“You hear Georgia when I open my mouth,” is what Charlie Starr sings when the vocalist-guitarist belts out the aptly named “You Hear Georgia,” the title track from Blackberry Smoke’s latest album.
Starr supports all of Atlanta’s professional teams and is a fan of the national college football champion Georgia Bulldogs. Starr gushes when he speaks of a recent Southern rock moment. “I was at the Continental Club (in Austin) and I was asked to sing (The Clash’s) ‘Straight to Hell’ and I was told that I would be playing with Mike Mills and Peter Buck and Drivin’ & Cryin’s Kevn Kinney. I couldn’t believe that I would be up there with Mike and Peter, half of R.E.M., and Drivin’ & Cryin. I was up onstage with my heroes and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Starr doesn’t just respect Southern rock royalty, the fiery frontman keeps the tradition of such iconic bands as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Feat and the Allman Brothers alive with Blackberry Smoke’s greasy and raucous sound.
“I have a kinship with guys in Southern rock bands and I grew up with the music of the South, which is so incredibly diverse.”
Blackberry Smoke’s music reflects the variety of sounds that have been crafted for years below the Mason-Dixon line. Hard rock, blues and country are part of Blackberry Smoke’s sonic potpourri.
“I love all of those types of music,” Starr said. “I get so excited when I hear those styles of music.”
Starr gets even more revved up in the studio. Sometimes Starr needs another set of ears to rein him in. The iconic Nashville producer Dave Cobb, a nine-time Grammy winner who has helped craft albums by Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and Brandi Carlile, produced “You Hear Georgia” and is working on Blackberry Smoke’s 2024 album, “Be Right Here.”
“I told Dave that I loved the sound of a Sturgill Simpson song and that we would love to come up with a song like that and Dave said, ‘That’s not what your band sounds like’ and he was right. The same thing happened a few years ago when we worked with another great producer, Brendan O’Brien. I told him that we wanted to make a song as heavy as the King’s X record he produced and he said that we don’t sound like King’s X. I appreciate the feedback we’ve received from these producers since I’m trying to make the best music possible.”
Starr knocked it out of the park with “Old Scarecrow,” which is a powerful “You Hear Georgia” rocker about a throwback of a man who does it his way with no need for approval. “I didn’t realize it when I was writing the song but it’s about my dad,” Starr said. “It’s about a guy who is stubborn but means no harm. He knows what’s comfortable for him. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks. He doesn’t want anything fancy and he’s not just religious but he’s so devout. My father served in the Army during the Vietnam War. He taught me the important things in life. He lives his life in an admirable way. So many people have come up to me telling me how much they relate to that song.”
It’s not easy to classify Blackberry Smoke, who can be placed in Americana, country or rock genres. But a label doesn’t matter to Starr. “I don’t care where you place us,” Starr said. “Look at Chris Stapleton. He’s very successful and where do you put him? Look at the Rolling Stones. They’re a British rock band but they recorded country songs like ‘Dead Flowers’ and ‘Faraway Eyes.’ We’re a rock band from Georgia that likes to play country songs and anything that appeals to us.”