Interview Charlie Starr – Blackberry Smoke – 12-11-2023

It's not every day that you get to spend a few minutes with Charlie Starr, so I didn't hide my joy at being able to interview him two months before the release of Blackberry Smoke's most recent album, which I I find it very successful. It seems that there is unanimity on the subject in the RTJ editorial staff. At the time of this meeting, we did not have all the credits for the album, just some already very interesting information that the record company had left out, which explains the nature of some questions.
Unfortunately, technical problems do not allow us to communicate to you everything we had planned, and the various microbes of this late autumn and this winter have considerably delayed the transcription of the interview, which should have been published a month ago. But what Charlie was willing to share with us here already deserves our close attention. Good reading !

Hello Charlie,
I am very happy on behalf of the editorial staff of Road To Jacksonville to have this opportunity. I saw the group in concert for the first time on February 13, 2010 in Pontoise, do you remember ?

Charlie – I do !

There was snow, the sidewalks were slippery and you arrived at the concert from who knows where, guitar in hand. The group had just integrated Brandon. I co-wrote the article on the concert with Philippe Archambeau, and took some photos. What roads we travelled ever since !
I believe this is the first interview since 2015 with a member of the group for our webzine. So we'll start with some basic questions for our readers.

RTJ - Where and when were you born?

Charlie - I was born in Langdale, Alabama in 1974

RTJ - Do you come from a musical family?

Charlie - Yes, very.

RTJ - Did your parents play instruments ?

Charlie - My dad is a guitar player, singer, and plays bluegrass music, and my mother doesn’t play an instrument but her mother’s brothers were all gospel singers, say were in a gospel quartet called the Swannee River Boys. They were very popular.

RTJ - Did you start directly with singing or with learning an instrument ?

Charlie - Both I guess. Everybody would sing around the piano when I was a kid, so both.

RTJ - Did you begin with the piano of the house or with the guitar ?

Charlie - I began with the mandolin, first and then guitar.

RTJ - What were your musical influences?

Charlie - Initially with my dad, singing songs to me, you know, when I was kid. I wanna to learn those songs. And that were bluegrass songs like « Blue Moon of Kentucky » and the records of the Old 97’s (groupe rock texan pionnier du mouvement country alternatif, NdR) and « Rollin' in my sweet baby’s arms » and « Salty dog blues » and he taught me those songs and my mama liked the Stones and the Beatles and Bob Dylan and I also really liked that. So I think my first favourite songs were the records of the Old 97’s and « Honky tonk Woman ».

RTJ - So we can tell that yout roots side comes from your father and your pop side comes from your mother ?

Charlie - That’s right, yeah !

RTJ - I guess you started playing in bands in high school.

Charlie - Yeah !

RTJ - What kind of bands were they? Pop bands, rock bands, gospel ?

Charlie - They were cover bands we started playing in bars. I was 15, the first time I played in a bar and we played classic rock’n’roll music, The Stones and Aerosmith, and the Doors and Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. At that point there were some bands from Georgia that were popular really like the Georgia Satellites. We played their songs and the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers and all that stuff. And I did that until I was in my twenties and I did that to make money you know and they was a great way to learn the ropes.

RTJ - When did you decide to make music your career ?

Charlie - I think I always knew that I would it. I had jobs, you know, to pay bills, when music wasn’t paying the bills yet but I knew that eventually that’s what I would do.

RTJ – You didn’t went to the university ?

Charlie - No, I graduated from highschool but I didn’t go to the college. I went to the college of partying and playing rock’n’roll !

RTJ - Today you released the first track from a future album produced by Dave Cobb which will be released on February 16. Can you tell me about the state of mind in which this album was recorded, knowing that it was recorded in a very raw way, almost live, seeking I suppose the magic of the moment more than a technical perfection ?

Charlie - Yeah, that was the idea ! It was Dave. We got on the telephone, and he said « Hey bring on all the amps because we’re gonna pull all the amps in a room with the drums, I wanna us all to sit in the room together with the gear this time. In the last record, most records, that you want, separation says you put us in different places. The drums are gonna be in the drum booth and we won’t be playing together but you’re separated to get separation in the sound but this time I wanna capturate all. I wanna to be in a great big jam. » And that’s what we did. In the middle of the time we made it, feel really enjoyable

RTJ - You started the group as a quartet, I saw you for the first time on stage shortly after Brandon arrived, and you seemed to have found a balance as a quintet. This line-up lasted several years, so we were a little surprised to see you joined on stage by both Preston Holcomb (drums, percussions) and Benji Shanks (guitar), which makes for a big addition. Today you welcome The Black Bettys to further strengthen in the singing. Can you tell me what made you decide to expand the group on stage, and why you chose these people ?

Charlie - I don’t really know, it’s just a kind of crook it’s kind of natural. Benji’s been playing guitar with me for a long time, for 15 years. He started to come and sit in and played certain songs that had actually guitar attracts on records and he started to come and play those and that became more and more.
And then Preston... He went to highschool with Brendon and Richard and he was a drummer in a band called The Grapes in Atlanta, a great jam band and so he started to come an hour play on percussion. The percussion part stayed on the record you know maracas and tambourine and things… Congas… And when Benji started to play on third guitar, Brit said « I want Preston to play percussion all the time too... », so I said, « Oh, bring him on, the more the merrier ! » and we said « Come on you can jump on the bus too » and Black Bettys step on singing on the Records since « Find a light ». They don’t always tour with us because they have their own tour, their own band but when they come it’s really great. We love them.

RTJ - So for the two guys, it’s people that you know for a long time.

Charlie - Yeah !

RTJ - Will they now also participate significantly in studio recordings ?

Charlie - Yes, they’ve been on the last two records.

RTJ - The first track of this album that you revealed, “Dig A Hole”, was composed in collaboration with Brandon, which is not very usual. Do you plan to use more of the group's resources for compositions in the future ?

Charlie - Yeah ! When people have ideas, the door is always an open door, you know and not everybody writes, you know. So Brandon does and he starts to write more and more, it’s good.

RTJ - In the previous album, there were prestigious collaborations with musicians like Warren Haynes or Rickey Medlocke, which is almost equivalent to the blessing of the two sacred monsters that are the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I did not have the list of the songwriters on this album. Did you also collaborate this time with very well-known figures in our musical style ?

Charlie - Well I guess so : we had a couple of songs of Keith Nelson from Buckcherry, it’s an old friend, and I wrote a song with Brent Cobb, who is a great American artist, country artist, and Adam Hood who is a great American artist.

Interview and translation : Y. Philippot-Degand

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