Atlanta country rock band Blackberry Smoke has put out just three studio albums in 14 years on three different labels. That’s not usually a recipe for success — or staying power. But they’ve got both thanks to a reputation as relentless road warriors and a passionate fan base that extends to Europe.
It’s all part of doing whatever you have to do to survive in the industry, frontman Charlie Starr said.
“That’s just the music business,” Starr said. “None of us are independently wealthy. Before the days of Kickstarter it was like, ‘Well, we can’t stop touring and make an album because we don’t have enough money.'”
Starr laughed, but only because things are going pretty well for Blackberry Smoke as the “Fire in the Hole” tour hits the Neptune Theatre tonight with opener Delta Saints. The band has a new live album and DVD coming out and is planning on heading into the studio later this year to record its follow-up to 2012’s “The Whippoorwill.” They’re also heading back out to Europe later this year and will play in London, Paris and Berlin.
“There were a lot of happy people, us included,” he said of introducing his band’s fiery brand of Southern rock to European fans. “The kind of music we play doesn’t necessarily come from there but it doesn’t matter. Europeans’ taste in music is very eclectic and they get it.”
What’s not to get? Ever since their 2003 debut “Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime,” Blackberry Smoke has been perfecting its own take on country music’s time-honored good times/hard luck formula. Perhaps “formula” isn’t the right word, especially given the evolution they showed on 2009’s “A Little Piece of Dixie” and “The Whippoorwill.”
A big part of that growth was ditching the over-driven guitars and embracing a little more twang and a little less hard rock. The change is immediately apparent on “Good One Comin’ On,” which leads off “A Little Piece of Dixie.” Six years on the road had made the band much better musicians, giving the their sophomore effort the kind of nuance that separates the wheat from the chaff.
That’s not to say the band isn’t willing to melt faces. The end-times rocker “Up In Smoke” is one of the band’s most popular songs and would be right at home on mainstream country radio, if Blackberry Smoke ever cared to push for more of a radio presence. Right now, they’re happy to be beholden to no one.
“It’s really a take it or leave it type situation,” Starr said. “We really only do what we do. Radio is a funny thing. They wanted to trim songs. We don’t have any 10 minute songs anyway. That was always funny to me. Oh, you want to shorten this four-minute song? It’s a minute too long? Is that because you want less music where you can have more advertising time? Well, that’s probably the case.”
Blackberry Smoke with Delta Saints
8 p.m. at the Neptune Theatre, 1303 NE 45th St., Seattle; $20 (206-682-1414 or stgpresents.org/neptune)
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails