Sitting on a tour bus parked on the cobbled streets of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, Blackberry Smoke wordsmith Charlie Starr, resplendent in his trademark sideburns, is in reflective mood.
Ahead of the band’s show at the Liquid Rooms, he’s waxing lyrical about the musical journey that has taken him from a boyhood spent in Alabama to the present day, where Blackberry Smoke are lauded by critics and playing sold out concert halls across Europe.
From an early age, through his family, Starr was exposed to an eclectic mix of musical styles. This melodious baptism laid the foundations that helped shape his musical direction. According to Starr, it was his mother that deserves the credit for igniting his passion for rock and roll.
“My dad played bluegrass, he didn’t like rock and roll and he still doesn’t like rock and roll!”
“He only liked bluegrass and gospel. A lot of those bluegrass songs are Celtic ballads; it’s beautiful how that influence is woven into American music.”
“From him I got a guitar and knowledge; here’s how you play G, C and D. I loved that, it was a great place to start. But my mother loved rock and roll – the Stones, Beatles and Bob Dylan.”
“And then I got into rock and roll from the radio and when I was about 11 I found Aerosmith. That was my first favourite rock and roll band and like every other teenager I also got into Led Zeppelin, Sabbath and others.”
He also took time to immerse himself in the South’s rich legacy of black music, specifically Delta Blues, the cornerstone for many of the songs he would compose in later years.
“For me, I was a nerd, I wanted to go backwards so I found the Delta Blues, people like Charlie Patton and Son House.”
As Starr’s musical tastes evolved so too did his ambition to not only play the guitar, but to be damn good at it. And who better to turn to for inspiration than established Southern rock musical royalty.
“When I really got interested in playing the guitar, I found the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Little Feat and the Grateful Dead too. Once you find one good thing you want the next good thing.”
His introduction to singing was, by his own admission, a less harmonious experience. In fact, as a fresh faced teenager, it filled him with dread.
“I started playing in bands when I was about 15, cover bands with my friends. I didn’t sing at that stage, just guitar. I was terrified to sing. I didn’t start to write songs till I was in my late teens, early twenties and wrote horrible songs.”
Relocating to Atlanta proved a pivotal moment in Starr’s life. It is here he met three of his future band mates and, well, the rest is history.
“I moved to Atlanta after high school and played in a bunch of bands and would up with Brit and Richard. We played in another band, that broke up but we stayed together. By that time I had written a handful of songs that I liked and wasn’t ashamed to play in public. We started working on those.”
“I’d known Paul (Jackson) for a long time, since just out of high school, and he played guitar sang beautifully. I called him up and said ‘do want to come and join this band?’. He said yes and that was it.”
Live photo from Edinburgh Liquid rooms, courtesy Gary Gooper Photography