Blackberry Smoke Interview: Charlie Starr On Running Their Own Record Label & The Origin Of The Band’s Name

Blackberry Smoke Interview: Charlie Starr On Running Their Own Record Label & The Origin Of The Band's Name

This looks like it’s shaping up to be a busy year for Blackberry Smoke. Not only are they headlining their own tour in support of their forthcoming album, “Find A Light,” but they are also playing on shows for Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Zac Brown Band. In our Blackberry Smoke interview, Charlie Starr talks to us about what it’s like doing almost everything as far as their music is concerned, including running their own record label. And he shares with us the Black Crowes’ connection to Blackberry Smoke’s name.

Blackberry Smoke Interview: Charlie Starr On Running Their Own Record Label & The Origin Of The Band’s Name

EPR: So, you guys are doing your own tour this year and you are also part of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Farewell tour, is that correct? Also, can you tell me a little bit about what someone can expect from a Blackberry Smoke set on both your headlining dates as well as the Lynyrd Skynyrd tour?

Charlie Starr: Yes, that is correct. Well, our tours are headline shows, you know, so we play longer, of course. We tour all year round every year. We have for 17 years. With each year comes a new album, usually. So, we play a little from each album every night and a few surprises some nights. It’s loud and hopefully it’s good. And then with Skynyrd, we’ll do a shorter show, of course. I think those shows have 4 bands on them, actually. I think Bad Company is on some of the shows as well, and maybe the Marshall Tucker Band, too. So, I am not sure how long we will play on those but it definitely won’t be 2 hours.

Blackberry Smoke Interview: Charlie Starr On Running Their Own Record Label & The Origin Of The Band's Name

EPR: The Lynyrd Skynyrd Tour does have a lot of bands on it. I spoke to Doug Gray from the Marshall Tucker Band the other day and they are definitely going to be on some of the dates as well. So, how many dates do you guys do a year, typically?

Charlie Starr: Anywhere between 150 and 250.

EPR: That’s a lot. Do you ever take big segments of time off at all?

Charlie Starr: Well, we take a month off every year around the holidays.

EPR: You guys are also doing the Zac Brown Castaway thing in March. Is that a cruise or a destination concert?

Charlie Starr: It’s a destination, down in Mexico.

EPR: How long does it last and how much can we expect to see you play there?

Charlie Starr: I think we are only doing one show but I think the whole thing is 4 days. I am not exactly sure. 3 or 4 days, I think.

Blackberry Smoke Interview: Charlie Starr On Running Their Own Record Label & The Origin Of The Band's Name

EPR: You said you guys have been together 17 years. How did you all meet?

Charlie Starr: I can’t remember. I’ve known Paul Jackson, the 2nd guitar player, for a long time, since right out of high school. And then the rest of us, I think we probably met at shows or in bars, you know, around Atlanta.

EPR: How did you come up with the name, Blackberry Smoke?

Charlie Starr: The singer for the Black Crows, Chris Robinson, he came up with it. He’s an old friend. We were hanging around one night back then, back in 2000 or so, and putting the band together and trying to think of a name and we couldn’t think of one. Not a good one. We asked him what he thought and he said, “I think you should call it, ‘Blackberry Smoke.'”

EPR: I like that. It’s funny you say that because my friend, Avery, and I were listening to your music this morning and he said that you guys had a “Black Crowes kind of sound.” I have seen a lot of things online, trying to classify your sound, but what would you classify your music as?

Charlie Starr: I just say we’re a rock and roll band from Georgia. That’s as simply as I can put it.

Blackberry Smoke Interview: Charlie Starr On Running Their Own Record Label & The Origin Of The Band's Name

EPR: I like it. So, you have your own record label. How do you think that gives you a different perspective and changes your job being as you now pretty much handle everything as far as your music goes?

Charlie Starr: Well, it means that we have no one to blame but ourself. The music business has changed exponentially over the years. The need for us to be signed to a major label is just not there anymore. And I’m just speaking about us. Needs are different for different people. But we have been able to slowly grow our fan base and our touring business over the years to where it works us. And we know that when we make a record we are pretty sure our fans are going to want it. For lack of a better way to put it, we are working within our own limitations, I guess you could say.

And, also, most major labels have never come knocking on our door. So, we’re like, “Ok, I guess we’ll just do it ourself.” I guess that would take away any expectation we would have of having a huge hit or something like that but we’ve done pretty well without that for so long it’s just like, ok. You know, if something huge happened, we would welcome it, but that’s not the way we really lives our lives, you know? We just do this job, make this music that we love and take it to people. It seems like a nice, streamlined way to do it. Tons of bands do that these days. Like I said, the climate has changed so much in the music industry that, more times than not, artists just wind up owing a big label a lot of money. We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to owe people. We want to pay our debts and move on.

EPR: Regardless of whether you had a huge record label’s help or not, you still found a way to make money and a living at something you love on your own.

Charlie Starr: Yeah, I mean we’ve never wanted anything more than just to be able to make a living and travel the world and play this music that we love and do it our way. We make the records that we want to make. We never have anybody that we have to answer to that would say, “I don’t like this. This is not going to sell. This is not a single. You need to cut your hair. You need to do this…” We’ve been able to stay afloat without needing that.

EPR: It is kind of ironic that you have this big record label that a lot of groups work with, that they groups pay them a lot of money, but they also lose a lot of their creativity because someone else tells them so much of what they need to do.

Charlie Starr: Yeah, it may be just the ticket for some people, or maybe for very young bands or for an artist who really feels that they need to be developed. But we are all getting older now and we kind of figured out what it is that we do comfortably. And we hope we do it pretty well. It seems to make some people happy so forward we go.

Blackberry Smoke Interview: Charlie Starr On Running Their Own Record Label & The Origin Of The Band's Name

EPR: Tell me about your new album that is coming out in April.

Charlie Starr: It’s called, “Find A Light,” and it’s our 6th studio album. We like it, you know? It’s good. It’s pretty diverse, which most of our records, I think, are. There’s a lot of different kinds of songs. It makes it hard for some people to even pin down what kind of band we are sometimes. People argue, “Are they a country band? Are they a rock and roll band?” And I like that. That’s interesting. If we did the same thing over and over and over again, it would be boring.

EPR: I agree. What is your favorite song off the new album and why?

Charlie Starr: I don’t know if I have a favorite. That will take some time for that to manifest itself, I think. I love them all equally right now.

You can catch Blackberry Smoke locally at the Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount, VA, this Saturday and Sunday nights. Be sure to check out the rest of their tour schedule here.

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About Dawn McAlexander

Dawn has been a music lover her entire life. She went to college in Boone, NC, an area that is rich in music and culture. She also worked as a radio deejay for 8 years and grew up in Southeastern, Va, a melting pot of different musical styles and traditions. She has been to more concerts than she can count in every genre you can imagine. She resides in North Carolina with her furbabies and her massive collection of Disney memorabilia.


  1. Sue E

    I’ve never heard of this band before. But if they are on the ticket with Rock ‘n Rolls big names like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Zac Brown Band, then they have to be pretty decent! I love Lynyrd Skynyrd and am sad to hear it is their farewell tour! I will ask my kids and grandkids if they ever heard of them. You’ve peaked my interest though about Blackberry Smoke. I’m going to have to give them a listen! TY

    • Dawn McAlexander

      Definitely listen to some of their music – check them out on Youtube or something. If you like Southern Rock, which I am feeling like you do from your comment, I think you will really enjoy them. 🙂

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