I’m in Columbus, Ohio and it is nine hours before Blackberry Smoke is set to take the stage, but you would never be able to tell that it was that far away based on the size of the crowd that has gathered in the streets surrounding the venue. The realization that this isn’t some group of pretenders, but a real honest to goodness Southern rock band sets in immediately. Time seems to shift and I am removed from the current era of cookie-cutter, former Disney stars turned “singers,” and taken back to a period where it was simply about the music and the fans.
After a short wait standing next to a massive tour bus (that has certainly been earned after eight years of touring in a van,) I am ushered to a dressing room just off of the main stage. It is there that I meet Brit Turner, the drummer and group leader in bearded greatness for Blackberry Smoke. After a short introduction where we compare notes as military brats (he was born on an Air Force base in Flint, Michigan,) we quickly transition into him answering the question that all fans have been wondering for years: “My beard just looks awesome naturally.”
Once his days of moving from base to base ended, Brit ended up in Atlanta, Georgia and it was there that he got his first real taste of the rock world. “I started going to concerts in middle school. My parents dropped me and my brother (Richard, also a member of the band) off at the FOX Theatre to see AC/DC and I was blown away. From then on I had to see every concert that came to town.” Those concerts led to his first drum set, which led to his first job of working in a drum shop in high school, where he not only had the opportunity to meet touring drummers, but eventually landed a job filling in for a drum tech for the band Slayer on a tour through the UK. “You get the bug. Once you start putting a band together in your basement you’re just like, we gotta play OUT somewhere. We were more into metal at that time and bands like Circle Jerks and Agnostic Front would come through and we would get on stage and play with them.” Over time, Brit and Richard would cross paths in the Atlanta rock scene with lead singer Charlie Starr, as well as Paul Jackson and Brandon Still to eventually form Blackberry Smoke.
“I just want to make music that is timeless and not a trend or a fad. I want to make good music that you can listen to and never feel disappointed by.”
While the band has been together since 2000, this year has been arguably the most recognized of their career. Their newest album, Holding All The Roses, has landed the top spot on the UK iTunes Top 40, US iTunes Top 40 and the Billboard Top Country Album charts at various points since its release in February. “It was great. It makes us feel like we we’ve worked hard and we know that some committee didn’t put us on there, but our fans did. Those charts are based on sales and we have had to do this the long and hard way, by just touring.” After recently changing labels and moving to Rounder Records, the band was finally able to do an album with the producer they wanted all along. “Brendan O’Brien was the guy we wanted to produce our first album, but that takes a lot of money. We finally got to the point where we could get this producer and this is the first time somebody GOT us. He allowed us to just get in there and play.”
While the music is certainly a huge passion for Brit and the other members of the band, charity and giving back to those in need is something that is just as important to them. They have previously helped with The Boot Campaign, to raise money for the purpose of providing assistance to military personnel and their families, as well as multiple children’s charities. “We do a meet and greet every night and the proceeds we donate to the children’s hospital in Atlanta. Kid’s shouldn’t have to go through that and we do what we can to make them feel better.” After years of providing charity to those in need, Brit had the unimaginable experience of feeling what it is like to be on the inside of the hospital. “My daughter was in there for 18 months with cancer and it’s really close to my heart. It was a horrible time, but she is alive and doing great. I hope nobody ever has to feel what that is like. People ask about her every day and it is just a real good thing.”
As our interview winds down, I leave Brit with two questions. If you could share the stage with anyone, past or present, who would it be? With no hesitation, he answers, “The Rolling Stones.” You have one last song to play before you put it all away, what do you choose? “All I Can Do is Write About It by Lynyrd Skynyrd if it is someone else’s song and Ain’t Much Left of Me if it is one of ours.”
Blackberry Smoke is set to hit the concert trail with the legendary ZZ Top this August for the Grooves and Gravy Tour. Make sure to reach out and hear the band that Gregg Allman says is “gonna put Southern rock back on the map!” You can also follow them on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.