Blackberry Smoke has worked very hard to be here. From a bunch of guys doing ordinary jobs like working on cars and being plumbers, they are now true blue rock stars, with a penchant for making music with a blues, country and southern rock foundation – although you couldn’t tell they’ve had number one albums, opened for legends like Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top, sang with George Jones and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry by talking with them. Success has yet to go to their heads after almost twenty years and their ideals and hopes for the band has never changed.
They started off playing music in Georgia but their popularity was gained by playing up north. “We had people who would drive three hundred miles to come see us play and we get home and we couldn’t get our friends to drive three miles to see us,” guitar player Paul Jackson told Glide during a 2016 interview. But perseverance paid off. “When we formed Blackberry Smoke and we bought a van,” Charlie Starr told Songfacts last year, “we decided that we were going to quit our jobs and do it.” Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime appeared at the start of 2004, followed by Little Piece Of Dixie in 2009. Songs from these early recordings still show up in current setlists, proving Blackberry Smoke had what it took to make music lovers happy way back then.
With the release of their fifth studio album, Like An Arrow, last year, Blackberry Smoke continued making music their way, with lyrics that touched on today’s societal woes and joys from an everyday joe’s point of view. And the late great Gregg Allman appeared on the track, “Free On The Wing,” a song that was co-written by the band’s keyboard/organ player Brandon Still with Starr, who does the majority of the composing.
The Carolina born and bred Still joined Blackberry Smoke around 2009 when they were looking to add that timeless organ sound to their lineup, debuting on 2012’s popular Whippoorwill album, their third studio release. If you didn’t know much about the man before, he opened up with us about growing up in the south, becoming a social worker, chasing his musical dreams and how the subtlety of the keyboards can make a big difference in the heart of a song.
With a big show coming up on July 25th at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, we began our chat with Still talking about the magic inside these wonderful old venues.
You have a big show coming up at the Fonda Theatre in LA. Have you guys ever played there before?
No, that will be our first time there but we have played in LA several times. We’ve done the Troubadour and mostly the House Of Blues, which I believe is not there anymore, and we also played the Hollywood Bowl with Zac Brown, opened for him on that tour. The Hollywood Bowl and the Troubadour were both very exciting places to play because of all the history and all the different acts that have been on that stage. So this will be a new experience but I understand it’s a really beautiful historic theatre and we’re definitely very excited to play it.
It was built in the 1920’s. What do you like best about playing these old venues?
I like the history. The backstage areas and the little underground walkways to get to and from are kind of cool, but usually the actual rooms themselves are just so beautiful. They have all the ornate décor and they sound really good, they’re meant for music, and they just have a cool vibe. Some of them might feel a little haunted so if we make a mistake or have some gear troubles we can always blame a ghost (laughs).
These theatres are known for their good acoustics. For your part of it, playing the organ and the keyboards, does it really help you or do you find some kinks in the venues like that?
I think it actually helps. You know, when we play we have our in-ear monitors, so that is kind of what we are hearing, but you can sometimes take one out and try to get a feel for how it’s sounding out there. But I think it does work to the advantage of the sound. You usually get some good feedback from the people at the show. At a theatre they might say, “You sounded really good. You usually sound good but tonight it was REALLY good.” Usually our sound guys have fun mixing a room like that so I think there is something to it.
When you are in LA, do you have little places that you like to try and go to?
Yeah, I like to go to vintage stores just to see what shows up in different cities and different places. Me and some of the guys like to go to where they have the vintage arcade games at a bar so you can drink beer and play your favorite old school games. So yeah, we seek out places like that. And I think I’ve been to some good sushi restaurants in LA but I don’t really remember the names.
You know, a lot of times we’re in a town and out of it so fast we don’t get a lot of time to explore, cause we get in and the day begins and then we leave that night. You want to be in town for the next gig. But certain cities we do have our favorite places. I love LA and Hollywood Boulevard, just walking up and down that and thinking of the history of the Strip and things like that is always fun. And LA is such a big place too it’s easy just to kind of not know where to start. Usually when we go to the California area we stay at a really cool hotel that’s got a lot of history, a lot of actors come there for stay-cations and you never know who you’re going to see there.
Do you see a big difference in West Coast crowds compared to southern crowds?
Well, the interesting thing is, no matter where we go we have fans from all over, whether it’s a show in LA or a show in Louisiana, we may have some guys from the UK there, we may have some folks from Canada there. Of course we’ll have people that live close but we get such a mix of people from all over it’s hard to really get a feel for what people are like in certain areas cause we have people from all over kind of in the mix. But in certain cities you may have people there that are there more as listeners and in certain places people are more there to party. But usually in the States it’s a good mix of people from all over.
A lot of times if we play a college town, our fans descend upon the town more so than college kids coming to the show. You’ll still get college kids too but it’s interesting. We kind of bring our crowd with us in a lot of ways. And they are such good people and the southern hospitality and the southern mindset is not limited to the south. Southern hospitality, or the equivalent of it, there are folks in Canada that are just like that, folks out west, folks in Europe or the UK, and they all seem to have that similar vibe of they’d do anything for you, they’d help you out if you had a problem. They’re a very family-oriented fanbase and that’s kind of how word spreads about us. Somebody might tell their aunt and their aunt might tell their daughter and their daughter might tell their dad and so you’ve got relatives coming together. Plus with social media, it connects all the fans around the world, and they’re like a big family so a lot of our shows end up being like a reunion for the fans. Everybody seems to know each other even though one person might be from California and one person might be from Florida. But they’ve kept up through social media and the fan sights and they are just a bunch of good people that are there to have a good time. It’s a really good thing.
Sometimes the Europe crowds are a little bit more reserved but I just think sometimes those folks are there to just hang on every note and listen to every word. But in Scotland, they get pretty wild and rowdy (laughs).
The Cadillac Three is opening up for you guys, not only at the Fonda but on some other dates as well.
Oh, I think they’re great. We’re glad to have them. I think they have really good songs and Jaren [Johnston, singer] is actually an established songwriter. He’s got many co-writes in the Nashville scene so I’m sure they will play some of the songs he’s written that have gone on to become hits and their own too. But they are just a really good band and our fans love them. People who have never heard them before I think will really end up liking them too. They’re the real deal. They rock and they have good songs and I think everybody will be really happy with them as an opening act.
Brandon, where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you like?
Well, I grew up in Lancaster, South Carolina, a small town, kind of outside Charlotte, North Carolina. Even though I was in a small town, I still got a little bit of influence from the big city, some of the culture there, but basically when you’re in a small town there’s not a lot to do but outdoors kind of stuff. So I grew up as kind of an outdoorsy kind of person.
What kind of last name is Still?
Gosh, that’s a good question. The towns that my parents are from in South Carolina are named Denmark, Norway and Sweden. I think the settlers came from that region of Europe. But Still, I don’t know many Stills. I’ll have to research that a little bit more. But it’s so funny, people always want to put an S – like Crosby Stills & Nash. I joke that it’s a pet peeve and of course Brit [Turner, drummer] always writes my name Brandon Stills and I just play into it like, oh man, they put an S on the end of my last name! This is an outrage! (laughs). But it’s a joke and it doesn’t bother me.
Do you think it may have been shortened?
That’s interesting. It could have been, you never know. We always thought maybe our ancestors made moonshine in the moonshine stills (laughs).
Or you could be a Viking with all those names from up there.
Yeah, I’m going to go with that one. I’m a Viking. I’m descended from a great Viking warrior.
Yeah but those weren’t very nice people though
(laughs) Oh yeah, I forgot about that.
[NOTE: Brandon called back later to let me know he had spoken to his dad about his ancestry and it was Scotch, Irish and British, his dad having encountered the Still name when visiting Scotland]
Was music a big part of your childhood?
Both my mom and dad play piano and we always had a piano in the house. I was always encouraged to bang around on the piano and my dad still plays in church every now and then so I grew up around that. His mother and my mom’s mother, they all played, aunts and uncles play. Every time I would visit the grandparents there’d be a pump organ to mess around on and things like that. Then I got lessons in about the third or fourth grade, which gave me a good little background to start with, a little primer I guess.
From that point, I just kind of drifted away from music a little bit but as I turned into a teenager it kind of came back to me and I would start playing by ear. I’d hear things that I would like and then try to figure them out on the piano. It was just something that I was really interested in and really liked to do and never was pushed to do it or anything like that. I just kind of had that love of creating. I would create a lot of little pieces too but also figuring something out by ear. A lot of sheet music for piano doesn’t really tell you the authentic thing that the player in the studio is playing. Like if it’s a Lynyrd Skynyrd song and you’d get the sheet music, it would just be an arrangement of the song and wouldn’t really have the licks that Billy Powell was playing in the studio. So I had to just figure that kind of stuff out for myself.
But I had a good childhood. My parents were very encouraging, although my dad was always like, “Son, music makes a great hobby but you need a real plan.” And you can’t blame him for being a dad and it was a proud moment when I could finally tell him, “I’m actually playing professionally. I’m paying my bills, I’m saving for retirement, I’m paying taxes, I have health care;” all those things that satisfied my dad. “Oh okay, that’s good. It’s like a real job then.” (laughs)
Did you lean towards rock when you were playing piano over other types of music?
Yeah, I would say I leaned more towards rock but really any music that rocked that had keyboards in it would always interest me. Like, oh the keyboards are so subtle but it takes it to another place or adds so much to it. So anytime I heard just those simple parts added to rock music I was like, oh I can play that, that’s not so hard. With keyboards in music you don’t want to get too complicated. You just want to do that nice little touch that adds to everything else, adds to the big picture. So when I would hear anything like that I’d immediately go, oh I got to figure that out, I want to see what that is all about. And mostly that was in rock music.
Who were some of the players you liked?
The Allman Brothers. Gregg Allman’s organ was always very tasty and very minimal, and of course Chuck Leavell’s piano playing was like, wow, blowing my mind, and that was a big inspiration. Again, Billy Powell with the licks that he would add to Skynyrd. With all the blazing guitars going on he would always seem to find his perfect timing and perfect place to add just the right thing. The song wouldn’t be the same without that little lick that he might add at the end of the verse in “Sweet Home Alabama” or whatever.
Then there are the really crazy players that I like too, like the guy from Little Feat, Bill Payne. He’s just a monster on the piano and a total virtuoso, but he’s able to add magic in his own way too. Those are some of my favorites, the southern rockers on the keyboards.
Then a little bit outside of that, I love the group Yes. One of my favorite albums is the Yes album. The music around that era, those of course are full of keyboards. See, I like synthesizers and stuff too but I can’t quite figure out a way to put those in Blackberry Smoke (laughs). We like to stick to the vintage organ and piano and electric piano sounds but if I find a subtle way to add like a Moog line to a song, you better believe I’m going to try it (laughs).
I’ll have to hook you up with Rick Wakeman
Yes, please do. I actually got to meet him once and he was so cool. I was so nervous but he was a really nice guy. We had to play in front of not only Rick Wakeman but we played in front of Jimmy Page and Brian May. We were doing the Classic Rock Awards and I was like, oh my God, I’m getting ready to play keyboards in front of Rick Wakeman! Chris Jericho was the host and as we walked to the stage he said, “Oh, I just want to remind you don’t be nervous. It’s not like Jimmy Page is in the audience or anything.” Oh he had to get that in (laughs). But that was fun and I was thinking, well, it’s not like I’m going to blow his mind anyway. I might as well have fun with it. And my parts in that song weren’t really showcase piano parts. They were just little subtle additions so if I did mess up he might not even notice (laughs).
How did it feel having Gregg play on Like An Arrow’s “Free On The Wing”?
That was just amazing. There was talk of it happening, mutual friends reaching out from camp to camp, and he said yes. We had a song in mind and he said he liked the song and he would do it and we were like, wow, this is really going to happen. You know, in this business, until something really happens, you don’t get too excited. You don’t want to feel the letdown too hard. But I was just holding my breath and keeping my fingers crossed that it was all going to come together and sure enough it did. We were in Europe when he went in the studio to do it so we didn’t get to be there with him but we were on the phone with our engineer, “How’s it going? How’s it going?” And as the engineer mixed the rough mix and when we finally got to hear it, it was just such an awesome moment. His voice came onto the airwaves and we were like, oh my God, that distinctive character and the soul and the life he’s lived are in that voice. It was a great moment.
You know, most people talk about how they’re going to miss that voice but him on that organ is going to be missed too.
It will. You know, his organ playing, he keeps it fairly simple, not a lot of frills and fanciness, but he chooses the tastiest notes in the chord voicings, which can make a huge difference; not only in that but the tone of the organ, cause there are a million ways to make the organ sound with all the drawbars and the vibrato and how you set your speaker cabinet, your Leslie, which is a rotating speaker cabinet. But his organ always sounds so good and not just anybody can sit behind an instrument and make those tones and make it sound as good as Gregg Allman. That’s kind of where the magic is. You can put somebody behind the organ that can play circles around the best players but can they get that tone, can they put the part in the right place? And that will be missed cause of the sounds he was able to get out of that thing.
What do you use?
I use a Hammond organ, which I recently acquired. It’s a vintage Hammond organ called the A-101, and it’s actually the same components as the B3. The B3 is the Holy Grail of rock, blues, gospel organ. It’s THE one, and of course that’s what Gregg Allman played. I’ve even heard that Gregg, when he would rent a B3 for a show, he would say, “Bring me three of them and let me find my favorite one of the three.” I don’t know, that may or may not be true, but there is some truth to it cause each one is a little different. It’s just the nature of an old instrument like that. So I use the Hammond A-101, which has the same guts of a B3 but it’s just in a little smaller body, which in our trailer we need to save as much space as we can cause Charlie has his two guitar cabinets, Paul has his, and my keyboard world is huge now. The organ has a Leslie cabinet and that’s the rotating speaker where when you hit the switch the speaker starts turning fast and that’s what gives the Hammond organ that vibrato sound. Then you hit the switch and it slows back down. If you know what to listen for, you can hear it speeding up and slowing down. It actually physically rotates. That’s the magic of it. You can’t really duplicate that in a digital way. They try and they get close but you can’t beat the actual air moving around by a speaker that is spinning. It’s an invention that can’t be improved upon. It was done in the forties, I think, and it’s that sought after sound that our ears have heard in all the music from the forties up until now.
Then I have two electric type pianos. One is a Wurlitzer, and it’s another classic sound that is on so many recordings, and you run it through a guitar amp to get a nice, broken up kind of gritty sound. It’s not too clean and pretty, it’s got more bite to it. I run that through a Fender guitar amp. I also have what is called a clavinet and that’s the funky keyboard. You might hear it in a lot of seventies funk. You might hear it in seventies porn music if you ever watch that (laughs). But it’s a very distinctive sound and it’s actually a stringed instrument. Inside are little short strings that hammers hit and it works like a guitar. You hit a key and the hammer strikes a string and the guitar pickup type thing picks it up, and that is running through the same guitar amp that my Wurlitzer is running through.
On top of the organ is the digital piano. You can’t really bring the big nine foot grand like Benmont Tench of Tom Petty, who is another one of my favorite players. He has the big nine foot, and I don’t know if it’s a Steinway or not, but he has that thing out onstage. I think the guys might kill me if I did that (laughs). So I just do a digital, like a Yamaha. I’m still kind of shopping around for what I like better on a digital piano but right now I’m using a Yamaha stage piano. But yeah, Benmont, he’s a virtuoso on the piano. He can do it all but if you listen to Tom Petty’s music, he may just play one little note at the right place and it just makes the magic. He really knows about the minimalist approach, holding back and not trying to be like, look what I can do. It’s more like, let me not take away from the song, let me ADD to the song. And that’s the tricky thing about keyboards, especially when you have guitar-driven music. You don’t want it to be a distraction, you want it to add to it. But Benmont is high on my list of favorites too.
How did you get involved with Blackberry Smoke?
Well, I grew up in the Carolinas and I moved to Asheville, North Carolina. My dream was to always do music professionally, whether that meant teaching lessons, being in a cover band, anything I could do to do music. I love music so anything I could do to have a career in it I wanted to do. I loved Asheville, North Carolina, but the scene there wasn’t enough to support me. It’s a great town with a lot of bluegrass and old time mountain music and things like that. So I was like, okay, I’ve got to move to the closest biggest city cause that’s where my chances of making a living off of it would be better. So Atlanta was the obvious choice.
I’ve always been a social worker. That’s what I graduated from college as. At college, I floundered around there too, like, what am I going to do? So I was like, well, I like to help people so I’ll do social work. I did social work after college and that’s a tough job and a high burnout. It’s not easy. I worked with mainly autism and special needs. I was not good at the management, the coordinating, the supervisory-type roles, which I ended up getting. I was really good at the hands-on, the one-to-one helping somebody or taking them through their day or being a job coach or whatever. I was not good at the management part. I was just never comfortable in the role.
But I always kind of held onto my dream of, I got to do music and that is where I’m going to be truly happy. So I moved to Atlanta and did more social work but finally got into the cover band scene. You may have heard of the band Yacht Rock out of Atlanta. They do a tribute to like seventies soft rock and they kind of do it tongue-in-cheek. They act like pretentious soft rock stars, all dressed in their leisure suits, and they are hilarious guys. They play like Steely Dan or the “Pina Colada Song” or America, Elton John, any of the AM gold stuff, and any of that stuff is full of all kinds of cool vintage keyboards and Jazz and chord changes and stuff. So that was really fun for me to do. I also played in a live karaoke band, which was a hit in Atlanta. People would sing with the band so we actually had learned like three hundred songs cause you never knew what you’re going to get.
When I moved here to Atlanta, I taught lessons and I was finally able to pay my bills with music and I was loving it. But I will say, and I don’t like to insult people that do cover bands because I don’t want to sound like, oh I’m in an original band and you’re not. I don’t want to come across that way. But as the five years went on, it did start feeling monotonous, it did start feeling like I was going through the routine and the motion, and I was getting a little bit unsatisfied. It was still great, I was still making decent money, I’m not in an office, I’m doing what I love, but.
So then, oddly enough, the ex-wife of the bandleader of one of the bands I was in, said, “Don’t tell my ex-husband but Blackberry Smoke is looking for a keyboard player. You didn’t hear it from me but here’s Richard’s email.” And I was like, okay (laughs). We knew who Blackberry Smoke was cause I remember when they did their first tour with ZZ Top and everybody in my band was like, “Wow, Blackberry Smoke went on the road with ZZ Top! That’s awesome!” So we always had our eye on them and how they were doing.
But I was like, I’m in my comfort zone with where I was in Atlanta. I was making good steady money, there were house gigs where my gear could stay set up, I lived like two or three blocks from where I played, got to sleep in my own bed every night; you know, I had it made. But something told me, to really get where you want to get you need to step out of your comfort zone. And that was a big lesson I learned, cause at the time I joined Blackberry Smoke, there was no tour bus. It was van and trailer, it was still gigs at maybe a pizza joint, the money had to go back into the outfit more so it was a pay cut when I first joined – I don’t know if the guys want me really mentioning that, that might not be good for the mystique (laughs). But bottom line is, I got out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t able to sleep in my bed at night. I remember they picked me up for my first gig and it was after a Yacht Rock show, so the show ended at 1:00 am, the Blackberry Smoke guys came and got me out of the bar, I got in the van and we rode off into the night all the way to like Minnesota, all night long and in a van with all these strangers and I’m sitting upright in a seat all night and thinking, what have I just done? (laughs). It was a little bit intimidating and scary but something just told me, if you want to move forward you can’t just stay in your little comfort zone. You’ll get stagnant and I felt that.
The other big part of it was the idea of playing original music to people. To me, it makes a difference, like the parts that I play for people to hear, these are parts that I came up with and it’s so rewarding seeing people out there enjoying the whole song but knowing I contributed to this in my own way. This isn’t somebody else’s part, this is my part. This is my art so it’s very gratifying to play original music, even if you were playing for a lot less money. I was enjoying it better than getting paid a lot to play Journey songs, you know what I mean. Just the whole fact that I got to be an artist and create and that we were touring off of original songs, that excited me and made me really want to go for it.
I looked at their tour schedule when I first thought about joining and I saw that they opened for well-known bands like Molly Hatchett and I think there was a Steve Miller show, and they did the cruises and they see the world, and I was like, this is what I wanted to do from the beginning. I didn’t even think I would take it that far. I was just happy to be paying my bills with the cover bands. But I was like, this is really what I want to do – see the world, play original music to people all over. To me, that is where the magic was. I want to do this, I need to do this. And that was about 2009 and a lot has happened since then so it’s been a really good ride and I feel like I made the right move to do it.
A lot of times in your life you make a move but you’re like, I don’t think this is my final resting spot. I’m probably going to change up and do something else. Well, with Blackberry Smoke, I feel a sense of permanency there and a home there and this is my career and not just a job. This is what I’m going to be doing, if I’m lucky enough, for a long time out. I may not live in Atlanta my entire life. I’d love to live at the closest shoreline possible and commute to the bus back to Atlanta (laughs). But I feel like I definitely found my home when I made that move and got out of that comfort zone.
Do you remember first getting together with them to play?
I went over to Brit’s house and we did several rehearsals. The funny thing is, I also play guitar so I brought my guitar, cause I was like, well, on some songs I can play guitar and on other songs I can play keyboards. Well, I was amongst, of course, the amazing company of Charlie and Paul on guitars. So I played a couple of songs with them on guitar and when the time came to go to our first gig, they went, “Oh Brandon, you don’t have to worry about bringing your guitar or guitar amp.” (laughs) Okay, I get it. At least they liked my keyboard playing cause the guitar playing didn’t quite cut it, and rightfully so.
Are you guys working on new music?
Yeah, actually we are. There is some new stuff and there is definitely that excitement and already talk about trying to record a few several months from now. But there is some stuff brewing. There is already a lot of material and it’s really good, good rock & roll, some good ballads. It won’t be that long before something else comes out.
In the beginning stages of songs, how do you contribute?
For the most part, Charlie writes the songs, lyrics and chords, melody and chord structure. He may be co-writing with some of his co-writing friends, Travis Meadows, I know we’ve worked with Randy Houser before in the past. But he’ll ask me, “What keyboards do you hear to this song?” or “I’m thinking a little piano, a little Hammond organ” or “Maybe just Hammond on this one or electric piano only or on this funky tune I’m thinking clavinet and organ.” But for the most part, I have free range just to sit at home and come up with parts and what I usually do is I present every idea that I have knowing that it’ll be trimmed or he might be like, “I didn’t really hear piano in this part.” He might want more of a dirty organ instead of a nice, clean piano. But I will try to present him everything and we’ll kind of nip it down or maybe something will happen in the studio, some kind of improv or some kind of happy accident: “Ooh, I like that, do that again.” Or maybe the engineer or producer will give suggestions. I’m always open to any suggestions. I enjoyed working with Clay Cook on The Whippoorwill album for that very reason cause he’s an awesome piano player – he’s an awesome everything, right. He gave me some good ideas; Brendan O’Brien, the same thing.
Charlie and I have two song co-writes, which I am very proud of. One of them is called “Pearls,” and “Free On The Wing,” the one Gregg Allman sang on, is another one. The way those worked is I would come up with a chord progression or maybe a riff and either play it in soundcheck, hoping he’s listening, or send him a recording. If he hears something I play he likes, he’s like, “Ooh, I like that. Send me that” or “Play that again.” And that’s how those two songs were born. I had these little riffs that I would just play at soundcheck and you better believe if he liked it I’d get it all together on a recording and make sure he had a nice copy of it (laughs).
So “Pearls,” the first one we did, he used parts of the thing I wrote and then made other musical parts and developed the song that way, put lyrics and melody to it and that was cool. Then “Free On The Wing,” he took the exact song structure that I created, the verse, the intro, the verse, the chorus, the bridge and made a song exactly on that. So that was very thrilling. Of course, once he’s done with a song, he adds the magic, like the slide guitar or the vocals and the words and the melody and it’s so cool to hear him send it back and hear what he’s done with it. I’m hoping to do more of that as the years unfold. I’m always playing around with riffs and he’s always asking me for them so I’m hoping the new set of stuff I’ll get some material in for him. I still get to be creative and I get to choose between different instruments and sometimes get to play two different instruments at the same time, organ and piano together, so that’s always fun. But he’s open for suggestions and I’m definitely willing to give suggestions too.
And all this you might not have had if you would have stayed in a cover band
Right, if I had stayed in my comfort zone where I got to sleep in my own bed and never had to ride off into the night. It’s like one of those cases where people have their bucket lists. But I never even had playing at the Hollywood Bowl on my bucket list cause it seemed like such an unlikely thing. And the next I know we’re playing on the Hollywood Bowl stage. And we got to play Madison Square Garden. We got to do that with Zac too. I never even dreamed of doing this stuff because it was just not even realistic to me. Like I said, my goal was to just play music to put food on the table and little did I know I’d actually be touring the world doing original music. If you had told me that when I was in high school I’d been like, no way! (laughs). I thought it was accomplishment enough just to be playing music for a living in whatever form it was but I feel very happy and fortunate and blessed.
I also feel like a lot of musicians, their own attitude and egos can hold them back. You have to get along well with others and you have to be a team player and you have to be able to go with the flow. You can’t be, “No, I don’t do that” or “No, I’m not going to play that.” You have to be flexible and willing to take criticism from your peers cause that’s how you get better, that’s how you learn. Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of people let themselves get in their own way. You have to learn to let go and go with it sometimes. Especially if you’re on the road, you’ve got to be able to get along with everybody. You can’t be that one squeaky wheel that is always complaining and always bringing everybody down. You will not last long. I’m kind of a laidback kind of dude so that works in my favor too.
Is Blackberry Smoke going to be on the road for the rest of the year?
Pretty much. We leave the 19th, going out to Arizona and do all our out west stuff, including the Fonda Theatre which we’re really excited about. We’ll stay out there for about six weeks. Then we get a little bit of a break in September and October. Things slow down in the wintertime but, you know, our tour kind of is nonstop. It doesn’t really have a beginning or an end and kind of keeps on going, with a little break here and there. We’re always cruising on.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough, Amy Harris, Marc Lacatell & Mary Andrews