Charlie Starr, Blackberry Smoke’s Frontman Talks About Touring

by Todd Brodginski

Atlanta based Blackberry Smoke continues to grow into the premiere Southern Rock band of America.  Over the last 12 months they have shared the stage with ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Shooter Jennings, Cross Canadian Ragweed and countless others.  The band has recently finished recording their sophomore effort “Little Piece Of Dixie” with legendary producer Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts) and engineer Justin Niebank, released last year.  BBS frontman Charlie Starr recently sat down and talked about their summer tour, which included BamaJam and more.

Noting that you change set lists from night to night, how do you decide upon them? Do you change it during the course of a show, depending on how the performance (or audience) develops?

CHARLIE STARR: “To be honest with you, ever since we started playing together, I’ve written the set lists about an hour or so before show time, sometimes less.  We like to change it up to keep it fresh and interesting.  Some songs will appear in similar order nightly because they flow well together, but I don’t want the show to get too formulaic.  Some nights I’ll call an audible during the show according to what the audience is up to.”

You recently had a fan pick a whole set list.  How did that come about?

CHARLIE: “One particular fan posted a ‘wish’ set list on our website’s message board and it was a damn good one, so we did it that night.”

As reflected on the songs on the current BLACKBERRY SMOKE album LITTLE PIECE OF DIXIE, your music is a mixture of the great elements of rock, country and blues.  When you’re writing, rehearsing and/or recording music, is there any discussion on the direction of the song, or does it come organically?

CHARLIE: “The song itself will usually determine that.  They’re usually born with a feel of their own in my opinion.  Sometimes it’s interesting to shake it up a bit.  Me and the boys seem to think alike when it comes to that kind of thing.”

What were the pivotal albums in your lives growing up? What are you listening to now?

CHARLIE: “Exile on Main Street is the greatest album in the universe.  Manassas’ first one is way up there.  Allman Bros.  At Fillmore East.  The first four Little Feat albums.  Flying Burrito Bros’ Gilded Palace of Sin, Aerosmith Rocks.  All of Hank Williams recorded material.  Lynyrd Skynyrd Pronounced… and Second Helping.  Marshall Tucker Band Searchin’ for a Rainbow.  Frankie Miller Full House.  Right now, NRBQ Live at Yankee Stadium.  Too many to list.”

You worked with producer Dann Huff on Little Piece of Dixie.  What do you feel he added to the record that you would not have been able to achieve with another producer?

CHARLIE: “Dann and Justin Niebank turned us loose to make a straight ahead record.  No bells and whistles…well, one whistle in ‘Like I Am.’ Dann saw us live and said ‘I wanna make a record that sounds exactly like that.  Same gear, same guys, same vibe.’”

Tell us about “Yesterday’s Wine,” the collaboration with George Jones and Jamey Johnson (a bonus track on the new version of LITTLE PIECE OF DIXIE).  How did that all come about? Whose idea was it?

CHARLIE: “I have to be honest, it was my idea.  I’m proud of that.  I was listening to George and Merle’s version of it and I asked Jamey if he wanted to record it with us.  He said yes.  James Stroud said he’d produce it.  Ronnie Gilley brought Mr.  George Jones in to sing on it.  What a fucking day! Unreal.  We laid down the music in two takes, then George, Jamie and I sang it together.  What a fantastic job by everyone involved!”

You have had the opportunity to work with some of the most highly respected musicians in rock and country music.  What’s the single best piece of advice have been given?

CHARLIE: “’Don’t ever change’ by Lee Roy Parnell.  ‘Get some good lookin’ boots’ by Billy F.  Gibbons.”

If you could collaborate with a musician of a different genre than Blackberry Smoke, who would it be?

CHARLIE: “To hell with genres…Marty Stuart.  Maybe sing one with Pink.  So many…”

What do you do to kill time while on the road?

CHARLIE: “Truck stops, pawn shops, cigarettes and coffee, flea markets, bowling, movies, readin’ books, falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, all of it set to music.”

Tell us something about one of your bandmates that few people know.  You can be brutally honest.

CHARLIE: “My bandmates are insane.  They refer to their bunk blankets as ‘woobies’ or ‘binkies.’ Paul cries on planes.”

What’s your favorite thing about performing live? Is there a certain part of the show that you look forward to?

CHARLIE: “I love every single thing about performing live.  It is the reason I wake up in the morning.  I look forward to every aspect of it.”

For more about Charlie and Blackberry Smoke, visit their website at http://blackberrysmoke.com

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