Blackberry Smoke Push Their Southern Sounds to the Edge of Classic Seventies Metal

(Image credit: Frank Hoensch/Getty Images)

Blackberry Smoke The Georgia Southern rock outfit’s fifth album reads as an unspoken tribute to those who came before, from musical heroes to family to classic vintage guitars.

Blackberry Smoke have never been shy about playing up the rock aspect of their Southern rock sound—but on the title track of their fifth album, Like An Arrow, the Atlanta, Georgia, quintet pushes their sound right to the edge of classic Seventies metal.

The move was inspired by the monolithic 1973 Black Sabbath record Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, which was on high rotation for vocalist/guitarist Charlie Starr at the time.

“Most of that album is tuned to C# and I realized that ‘Like An Arrow’ would explode if we tuned it down,” says Starr. “We tried it and from the first note everybody felt that was where the song lived, right there.”

“Lyrically, that track is a metaphor for how people choose to live their lives,” Starr continues. “Whether they want to live on the sidelines or dive right in and get their hands dirty. And when it came time to name the album, that title was the perfect choice because this might be the most straight-ahead Blackberry Smoke album yet.”

The album, released on the band’s own 3 Legged Records label, conveys that straight-ahead attitude via classic guitar tones courtesy of Starr’s collection of vintage Gibson Les Paul Juniors and co-guitarist Paul Jackson’s late-Seventies Les Paul, plus a cast of other vintage gems like a Gibson ES-135, an old Tele and a few Martin acoustics.

In addition to the stomping title track, “Believe You Me” is straight-up funk, “Let It Burn” is all whiskey and juke joints and “Ain’t Gonna Wait” features some sweet mandolin work. “The Good Life” is about growing up with a strong and somewhat emotionally reserved yet very supportive father figure, inspired by Starr’s dad and grandfather.

“With most songs you have to add some poetic license to add color to a song but this song didn’t require much of that,” Starr says.

Jackson concurs: “I know Charlie’s dad and I totally agree: the first time I heard that song I said, ‘Wow, that’s right, that's him right there.’ ”

Another father figure of sorts, Gregg Allman, shows up on the album cut “Free on the Wing.” Blackberry Smoke have shared stages with the Allman Brothers on multiple occasions over the years and asked the singer/keyboardist if he would lend his voice to the track, which Starr says has a very “Macon, Georgia–like sound.” Allman agreed, which still causes the members of Blackberry Smoke to beam with glee.

“I’m still floating about it,” says Jackson. “Still in awe.”

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Peter Hodgson is a journalist, an award-winning shredder, an instructional columnist, a guitar teacher, a guitar repair guy, a dad and an extremely amateur barista. He runs a blog, I Heart Guitar, which allows him to publicly geek out over his obsessions. Peter is from Melbourne, Australia, where he writes for various magazines, including Guitar World.