My name is Brit Turner, and I live in Atlanta, Georgia, with my wife, daughter, dog, two cats, one fish, and a snail. Great things have been happening for me lately. My band Blackberry Smoke is on one of the biggest tours of the year, with the Zac Brown Band. Our new record, The Whippoorwill, debuted at #1 on iTunes and on Amazon.com, and at #8 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. The album also went top-40 with no radio or video play. I was also featured in Modern Drummer’s Levon Helm tribute issue alongside friends Chris Fryar and Sean O’Rourke. And now I’ve been asked to write a blog for moderndrummer.com. Wow!
I received a snare drum for Christmas from my parents before the 6th grade. It was a purple sparkle Stewart set. My father played in a big band in the early days while becoming an officer in the air force. Granny played piano and my uncle Brit plays guitar. I guess that’s how I got exposed to music. My cousin sent me a 1960s Slingerland kick, snare, and tom, which I played until I had the money to buy my own kit. I soon caught the AC/DC, Rush, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden bug. This required more drums and other shiny things, so it was off to Atlanta Pro Percussion (The Drum Closet) in Smyrna, Georgia, to get an extra tom or five.
Fast forward to playing in basements through high school. My brother and I played in a heavy band in the late ’80s early ’90s. We quickly accepted local opening slots for the likes of Iron Maiden, Metallica, Motörhead, and others. To support my habit of breaking cymbals, I took a job at the massive new location of Atlanta Pro Percussion. I was immediately introduced to some amazing coworker drummers like Sean O’Rourke, Barry “BB Queen” Borden, Sean Burke, Dave Allen, Ed Hamrick, Tony Mac, Billy Pitts, and Ed Magruder. The shop owner hosted drum clinics with Vinnie Colaiuta, Carmine Appice, Matt Sorum, Sonny Emory, and Terry Bozzio, to name a few. All the employees got to meet, have dinner at Aunt Fannies Cabin, and go to a strip club with the owner and clinician. It was tradition. This drum thing was really starting to work out. Wait, now that I think about it, Matt Sorum owes me a cool 300 from our trip to the Gold Club. Yes, I was the kid that drove us outta there in my ’63 Volkswagen.
After I got heavy metal out of my system, it was on to straight up rock ’n’ roll, Americana, Southern rock, and traditional country. In twelve years with Blackberry Smoke, we’ve enjoyed some great times. I’ve recorded and performed with George Jones, Jamey Johnson, Billy Gibbons, Slash, Grace Potter, Rickey Medlocke, Rich Robinson, Luther Dickinson, the whole damn Zac Brown Band, Bobby Keys, and Blondie Chaplin from the Rolling Stones for gosh sakes! But more importantly, I’ve played with Blackberry Smoke in every hole in the wall from Bangor, Maine, to Marseille, France, on to the Hollywood Bowl and now Madison Square Garden (with the Zac Brown Band). This climb has been, for the most part, on our own terms. We’re proud of our hard-won accomplishments and are glad that we’ve earned the respect of some amazing people.
I need to wrap up this shameless self-promotion. But before I do I have been told to touch on our day-to-day touring as of late. A typical day starts with a line at the coffee maker. Then it’s hurry up and wait for load-in, soundcheck, show time, and meet-and-greet. I don’t know the key to success, but I feel like it has a lot to do with patience, drive, a good attitude, and something else. (When I figure out that “something else,” I might be successful.)
Along with our own headline shows in clubs and small theaters, we’ve been doing some great touring with the Zac Brown Band and/or Eric Church. When we tour with ZBB or Eric, we have a shorter set than normal, but the upside is that we’re in front of 12,000 to 26,000 people a night. When we play our own headline gigs, we’re in front of 400 to 2,500 of the best. Our fans travel from all points of the earth, and we love them—except for the occasional drunken pirate that crushes your hand when he shakes it. We love doing these headline shows because we get to stretch out and play for two or more hours. That said…we’re planning a House of Blues tour the first of this year! This tour will be celebrating HOB’s 25th Anniversary and our continued quest for a piece of the pie.
We have very few complaints about our work. It beats diggin’ ditches.
For more on Brit Turner and Blackberry Smoke, go to blackberrysmoke.com.