Blackberry Smoke’s Brit Turner Battles Through Brain Cancer

Blackberry Smoke (Brit Turner 3rd from left)

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 2022 has been an especially difficult year for the band as the heartbeat and historian of Blackberry Smoke, Brit Turner, has been suffering from major health issues. Along with being a founding member of the band, Brit is the literal brother of bass player Richard Turner, and is considered the big brother to everyone in the band.

On Friday night, December 16th at The Vic Theatre in Chicago, Blackberry Smoke had to stop the show in the middle of the set after Brit Turner experienced an episode and was helped off stage. According to the band, he is currently under medical care and is in stable condition after suffering a seizure. But the fact that Brit Turner was even on the stage to begin with feels like a miracle in itself, and a testament to his character.

It was bad news for Brit Turner on August 16th when he suffered a heart attack at his home in Atlanta. Luckily, Turner was able to make it to the hospital on time where he received a stent in his coronary artery, and was discharged from the hospital on August 18th. Turner missed a few shows as Blackberry Smoke performed acoustically without him, but Turner was able to make a full recovery and return to the stage.

Then on November 3rd, the band announced, “Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Earlier this week, Brit Turner suffered an episode and needed to be taken to the ER. He was feeling alright but due to the issues from his recent heart attack, his medical team elected to keep him in the hospital and run a series of tests to determine what could have caused the situation. Upon receiving an MRI they found a tumor on his brain in the frontal lobe … Brit is now undergoing surgery and more testing to find out what his next steps to a healthy recovery will be.”

Brit Turner had to have parts of his skull removed so surgeons could remove the tumor. It was diagnosed as an aggressive, rare, and fast-growing form of brain cancer known as Glioblastoma. But almost as miraculous as his recovery was from his heart attack, less than a week after first suffering the episode and having brain surgery, Brit Turner was discharged from the hospital on November 9th once again, and recovering at home.

By November 20th, Brit was back behind the drum set, grooving away no worse for the wear.

On November 25th when Blackberry Smoke played their homecoming show at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta and sold it out for the first time, Brit Turner was right there behind the drum set like he’s always been for his first official show after the surgery, and received a standing ovation from the crowd during band introductions by frontman Charlie Starr (see below).

But then on November 30th, Blackberry Smoke informed the public that Brit Turner was not out of the woods just yet. “Continued testing has revealed his Glioblastoma diagnosis needs aggressive treatment,” the band said. “Fortunately, we are in touch with some of the best specialists to provide him the utmost care. Currently, we are working our way forward using all the resources that are available.”

“Brit will continue to be a part of everything that Blackberry Smoke does,” the band assured. “Due to the nature of these treatments, and his own recovery schedule, we anticipate that there will likely be some periods that may keep Brit away from travel and performing live. We ask that you continue your support and trust that he will make every effort to be at all the shows. We will have someone to fill in case he isn’t.”

Drummers Mike Rizzi and Kent Aberle have both spent periods filling in for Britt during his recovery. Yet despite the November 30th warning from Blackberry Smoke, Brit Turner had been with the band, and performing this week at shows at Webster Hall in New York on December 10th, at the Roxian Theatre in Pittsburgh, and in Grand Rapids and Detroit on the 14th and 15th. The band is playing Saturday night at the Crystal Grand Music Theatre in Wisconsin with Kent Aberle filling in.

After two major surgeries, and two major health issues in 2022, Brit Turner has shown incredible grit and persistence to return to the stage at all. Lesser men would have hung it up, or at least taken longer periods to recover, and lesser bands may have moved on to find another drummer. But not Brit Turner and Blackberry Smoke.

Though it can be expected to be touch and go for Brit Turner as the band continues to be one of the hardest touring outfits out there on the road and is already filling in their 2023 tour schedule, Brit Turner will remain the heartbeat of Blackberry Smoke, wherever he happens to be.

Those wanting to support Brit Taylor can do so on Fact Relief.

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