Blackberry Smoke Southern rock fans can ‘Find a Light’ at House of Blues

September 18, 2018

Blackberry Smoke Southern rock fans can ‘Find a Light’ at House of Blues

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Being a “bar band″ is not a bad way to start a career, at least not as far as Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr is concerned.

You might also call it graduate school for a lot of musicians, and maybe more so for those who specialize in Southern rock. It’s why Starr, who is Blackberry Smoke’s frontman, primary songwriter and lead guitarist, views them as an alma mater for the band that many see as the next evolution in the sound created by Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band.

“I do remember Blackberry Smoke’s first bar,″ said Starr in a call to his Georgia home to talk about the band’s Saturday, Sept. 22, show at the House of Blues. “It was here in Atlanta, a club called the Dark Horse Tavern, in 2001.

“Then we started playing bars – VFW bars, redneck bars,″ he said. “You play four sets a night, playing mostly covers, but originals every now and then.″

The songs were the same ones you’ll hear in bars around Cleveland – “Roadhouse Blues,″ “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,″ “Sweet Home Alabama,″ Starr said.

“That’s where we came from,″ he said. “We were in cover bands before Blackberry Smoke. Brit and Richard (the brothers Turner, who are the drum and bass rhythm section of the band) hadn’t done that, so it was an eye-opener for them to play a four-setter.″

It’s all part of learning who you are, Starr said.

“In the beginning, we were not as patient musically,″ he said. “We were always in a hurry. But as you get older, you settle in a little bit. The groove becomes paramount.″

Though it may strike some as odd, Starr likes Blackberry Smoke to the Rolling Stones as much as Skynyrd, for whom they opened (and killed) at Blossom this past summer.

“The groove is when you let it breathe and the five of you are playing this rhythm together because making people move is important,″ Starr said. ”[Mick] Jagger said, ’We’re a dance band. That’s why people love us, because we make them dance.″

Of course, the Jagger and his songwriting bandmates write pretty good lyrics, too, and that’s something Starr and his guys are striving to do as well. And, like the music, that’s evolving, too.

“When I was younger, I wrote a lot of party songs,″ said Starr, a married father of two who is now in his mid-40s. “But there’s only so many drinking songs you can write.″

That growth shows up on “Find a Light,″ the band’s newest album. It began with 20 or so songs, then got whittled to 13.

“We recorded 15 songs, so at some point, there will be a couple bonus tracks,″ said Starr. Cutting it back wasn’t easy.

“It’s always a tough task, and I’m not going to say I love every song I write because some are not good,″ he said. “We don’t record them. But with ‘Find a Light,’ it was tough. We loved everything we recorded.″

Two of the better songs on what’s really a Grammy-worthy album feature Amanda Shires (“Let Me Down Easy”) and the Wood Brothers (“Mother Mountain”). Interestingly, neither song started out as featuring outside players.

″ ‘Let Me Down Easy’ just seemed like it needed a female voice,″ said Starr. “I don’t know why, but it did. I had just been talking to Jason Isbell, Amanda’s husband. Her voice is really cool. And the Wood Brothers are old, old friends of ours. We were both on Zac’s label in 2010.″

“Zac” is Zac Brown. For many people, the first exposure to Blackberry Smoke was a Zac Brown Band show at Blossom in 2012.

The easy meld of voices on “Let Me Down Easy″ has the sound of a rougher-hewn Alison Krauss & Union Station bluegrass tune, and “Mother Mountain″ features harmonies that are really similar to early but edgier Crosby, Stills and Nash.

If it’s hard for critics and fans to pick a favorite song off the album – and it is – it’s even tougher for Starr. The cliché is every song is like a child, and no father can choose his favorite child. Regardless, the album is a good picture of where the band is today.

“They’re all so different,″ he said. “I would say the dichotomy is what tells you where we are.″

For the record, “Where we are” will never be too far from the old bar band days, either. They’re not playing four-setters anymore, but that doesn’t mean some of those memories don’t still resonate.

“I do miss it from time to time,″ Starr said. “There’s an energy that can’t be replicated in a situation like that. It’s very intimate. The Stones used to do that all the time before a big tour.″

So, with that in mind – and you didn’t hear it from me – if you happen to see a bar advertising a new band called Demolition Doobie, it might be a good idea for Blackberry Smoke fans to check ’em out.

Blackberry Smoke When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22. Where: House of Blues Cleveland, East Third and Euclid Avenue. Opener: The Quaker City Night Hawks. Tickets: $30 to $92.50, plus fees, at the box office, ticketmaster.com and livenation.com and by phone at 1-800-745-3000 and 216-523-2583.

Update hourly