In a commercial world where videos of lip syncing prima donnas wearing designer fashions are instantly downloaded to cell phones, it is a breath of fresh air to find a genuine, down to earth musician playing for the love of his art.
If you feel that music today has lost its depth, feeling, and substance, then I have found a port in the storm of re-tooled pop has beens and mindless Auto-Tune fluff that is polluting the airwaves of country radio, Blackberry Smoke.
When I spoke to Charlie Starr, responsible for lead vocals and guitar in the group, I confessed when searching for their band on the internet I thought I had made a typing error. There before my eyes were a group of long haired country boys laying down the blues. I thought I had mistakenly called up a video of a band from the 1970s.
Blackberry Smoke, Georgia based "southern rockers" have gained a wide fan base while touring with several big name southern rock and country bands as well as headlining their own shows and recently singed with Zac Brown's Southern Ground Label.
"People call us 'Souther Rock' but I don't love that label," said Starr acknowledging that labels are a necessary evil. "Our music contains elements of that genre, but also jazz, blues, country, bluegrass and gospel."
Blackberry Smoke, consisting Starr on vocals, Paul Jackson on guitar and Turner brothers Richard and Brit on bass and drums as well as latest addition, Brandon Still on keyboards, have created very unique mix of all these musical influences in their music.
"I guess you could say that our sound is a happy accident," said Starr. "When Paul and I play what comes out is from the heart, it is what we love."
Crediting a diverse musical background, Starr has strong bluegrass roots in his family: His father played with various bluegrass bands in Alabama, where he was born and raised and sings gospel, "He is a traditional bluegrass musician but my mother would always be playing rock and roll on the radio, she had it on all the time."
Starr also had the benefit of vocal influences from two great uncles, Buford and Merle Abner of the Swanee River Boys, a gospel quartet which appeared many times on WWVA's stage.
"Everybody is influenced by someone, but we are not trying to play southern rock," Starr said he clearly recalls purchasing an album by one of the essential interpreters of the old country-style blues, "Mississippi" Fred McDowell, "I bought the album because the picture on the album cover looked so cool."
"The cover was a simple photo of McDowell in overalls playing a resonator guitar with a glass on his finger," Starr recalled. "But I knew who Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters were and when you heard the Stones or Zeppelin, if you started digging back it would always lead back to these roots."
Starr was fascinated at the origins of his music, "The sounds and rhythms of different cultures became bluegrass and Mississippi Blues and with the advent of radio in the 1930s America became enamored with the music."
A student of musical history, Starr, admitting to have a collection of field hollers and recordings of baptisms and outdoor tent revivals in the South during the 1930s, says he could be considered a "nerd" for his extensive knowledge of his craft.
Their new album 'The Whippoorwill,' is due to be released on August 14, marks the band's first release on Zac Brown's label and includes 13 new songs that reflect these diverse collaborations and years of honing their craft on the road.
If you want to check out the group and their music they will be performing Sunday at Jamboree in the Hills and their new album will be available for purchase at the concert. Visit www.blackberrysmoke.com.