Blackberry Smoke's Charlie Starr: The soundtrack of my life

Charlie Starr
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Guitarist and vocalist Charlie Starr has led Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke for two decades now, blazing the trail for a new wave of southern rock. His childhood was soundtracked by bluegrass, country and gospel, and he has an unyielding love for the Rolling Stones.


The first music I remember hearing

My dad playing bluegrass on guitar. I was around four or five. I was completely fascinated with the stories in these songs, particularly one called the Wreck Of The Old 97, about a train engineer that died.

The first song I performed live

Probably a Black Sabbath song, Iron Man or War Pigs, at a high school talent show. Our band didn’t have a singer, so it would have been an instrumental version. Everybody wanted to be a guitar player, and no one was brave enough to sing. The band was called Malteze. I really don’t know why

Greatest album of all time

Exile On Main St. by the Rolling Stones. Most definitely. I think it covers everything as far as rock’n’roll music goes. Not only rock’n’roll, it also has gospel, blues and soul. They captured it all so perfectly. It’s so dirty and nefarious – almost a little scary. It’s also one of those records where when I start it, I have to finish it.

The best live album

At Fillmore East by the Allman Brothers. I read somewhere that the producer, Tom Dowd, said there are no overdubs on this record, it’s them playing and singing and being fantastic. 

As a southern guitar player, Duane Allman is revered by myself and others like me. We learned every note of that record he played, but he was the type of player that he probably never played those notes the same way again. It’s funny how we worship one night of his musical life that he probably never repeated.

The guitar hero

It’s a two-way tie between Jimmy Page and Billy Gibbons. They were such creative forces, and definitely an influence on me. They play very differently, but come from a similar place: electrified blues. Both such great composers and songwriters too

The singer

My favourite singer of all time is Little Richard. My mother loved rock’n’roll: Little Richard, the Stones, The Beatles. I think the first song of his I heard was Lucille, and I just wanted to hear it again and again! He was the first one who was really full of fire and brimstone, who really let loose on the microphone.

The songwriter

This is such a hard choice, but I’m gonna say Bob Dylan. He’s written so many different types of songs, you can’t really pin him down. He brought an intelligence to rock’n’roll songwriting. He influenced John Lennon so much that John apparently said: “I don’t wanna write love songs any more, I wanna write like Bob.”

The anthem

Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who. You could be in a bad mood or not having the best day, but when that song starts it’s like: “Oh, I gotta stand up!

Cult hero

Doug Sahm. He was from San Antonio, Texas, and was a member of the Sir Douglas Quintet back in the mid-sixties. They were Texan guys who dressed up like British Invasion guys. Doug was the leader, and went on to blaze the trail for Tex-Mex rock.

The best record I've made

As far as our fans go, they seem to love The Whippoorwill best. It has the most requested songs on it. The funny thing was, we made that record in about ten days. I don’t think I have a favourite. I’m a horrible critic of myself, so it’s hard to be completely satisfied. 

The worst record I've made

I can honestly say I hope we haven’t made it yet!

The song that makes me cry

Fort Worth Blues by Steve Earle. My wife and I both agree on that. I understand that Steve wrote that for and about Townes Van Zandt, who was one of his mentors and a great friend to him. Even the sound of the song makes me well up, it’s so powerful.

My guilty pleasure

Right now my six year old son is fascinated with Weird Al Yankovic. Specifically his Dare To Be Stupid album. We listen to that every day. Whenever we get in the car he’ll be like: “Dad, play Yoda! Play Slime Creatures From Outer Space!” And I do love it. It’s fun.

The most underrated band of all time

NRBQ – that stands for New Rhythm And Blues Quartet. Specifically the guitar player, Big Al Anderson. He may be the most underrated guitar player I’ve heard. They were fantastic songwriters and players, and they played even the most complicated types of music, absolutely by the seat of their pants.

The song I wish I'd written

Honky Tonk Women. It’s a perfect rock’n’roll song from beginning to end. When I was learning bluegrass and traditional country music from my dad, I think that was the first music I really understood. And when I heard Honky Tonk Women from my mom’s radio I thought: “Wait a minute, it’s kinda the same thing as country music, it’s just louder!

The song I want played at my funeral

I think Amazing Grace. It’s beautiful and probably the most perfect gospel song that exists. It could also be the song I wish I’d written. Imagine being the person who created that amazing piece of music.

Hannah May Kilroy

Hannah May Kilroy has been writing about music professionally for over a decade, covering everything from extreme metal to country. She was deputy editor at Prog magazine for over five years, and previously worked on the editorial teams at Terrorizer and Kerrang!. She currently works as the production editor for The Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Guardian, Classic Rock and Metal Hammer.