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Blackberry Smoke Say They’ll Continue After Brit Turner’s Death: ‘We Wouldn’t Exist Without His Drive’

The last time Blackberry Smoke frontman Charlie Starr saw his longtime friend and bandmate Brit Turner was at Turner’s Atlanta home. The drummer, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2022, was under hospice care, but Starr had some rare good news to deliver.

“I told him our record was number one,” Starr tells Rolling Stone. “And his eyes got really big. He had really stopped speaking at that point. [But] it was obvious to me he knew what I had told him.”

Just a few days later, on March 3, Turner died after a courageous battle with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer. He was 57. In the wake of the news, Blackberry Smoke postponed a handful of dates on its nationwide tour, which is slated to resume March 14 in West Des Moines, Iowa. The band, Starr says, will carry on.

“We knew that we were going to continue because that’s what [Brit] would want,” Starr says. “We’ve all worked hard, nobody harder than him to build this thing — if we decided to stop, he would shame us.”

Blackberry Smoke’s latest release Be Right Here made a strong showing on the charts when it dropped last month. Produced by Dave Cobb, it’s the most accessible and sonically varied offering to date from the Southern rock torchbearers — more rock than country, more country than Americana. At its core, Blackberry Smoke remains an honest-to-goodness rock band.

“Rock & roll music — I get up, put it on, listen to it and play it every day. I don’t do anything else but eat every day,” Starr says. “I can’t wait to go play my old guitars and vintage amplifiers because it’s so good. There’s a sound and a feel it makes, what a mystery.”

Be Right Here marks the final recordings of Turner with the band he founded almost 25 years ago.

“It’s kind of a whirlwind of emotion around here,” Starr says. “This was his passion. He worked tirelessly. I wish that somehow people could see the dedication he had for this band.”

Starr can’t help but smile when talking at length about the humble beginnings of Blackberry Smoke in Atlanta in 1997. “Those years, we were all partying pretty hard,” the 49-year-old Starr chuckles. “And they get a little blurry.”

At the time, Starr was an aspiring guitarist from rural Alabama looking to spark fire somewhere, somehow. While playing in another band, the leader of that group invited Starr over to a recording studio and graphic design business — owned by Brit Turner.

“I met [Brit] and the Black Crowes at the same time,” Starr recalls. “They were all together, the Crowes in his rehearsal studio doing pre-production for the By Your Side album.”

That same night Starr also met Turner’s brother, Richard, a talented bassist who, alongside Brit, were highly regarded in the Atlanta metal and hard rock scene for their band Nihilist. The group Starr was currently playing in hired the brothers and they cut an album. It failed to launch, but Starr and the Turners had formed a bond.

“Brit, Richard, and I got really musically connected. We really enjoyed the racket that we made together, so we started to rehearse as a three-piece,” Starr says.

After jamming on some songs that would eventually appear on Blackberry Smoke’s 2003 debut album, Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime, the band added guitarist Paul Jackson to become a quartet. Keyboardist Brandon Still joined later, and, led by Turner, the group started to draw from a musically rich palette.

“[Brit] loved Elton John records as much as he loved Slayer records,” Starr says. “He could sit down and play Agnostic Front, but serving the song like Levon Helm or Ringo Starr. He was a very musical drummer.”

Looking back on those early years, Starr is amazed by Turner’s unrelenting drive to make the band successful and make sure that everyone else took the opportunity just as seriously. “We were all getting into [our] thirties and he’s like, ‘This will be our last swing at it ‘cause we’re not 18 anymore,’” Starr says. “And I’m glad he did, ‘cause it was a good swing.”

Turner played his final show with Blackberry Smoke on Nov. 24, 2023, at the Coca-Cola Roxy in the band’s hometown of Atlanta. During “Little Bit Crazy,” a soul-driven rocker off Be Right Here, his young daughter Lana, a cancer survivor, joined the group on vocals. “Brit was so proud,” Starr says through a slight pause, choked up by a few tears. (Proceeds from each Blackberry Smoke VIP meet-and-greet on tour goes to the Lana Turner Foundation, a nonprofit created by Turner to help with children’s cancer research.)

“It was already heavy, having continued to do this thing,” Starr says of touring while Turner was undergoing treatment. “It was really hard without Brit. But it will continue — every show we play will be dedicated to him.”

Kent Aberle, who has filled in for Turner on certain shows since his diagnosis in 2022, will remain behind the kit for the foreseeable future.

“Kent is an old friend,” Starr says. “He’s a great drummer and very respectful player like Brit.”

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While the entire Blackberry Smoke family is shell-shocked by the loss of its gravitational center, they’re grateful for the time they spent with Turner — onstage, on the road, and on the same page.

“I want people to remember what a hard worker Brit was and what a big heart. He was a selfless giver,” Starr says. “We wouldn’t exist without his drive. He kind of taught us how.”

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