Blackberry Smoke Drummer Brit Turner Dies of Brain Cancer

In Southern rock, you don’t have “bands” in the normal sense. You have bands of brothers and sisters. They’re more like families than bands. This was one of the reasons the Georgia-based Southern rock band The Allman Brothers named their iconic 1973 album Brothers and Sisters after the passing of band members Duane Allman and Berry Oakley.

This “Brothers and Sisters” designation is especially true for Blackberry Smoke, who also hail from Georgia. And that is why the last couple of years have been especially painful for the band. The heartbeat of the band, Brit Turner, has been suffering from major health issues, from a heart attack in 2022, to a diagnosis of an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumor in November of 2022 and subsequent brain surgery.

On Sunday evening, March 3rd, Blackberry Smoke announced that Brit Turner has died at the age of 57.

Blackberry Smoke said in a statement,

It is with the deepest sorrow that we inform everyone that our brother Brit Turner has moved on from this life. If you had the privilege of knowing Brit on any level, you know he was the most caring, empathetic, driven and endearing person one could ever hope to meet. Brit was Blackberry Smoke’s True North, the compass that instituted the ideology that will continue to guide this band. Brit has battled glioblastoma since his diagnosis in the fall of 2022 and fought every day. We ask for prayers for his family and band brothers. More information on arrangements will be forthcoming. Thank you to everyone who has supported and been there for Brit and his family through this fight.

Along with being a founding member of the band since its inception in 2000, Brit Turner was the actual brother of Blackberry Smoke bass player Richard Turner, and was also considered the big brother to everyone in the band. He was also the band’s de facto historian, chronicling the band all along the way. Brit kept collections of all the accolades, accomplishments, tour posters, credentials, and everything else from the band’s lineage.

Brit Turner was born in Mt. Clemons., Michigan, but was raised in Smyrna, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. He came from a musical family, with his father playing in a big band before he joined the air force, his grandmother playing piano, and his uncle playing guitar. In the 6th grade, Brit received his first drum set, and he was off to the races.

Turner’s first influences were rock and metal bands such as AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. Along with his brother Richard, they formed basement bands throughout high school, and got good enough to become the local opener for bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica when they were coming up and toured through Atlanta. Turner also worked at Atlanta Pro Percussion, where he made further connections throughout the business, and perfected his craft.

But after getting heavy metal “out of his system” as he liked to say, he pointed his nose more toward rock, Southern rock, and country. In 2000 when Brit and brother Richard joined up with guitarist and singer Charlie Star, and guitarist Paul Jackson, Blackberry Smoke was formed, and would go on to become one of the most important Southern rock bands of the modern era.

The band slugged it out for about a dozen years before Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band felt like they were worth taking a chance on, and signed them to his Southern Ground record label. Blackberry Smoke released The Whippoorwhill through the label in 2012, which debuted at #8 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, and introduced them to the world.

But it was the 2015 album Holding All The Roses that would go on to become the first independently-released country album to hit #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart in the modern era. Having moved on from Southern Ground and signed to Rounder, Brit Turner and Blackberry Smoke seeded the independent country revolution by shattering the glass ceiling, and opening up the possibilities for all the other independent artists and bands that would come along in the coming years.

The Smoke would hit #1 again with their next album, 2016’s Like an Arrow. With Brit Turner still playing drums, Blackberry Smoke just released their latest album on February 16th, the Dave Cobb-produced Be Right Here.

Though mostly a Southern rock band, Blackberry Smoke regularly dabbles in country, including recording the song “Lonesome for a Livin'” with Jamey Johnson that was original meant for George Jones. They also acted as the backing band on Adam Hood’s 2022 album Bad Days Better.

Despite Brit Turner’s dire diagnosis, he continued to play with the band live, even while receiving therapy. Though during recent live appearances in 2024, Turner was not present. Drummers Kent Aberle and Preston Holcome have filled in for Brit, or played with him on tour recently. Saving Country Music was currently working on a feature and update on Brit Turner’s condition when the news came down he passed.

The death of Brit Turner leaves a crater of a hole in Blackberry Smoke, Southern rock, and the greater country and roots world.

© 2023 Saving Country Music