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Heavy Load: Chris Robertson

Chris Robertson first fronted Black Stone Cherry in his teens. Since then the foursome from Edmonton, Kentucky have proven what a mighty, global creature Southern rock can be. Robertson has also conquered demons, found Jesus and had a son, all in time for an October return to headline in the UK.

What were you like at school?

I made really good grades until I turned 13. I got a guitar for my 13th birthday, and from there I started slacking off and my grades went down. I played guitar all the time, I didn’t care about anything else. I have a little boy now, Declan – two this year – and I hope he does a lot better than I did, ’cos I spent my time smoking cigarettes in the bathroom and skipping school to play guitar.

When did you first hear BSC on the radio?

We were in Sweden in 2007, on tour and doing an MTV thing – our first TV experience. And in the cab on the way back we heard Lonely Train. It was just amazing. Especially for four dudes who come from a small town, we’re thousands of miles away where English isn’t the primary language: “Wow, a song we wrote in a little shack in the woods is being played in Sweden.”’

**What’s the big challenge of parenthood? **

Being away. Not spending the time a lot of parents get to spend with their kids. When I get home it’s all about my wife and my kid. When I go to sleep at night, it’s me, my wife and my son. His crib’s next to our bed.

Does this feel at odds with band life?

People think somebody getting pregnant’s the worst thing that can happen when you’re young. But to me the best thing you can do with your life is create life. It amazes people that you can be happily married and do what I do. But its a partnership. Ashley and I have been together since my 16th birthday.

You’ve spoken openly about depression.

People don’t realise it’s a true illness. I spoke about it because I know so many people who’ve been through it and never got help. I was on the verge of suicide. I walked out my door with a gun in my hand to take my own life. And something came over me; I stopped, I went and sat in the house and cried for hours. I sold the gun, sold the truck I was driving at the time, got all that stuff out of my life. A big thing for me was to enjoy shooting a gun again. A lot of people catch flack for hunting, but anything I kill, we eat it. And luckily I had a great doctor, and my family and the band were very supportive. But my life didn’t feel great again until I found God.

Was there a revelatory ‘road to Damascus’ moment, in that respect?

My wife had a lot of complications with her pregnancy – she was flown to hospital to have Declan via an emergency C-section. Some of her organs were not functioning properly, he was born about seven and a half weeks early. And I started to think, ‘maybe there is a God, ’cos my kid’s OK.’ People can say, ‘Oh it’s modern science,’ but I started to think there was something to this. Fast forward a year, Ben [Wells, BSC guitarist] invites us to church on his birthday. I hadn’t been to church in about 13 years. But within five minutes I knew I was meant to be there. I was very emotional at the end of the service.

People often seem to think that, in turning to God, you become some sort of model of piety

I still use profanity. People forget that when the Ark landed Noah was drunk, naked and an embarrassment to his family. People bypass all that in the Bible; the prostitutes, the murderers…people that wanna read a story and go: “Wow,” just read the Bible! It’s brutal at times. But I’m not big on organised religion. The church we go to is nondenominational. They sing rock’n’roll songs about Jesus, basically. The only uniting thing is that we all believe in and follow Jesus. And the ultimate teaching of Jesus is to love everyone. I used to be so afraid of dying. People should be scared of snakes! Death is the one certainty in life, but it’s what you do before that really matters.

Any run-ins with Kentucky wildlife?

The scariest thing that’s ever happened to me was when I was about 12 years old, and me and my dad were fishing. We’re wading through the creek and I see this stick there. But when I step on it, it starts flopping – I stepped on a snake! I cried like a little girl, but it didn’t bite me. There’s all kinds of snakes where we live, only a few are really poisonous.

You’ve talked about the medicinal properties of marijuana.

Since my kid was born I basically quit everything. I’m not an activist, but I’d much rather see marijuana legalised than see young kids drink alcohol. Alcohol gets publicised as a good-time thing. So many kids go to a party, get drunk, drive and die. Those kids that smoke a joint, they chill and try to find a bag of Doritos. I’m all for legalisation, if you’re going to get intoxicated on anything.

What are your family gatherings like?

My grandparents have a 14-acre farm and we go out there when I’m home. I’ll bring my grill and cook a bunch of food. My mum and dad are divorced, but it’s my dad’s parents so he’ll come along, and my little brother and sister and both their kids. We sit around, we might go shoot some guns or ride ATVs…simple country life. And my grandpa will play a mandolin or a fiddle or something. He used to make instruments, mainly guitars and mandolins. The first guitar I ever had was an acoustic one he made.

Black Stone Cherry tour the UK from October 24 to November 1.

Polly is Features Editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage) and writes a few things. She also writes for Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer, and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.