Charlie Starr makes no bones about it: His group, Blackberry Smoke, wouldn't exist without the Allman Brothers Band. So the news hit hard for the Atlanta, Georgia outfit when Gregg Allman, the band's singer, pianist and primary songwriter, died Saturday at 69 at his home in Savannah.
"It is with heavy heart[s] that we say farewell to Gregg Allman, the man, and perhaps we embrace his music even more tightly than we did before," Starr tells Rolling Stone Country. "Gregg's influence on musicians of our generation is immeasurable. He was simply the greatest in his field. The songs, the voice, the emotion ... Not to mention he was without a doubt one of the absolute coolest rock & roll guys to have ever walked this earth."
Blackberry Smoke collaborated with Allman on "Free on the Wing," the final track from their 2016 LP Like an Arrow. It was one of the final songs that Allman, who had suffered from various health problems in recent years, recorded before his death. "I'm honored to be a tiny part of his recorded legacy. Thank you, Gregg. We love you," Starr adds.
In an interview with Rolling Stone Country at the time of Like an Arrow’s release, Starr explained that recording with Allman was had been one of the band's dream collaborators. "When we started to record, I think it was a selfish daydream we had: How great would it be to have Gregg Allman on this song?" he recalled. "We've become friendly with Gregg over the years and worked with him some, and he said yes."
Starr expanded upon the influence that Allman and his band's music had on Blackberry Smoke as well as all of Southern rock, the genre that the Allmans, more than any other act, helped create.
"If you want to talk about the term 'Southern Rock,' they birthed it. You can even be specific and say Duane Allman birthed it. People talk about his outro solo on Wilson Pickett's version of 'Hey Jude' and say it's the birth of Southern rock music," Starr said. "Were it not for Gregg Allman, we wouldn't be making music."