The guys in the redneck rock band Blackberry Smoke regularly spend 200 days a year on the road, so it's not that odd that their upcoming show in Cleveland will mark their second appearance here in 2014. Back in February, they played at House of Blues, but the guys have continued touring ever since that show.
"It's been a busy year," says singer-guitarist Charlie Starr, adding that the band intends to head to the studio in July to begin recording a new album. "We have a live album that will be out in a week or so and that's been in the process for a little while because there's an accompanying DVD. It's from a show in North Carolina and that will be a stop-gap before the next studio album. It would be great if we get it done quickly and can have it out before the end of the year."
Starr says the band has included a few of the new tracks in its live set — "We sprinkle them in here and there" — and he promises the new disc will provide the same quotient of balls-to-the-wall rockers and bluegrass ballads. Dipping into different genres is something that Starr, who grew up in the Atlanta area, has done well ever since he first picked up a guitar when he was a kid.
"I'm from the Southeast and so for people of my generation, there's a lot of religion," he says. "My father and grandmother were very religious and from that side of the family I got gospel songs. My dad taught me bluegrass and country songs. My mom liked rock 'n' roll, so she loved the Stones and the Beatles and Dylan. It was a good mixture."
At first, Starr just focused on playing guitar. But after working with more than one singer who couldn't really cut it, Starr figured it was time to take over as frontman.
"Eventually I realized I would have to do it if I want to explore that avenue," he says. "I got the bug to write songs and I didn't want anyone else to sing anything. The first song I wrote for Blackberry Smoke to play was 'Sanctified Woman' and I still like that song. That was back in 2000."
The band put out its debut in 2003. It followed it up in 2004 with another album but, according to Starr, the group became involved in "two different label disasters." During that time, the band continued to tour and play new songs every night. While on a Lynyrd Skynyrd-hosted cruise in the mid-2000s, Starr met up-and-coming singer-songwriter Zac Brown.
"That was before he had exploded into popularity and fame and fortune," he says. "He was just a guy in a band like us. When he achieved his success and started his own label, we signed to his label and then went on the road with him. His band and crew are all just wild and there's a lot of post-show parties with people breathing fire in the parking lot."
When it came time to record its debut for Zac Brown's label, the band kicked out 17 songs in five days. Released in 2013, the resulting album, The Whippoorwill, is a great collection of Southern rock-inspired tunes that show off Starr's consummate songwriting chops. The band's been dubbed "the new face of blue-collar Southern rock" — something that sits well with Starr. The title track is a terrific jam that Starr wrote about his late grandmother.
"It's sort of a tribute to her," he says. "She was a great woman and influenced my life and my way of being. She was the type of person you strive to be like. I remember her teaching me about what birds made different sounds. Those kind of memories come flooding back from time to time and I captured them in that song. I hope she's proud and hears it up there."
Starr says the band has picked a producer for its upcoming studio album but he's not allowed to reveal the details just yet. But he does know it will reflect the diversity of his musical influences.
"The new album will be a mixture of songs," he explains. "There's some good greasy rock 'n' roll songs and there's some laid-back acoustic funky stuff. We don't want to make the same record twice. Some of the songs have more atmosphere and some are tunes that the Faces would be proud of or Lynyrd Skynyrd or Little Feat would be proud of. We play a nice hodgepodge of styles, but it's not something too out of whack. It's not like we're going to make a hip-hop album anytime soon."
Marc's Great American Rib Cook-Off & Music Festival: Blackberry Smoke
6:15 p.m. Monday, May 26. Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, 2014 Sycamore St., 216-861-4080. Tickets: $8, livenation.com.