Blackberry Smoke emphasizes the rock as well as the southern
As a Georgia-based band that’s as much rock as Southern, Blackberry Smoke has gotten used to hearing comparisons to the Allman Brothers Band over the years.
The proof that it’s worthy of the comparisons can be heard on its latest album, “Like an Arrow,” which includes a guest appearance by Gregg Allman that was recorded a few months before his death.
“We’d come to know Gregg over the last several years,” lead singer Charlie Starr said during a telephone interview. “He was very sweet, very gracious, very generous with his time. We played some shows with the Brothers and with the Gregg Allman Band. At one of those shows we just had to work up the nerve and ask him. That was the hardest thing.”
The band didn’t find out until after Allman’s death how sick he was when he agreed to sing on that song.
“That he took time out of his schedule as sick as he was, that speaks volumes,” Starr said.
Blackberry Smoke — Starr, lead vocals and guitar; Richard Turner, bass and vocals; Brit Turner, drums; Paul Jackson, guitar and vocals; and Brandon Still, keyboards — has worked with many of its idols and influences since the band started in 2000. Over the summer, the band toured with Willie Nelson on his Outlaw Music Festival, and the band joined Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews and others at this year’s Farm Aid concert at KeyBank Pavilion in Burgettstown, Pa.
“I couldn’t believe how good it was,” Starr said. “It was an absolute honor to be invited, a huge moment for us.”
Opening for acts like Nelson, the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top and Zac Brown, Starr said the the most important lesson he learned was, “Don’t get your feeling hurts if their fans don’t care who you are. Being an opening act can be such a polarizing thing. Some people are there just to see ZZ Top and if you’re not getting anything back, you can’t pitch a fit. You just have to do your job.”
After releasing its last two albums with the independent labels Rounder and Southern Ground, Blackberry Smoke released “Like an Arrow” on its own imprint (3 Legged Records), and the band plans to continue that course for the foreseeable future.
“The industry is changing so drastically,” Starr said. “We’ve never been a band that had major labels knocking our door down. You get to the point where you know what your needs are … There are so many different ways to do the job, find the most streamlined and the most efficient without hemorrhaging money.
“Our fan base likes to buy the new record when it comes out. Unless we have an explosive hit single or a clothing ad that makes the mass come running, we’ll make music we’re comfortable with and don’t see the sense in a lot of bells and whistles.”
The band is taking the same approach with its next album, which is mostly done. Don’t expect a sneak preview when the band plays at Packard Music Hall on Saturday with Aaron Lewis, the former lead singer of the hard rock act Staind who’s been cultivating a country audience as a solo artist.
“We’re holding it close to the vest right now,” he said. “There’s no release date yet, hopefully early next year.”
Instead, the band’s 75-minute set will include several “Like an Arrow” tracks, fan favorites from earlier albums and a couple of cover songs. Songs by The Beatles and Rolling Stones have been featured in recent setlists. Last month it was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, following Petty’s unexpected death Oct. 2.
“His influence runs deep,” Starr said. “I’m sure if you dissected the songs, you’d find his influence in a lot of them. ‘Living in the Song’ definitely has a Tom Petty influence, probably ‘One Horse Town,’ too.”