Blackberry Smoke seemed to come out of nowhere. Now in their 20th year, they formed at a weird time for rock music.
Metal wasn't heavy, it was 'nu'. Punk wasn't anti-establishment, it had gone pop. Alt-rock and indie bands had become the mainstream.
And then there was Blackberry Smoke, a band of musicians who looked (in the words of one of their songs) like they'd been rained on, rode hard and put up wet, but had songs that were timeless and honest, with country hooks, rock'n'roll energy and choruses to die for. Country rock, sure, but modern: southern sounds played by guys who had grown up through punk, who'd been in metal bands, bought grunge records.
"They come from the same Stetsons’n’Southern Comfort school of music as Lynyrd Skynyrd," wrote Classic Rock magazine, "but rather than just churn out knackered old Free Bird rip-offs, they blend bluegrass, Delta, gospel, classic rock and even metal in their music – a bourbon-soaked trucker beard of countrified cheer for people who also love Aerosmith and Metallica. This is 21st-century southern rock’n’roll."
Over two decades, they've worked with the legends – the Black Crowes, Billy Gibbons, Warren Haynes and Gregg Allman – and toured with the likes of Eric Church, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd. They've played Glastonbury, added a bit of welcome rock to Jools Holland's TV show, and were the leading lights of what some have been calling the New Wave of Classic Rock, alongside Rival Sons, Cadillac Three, Black Stone Cherry, Airbourne, Massive Wagons, Monster Truck and more.
And somehow – despite scoring five Top 30 UK albums, including one Top 10 (and topping the UK Rock albums chart three times) – they're still one of the best kept secrets in modern rock.
New album You Hear Georgia, recorded with Grammy Award-winning producer Dave Cobb in Nashville, might be about to change all that.
We caught up with the band as they road tested the new album at a socially distanced gig in Florida, and asked them to talk us through their rigs. What we got was seven rig tours that reveal a lot about the people and the sounds that make Blackberry Smoke.
(To see the gig, visit our sister site Louder for six exclusive live performances that'll whet your appetite for You Hear Georgia and the return of live music.)