They’re a band who bill themselves as something brand new and revolutionary and say they’re “on the verge of taking over the world”. Big claims, especially when they also call their music a melting pot of country, blues, soul, rock and hip hop, and that they sound like Jason Aldean, Toby Keith, Lynyrd Skynryd, Eric Chuch and Brantley Gilbert.
So just who are these guys, so sure of their place within the country rock canon? Meet Rob Blackledge (vocals & guitar) and Noll Billings (vocals) – they are the key and founding members of Blackjack Billy. From Madison, MS and Kennett, MO respectively, Rob started off touring as a solo artist and attending Belmont School of Music Business, while Noll signed a publishing deal as a songwriter with EMI Music Group, also attempting a solo career. Neither were very successful until they met in Nashville in January 2011, and began writing together. They teamed up with producer Jeff Coplan and signed to Vandermont Music, and added a few members to the band, including their producer Jeff Coplan (guitar), Patrick Cornell (bass, they met him when he moved to Nashville from LA) and Brad Cummings (drums). Since then they have shared the stage with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Justin Moore, Dustin Lynch, The Doobie Brothers, Trent Tomlinson, The Usual Suspects, Lady Antebellum, One Republic, Tonic, Josh Hoge, Will Hoge, Chris Young, Easton Corbin and Lo Cash Cowboys. The last few months they’ve been touring around the south, and are on the rise with some great press.
So in the wake of all this hype and success, I decided to interview the band, to find out what’s to come, where it’s all come from and what makes them tick. Read the full exclusive interview after the jump.
Who are your musical influences?
It's been very interesting and fun with everyone's musical backgrounds. Bringing each other's styles together created ‘our sound’. Rob brings the Delta blues and Mississippi soul, while Cornell and Coplan are true rockers through and through, coming from the club scenes of New York and LA. Noll grew up on the country classics but has the ‘screamin’ demon’ attitude. He loves to put on a show and get the people cranked up. And Brad, who grew up here in Nashville, is a walking music encyclopedia… When it all gets down to it, we try and bring everyone’s ‘thing’ up on stage and what you get is Blackjack Billy!
Would you be interested in writing for other people whilst pursuing your dreams as a band?
Absolutely! We have all been songwriters long before we became singers and players. Recently Rob had a top 10 hit with Love & Theft’s (‘Runaway’) and Jeff had a #1 hit with (‘Angel Eyes’). Songwriting is our passion and nothing we do matters if the songs don't move people.
Who do you see as your biggest rivals in the Nashville music scene?
Haha! No rivals… We are fans of a lot of the new acts here in Music City and have watched some of them struggle and others hit it big. We believe we are doing something unique that no one else can do. We like to think of it as a family and if we can help build each other's careers, then we all win.
Who is your dream artist/band to collaborate with?
We had the chance to play with Marshall Tucker, the Doobie Brothers, and Skynyrd this past year, which was AMAZING. Those 3 acts would have definitely been on the list! There are so many to mention, but to start I know all the boys are big fans of The Black Crowes, Zac Brown Band, and definitely Garth Brooks, who is one of the coolest cats we've gotten to hang with here in Nashville.
Favorite city to gig at?
Whatever city we happen to be in that night! *laughs* We haven't had a bad experience yet, but I can say that Chesapeake, VA and Savannah, GA have always been AMAZING and we always get a little extra excited when we see those on the schedule. And of course, there's no place like home, Nashville, TN.
Opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd at Woodstock is pretty tough to top! It was in the amphitheater there and was damn near a religious experience!
Tell me about your writing and recording process.
We are fast writers. We can start writing a song anywhere, at anytime. If an idea pops up, we start writing. Now, we don't always finish right then, that comes later. If it feels good, we roll with it. The recording process is much more meticulous. Jeff Coplan does a great job of getting the best out of us… Even if we wanna kick his ass (He's recurring phrase is “Do it better!!”) during recording, we are always stoked about the finished product!
Which place, anywhere in the world that you've never been, would you love to visit?
Hopefully we are gonna see it all!! That's the plan, we started this thing one honky tonk at a time, then it's on to theaters and auditoriums and then on to stadiums and arenas! We all love to travel, so it has been great getting to see the country and we are looking forward to seeing the world. Yes, all of it.
What's your favorite album that's out there right now?
For Rob that’s easy. He hasn't taken Jamey Johnson's ‘Tribute to Hank Cochran’ out of the bus stereo for at least two months… He must listen to the whole thing every day at least once!
What do you hope to achieve with your music?
To write songs and create something that is bigger than record sales or radio charts… How about something that changes people’s moods and head space when they turn it on. It gives people a reason to feel great, an excuse to feel a little more love, or even be sad when you want. I want people to say “this is my song!,", "somebody knows exactly how I feel!", something that is listened to forever, and out lasts our bus tires and guitar amps… and is STILL great when we are all dead and gone.
How are you going to live up to the name 'the Rolling Stones of country music'?
Just be us! Although we never asked for that label and it's big shoes to fill, it is flattering because we are all huge fans of the Stones. Country folks say that we are rock dogs, and rockers say we are country boys, but at the end of the day we are just a bunch of guys who like jamming together.
Anything totally random you'd like your fans to know about you personally? EG: hobbies, other talents, anecdotes, etc.
NO NO NO… THEY HAVE TO STAY TUNED AND KEEP UP WITH US AND LEARN ALL OUR DIRTY SECRETS THE HARD WAY!!
Key tracks I would recommend include the aptly named ‘Drinkalong’, Too Much, Too Many’ and ‘Workin’ On You’ which sounds like it could be a hit on country radio if released. Blackjack Billy are full of ambition and spirit and look set to take Nashville by storm, with new projects including releasing a single, writing more songs, touring every weekend and hopefully releasing a full-length album later in the year. You can buy music from their website, with their debut single ‘The Booze Cruise’ on iTunes. “We want to do this forever. As far as it takes us, we will go there. As big as we can be, we will be. As many places we can play, we will play.” Sounds like determined words to me.