charlie recalls. “I was so excited about which songs we were going to cut the next day. After it’s done and we can hold it in our hands and be proud of it we know that there’s another one that will have to be made in the not too distant future, but it feels really good to have this one finished; we’re all really proud of it.”
With Zac Brown and the entire Southern Ground team behind them, Charlie and the boys are experiencing all the benefits of life on a larger label. For an already busy band, business is booming. Yet even though they have a wealth of experience under their belts, with the release of The Whippoorwill, the guys find themselves in uncharted territory. “We’ve never done an album and actually planned a tour around it,” Charlie confesses. “It’s always been ‘tour constantly and whenever the album is done, it comes out.’ It’s a new thing for us to actually plan this far ahead.” And while the recording process for The Whippoorwill might have afforded the band a few additional luxuries—“It was strange being able to go into a nice recording studio without having to not pay ourselves for awhile to get the money to do it,” Brit says—the band still found itself backs against the wall. Fortunately, that’s exactly where Blackberry Smoke seems to thrive.
Here “The King Of Kamelot” sits down with the boys of Blackberry Smoke right before their sold out show in NYC to talk about the making of their new album, non-stop touring, working with Zac Brown and his label, their incredible 2012, and soo much more! Enjoy Kade Nation!!