Blackberry Smoke’s second album, Little Piece of Dixie, felt like a never-ending recording project to the band’s frontman, Charlie Starr.
“It was really complicated,” Starr said of the recording process during a mid-August phone interview.
“We didn’t go in even a couple of sessions. It was piecemeal. We would go in and record three songs or two songs, go on the road and play a bunch of shows, come back when (producer) Dann (Huff) was free and we were free and record a couple more songs. There were no outtakes from that. We wound up with 12 songs.
“I think we were all ‘Jesus Christ, I’m glad we’re finished with this’ because we didn’t think, as far as scheduling went, it didn’t look like we were ever going to get it finished,” he said.
Clearly, Blackberry Smoke didn’t want to repeat that experience when it made its current CD, The Whippoorwill. The band pretty much eliminated any prospect of an extended string of recording sessions by giving itself just five days to finish all 17 songs that were in the running for the album.
“In the studio you can really get – people can get frustrated with one another,” Starr explained. “It’s really easy to have some gritted teeth-type moments. And this one, I don’t ever really want to go through that again, having that short amount of time to get that much done, because it was stressful, but in a good way, meaning we had to get it done.”
The band decided to book just five days in the studio and force itself to finish The Whippoorwill because no one wanted to wait any longer to get the album out. The group’s previous album, Little Piece of Dixie, was released in 2009.
“We could have said, ‘OK, let’s do part of it now and then do the rest of it two months from now.’ But we had been waiting so long, to be honest with you, to get in the studio. Nobody wanted to do that.”
Actually, the three-year-plus gap between albums was a quick turnaround – at least by the band’s previous standard. Little Piece of Dixie arrived five years after the 2004 release of the first Blackberry Smoke album, Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime.
The reason Blackberry Smoke albums have been relatively few and far between is simple. The band has to tour to make its living, and that has meant a schedule that includes upwards of 250 shows a year.
“If we stop, the money stops,” Starr said. “We’re not independently wealthy and we don’t have, like we weren’t the band that was like let’s get this dude in the band to play keys because his dad’s rich and he’ll buy all of our gear and that stuff.”
The kind of music Black-berry Smoke makes has remained fairly consistent over its three albums – a Southern-fried mix of rock, blues and country that follows in the grand tradition of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Georgia Satellites, Drive-By Truckers and Black Crowes.
It works because the band – which includes Starr, bassist Richard Turner and his brother, drummer Brit Turner, guitarist Paul Jackson and keyboardist Brandon Still – is a potent unit musically and because the group writes solid songs.
The Whippoorwill’s 13 songs have the swaggering rock of Six Ways to Sunday (which sounds like a great lost Georgia Satellites track) and Ain’t Much Left of Me, rockers with a bit of honky tonk in the mix (the chunky Everybody Knows She’s Mine and rollicking Leave A Scar), hearty ballads (The Whippoorwill) and even an acoustic tune with a big rhythmic thump (Ain’t Got the Blues).
Starr likes the way The Whippoorwill turned out, despite how quickly it had to be recorded.
“I hear that natural sound of that room (at Echo Mountain Studio in Asheville, N.C.), and it just sounds like you’re standing in the middle of our band,” Starr said.
Blackberry Smoke has been touring behind The Whippoorwill for about a year now, and while the group’s always-busy tour schedule can be a grind, Starr said the group has no problems staying inspired on stage. That much is obvious in the praise the band draws for its live shows. Starr thinks the band’s enthusiasm is part of its appeal.
“I just figure that maybe when people come to see us, they see we’re really enjoying what we’re doing,” he said. “As the frontman, I haven’t sat and worked up a dance routine or anything like that, but I am an excitable person, and playing the music makes me excited and I’m not going to stand still usually.
“We genuinely love to play together,” Starr said. “That’s the main thing.”
The band is the headlining act for this year’s Border Bash at Augusta Common. The Joe Stevenson Band will open.
General admission tickets are $10 in advance for adults and are available at borderbash.net, at Hooters, Communigraphics and Circle K locations. Tickets will be $15 at the gate. Children 12 and under are admitted free.