Posted by: Amy | June 25, 2010

Interview with Blackberry Smoke at BamaJam, 2010

Photo courtesy of Matthew Mendenhall

Atlanta-based Blackberry Smoke’s music can’t be neatly categorized into one genre. They mix elements of southern rock, country and even a touch of bluegrass to create their unique sound. The band consists of brothers Brit and Richard Turner, the drummer and bass player/vocalist, respectively; lead singer Charlie Starr, guitarist and vocalist Paul Jackson and the band’s newest addition, keyboard player Brandon Still. While some fans may think that the band is a new act, they have actually been together since 2000. However, they have only recently begun to achieve widespread recognition. The music video for their first single, “Good One Comin’ On,” has made it to the top of CMT Pure’s 12 Pack Countdown. Last year the band signed with BamaJam Records and their second studio album Little Piece of Dixie was produced by Dann Huff. Dann has produced albums for Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Bon Jovi and Martina McBride, to name a few.

I was able to catch up with the band before their performance at the third annual BamaJam Music and Arts Festival in Enterprise, AL. We started by talking about how they got signed to BamaJam Records. Brit Turner explained that Trey Wilson who works for Ronnie Gilley Entertainment and who now manages the band, came out to a Blackberry Smoke show at 12th and Porter in Nashville. He signed the band up to play the 2009 edition of BamaJam and then invited the band to be the national act at a BamaJam-sponsored Battle of the Bands competition. Following those performances, the band was invited to the Gilley Entertainment offices to discuss potentially signing to the label. Charlie Starr chimed in to explain that the band had just gotten back to Atlanta after being on the road and they were enjoying a rare day off with their families when they got a call from Gilley Entertainment requesting that the band drive to Enterprise for a meeting with Gilley. When the band asked if they could meet the next day because they were tired and did not want to make the four and a half hour drive from Atlanta to Enterprise, Gilley sent their jet to Atlanta to pick up the band. Brit joked that the snacks on the plane were what sealed the deal.

We moved on to the topic of songwriting partners and their latest album. When I asked them to name a few of the songwriters with whom they like to write, they did not hesitate. Charlie immediately named Travis Meadows, Rob Hatch and Randy Houser. He also explained that they have several writers with whom they write repeatedly. The band revealed that while they used to make frequent trips to Nashville to write, now they do most of their songwriting on the bus or when they’re just hanging out. They also utilize voice recorders and laptop computers to capture song ideas as they come to mind. Charlie recently had to replace a faulty cell phone which he claims probably contained song ideas for five number one hits. When he remembered the recordings and went back to the store to try to retrieve the old phone, the lady at the store to him that his phone was long gone.

The band started working with Dann Huff after Dann heard a show in Atlanta. He told the band that he liked their sound and that he wanted to record an album that sounded identical to their live show. The album was recorded using only the gear that the band uses on stage. The only exception was the addition of a 12-string acoustic guitar. Charlie talked about their eagerness to get the finished product from Dann once they had recorded the tracks. Because Dann works with so many artists, he wasn’t able to work continuously on Blackberry Smoke’s recording. Charlie joked that he would constantly check his phone to make sure that he hadn’t missed a call from Dann regarding the status of the project. Little Piece of Dixie was recently re-released to include a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Yesterday’s Wine” featuring George Jones and Jamey Johnson. Richard said that they asked George to sing on the song and George’s response was “You fry me up six turkeys, and I’ll be down there, boys!” So, the band spent a day in the studio with George and Jamey and feasted on deep-fried turkey while recording the song. The guys all said that it was a great experience. But Brit joked, “He (George) ate five of them and let us share that sixth one.”

Because of the time delay between the release of the band’s first and second albums, journalists, especially European journalists, questioned the delay and wanted to know what the band had been doing if they weren’t releasing new music. To hold fans over until the new album was released, the band offered fans rough demos of some of their countriest songs, which they titled New Honky Tonk Bootlegs. The mention of European journalists transitioned nicely into my next topic. When I was looking at the band’s tour dates following BamaJam, they were booked for almost three weeks of dates in Europe, which surprised me. The band gained its earliest fanbase by playing shows in the Midwest and the Northeast where fans really had an appetite for southern music before eventually gaining steam down South. But, they say that their most rabid fans are the European fans. Richard told me that the European tour that they were playing after BamaJam was going to be their third trip to Europe in the last six months! I had no idea that American music, or more specifically music with a distinctly southern flair, was so popular there. All of the band agreed that the European fans want to know every detail about the band and their music. Charlie said, “Musicians are notorious liner note readers. And they’re (European fans) all like that.” The European shows consisted of huge rock festivals featuring a wide variety of artists and also some smaller club shows. Of the festivals with the random mix of artists, Brit says that the festival promoters “put their iPods on riot mode and then say, ‘Let’s book these bands!'” Brit says that the Spanish fans are especially passionate about their music and want to “perform it right back to you.” At one Spanish show on a previous trip to Europe, their opening act was a Spanish Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band, which I thought was interesting. They said that the European fans know all of the lyrics to the songs even if they don’t understand what the songs mean because of the language barrier. Paul relayed the story of one European show that they played where the band’s lyrics were translated on a screen above the stage. He said for all of the show he was wondering why the fans were looking above the bands’ heads and then he later learned that they were reading the translation. In talking to the guys, it was very apparent that they look forward to their shows in Europe.

Photo courtesy of Blackberry Smoke

Now that the band is back stateside, they’ll be touring the country for the rest of the summer and into the fall. You can check all of their latest tour dates, read about the band and order merchandise at their website, www.blackberrysmoke.com. If you’re in Atlanta and want to catch a hometown show, come on down to the Peachtree Tavern on Saturday night, June 26. Tickets are $15 in advance and can be ordered through the Peachtree Tavern’s website. I saw their performance at BamaJam and I was blown away. Their albums do a great job of capturing the feel-good vibe of their live shows, but they’re definitely a band that you need to see live!

A special thanks to the guys of Blackberry Smoke and their publicist Meg for facilitating the interview. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with the guys and I can’t wait to catch another live show!


Responses

  1. These dudes are good. They remind me a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

  2. […] Two started with an interview with Blackberry Smoke. When the interview was finished, I made my way back to the media tent to hang out in the shade. I […]

  3. […] had previously met Blackberry Smoke at BamaJam where I had the pleasure of interviewing them. They’ve built a huge following in the Midwest and in New England and even more […]


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