Charlie Daniels's interview
by Ron Johnson
We got a chance to meet with Southern Rocker Charlie Daniels recently at The Freebird Café (now called Freebird Live) and he graciously allowed us to hold an interview with him as he waited to go onstage.
Charlie is now an author and his book, an expression of patriotism and love for America, is titled “Ain’t No Rag: Freedom, Family and the Flag.” It’s a collection of essays taken from Charlie’s website and we asked him how it was selling. “Well, I’m getting a royalty check pretty soon, so it’s not doing too bad,” he winked.
Charlie, now at 67 years, is still an imposing figure with his trademark grey-white beard and his giant white cowboy hat. His eyes are piercing but at the same time he has a gentle, personable-ness about him that makes him easy to talk with. We asked him next what he thought about Michael Jackson’s being in the news.
“I think if he’s guilty he oughta be treated like anybody else off the street. Of course the thing about it is it’s hard to get all the facts. With all the media around the story, it’s hard to dissimilate between what’s fact and what’s fiction. I’ll reserve judgment on that until he’s had his day in court because there is a possibility he could be innocent,” he shook his head, “although it don’t look good for him right now.”
We asked Charlie his thoughts on the President’s recent trip to Europe and England.
“I get mad,” Charlie admitted. “I think they’ve forgotten 1941. When the bombs were falling on London and it hadn’t been for us, the European continent would still be under the Nazi swastika. I believe most of those protestors out on the street are a very small minority of left-wing radicals, especially in England and in France. There weren’t near as many people out there as they thought they were gonna have and I think there’s a lot of people who are embarrassed about what they’re doing.”
“I think they’re a bunch of idiots,” he went on to say. “They say this is an American problem but it’s not just an American problem. They’re bombing in Islamic places, in Saudi Arabia and in Turkey. They don’t care who they bomb, it’s anyone who don’t think like they do. The war in Iraq is a war on terror. We’ve whipped the army, now who are we fighting? We’re fighting terrorists. We can either do it over there or we can do it over here.”
His reaction to the Dixie Chicks fiasco some months back?
“I think it’s very unfortunate,” he said. ''When you reach a certain point in this business, when you reach Super Stardom, you tend to surround yourself with people who will tell you anything you wanna hear. It’s important to have a reality check but people become afraid to tell you because they’re afraid they’ll get fired or something. I think in their case they were surrounded by these types of people, nobody would tell them what was happening until it was too late.''
''They were pretty obstinate about it and they kept sticking to it and sticking to it until finally it hurt ‘em, I think. It’s unfortunate because its so rare you get a chance at such fame, such stardom as that. I’ve met them, they’re all nice girls and I’d play on the same bill with them, I’ve got no problem with that,” he told us. “But I think it hurt ‘em in the long run.”
Charlie Daniels has never been shy to share his thoughts or opinions (check out his website!) and in person he speaks with a quiet assurance and confidence. ''My father taught me a lot,'' he told us. ''He loved life and he knew the difference between what was right and wrong. I guess I take after him some,'' he smiled.
Charlie Daniels was born October 28, 1936 in Wilmington, North Carolina. He remembered his Dad, Carlton Daniels as “an honest, self-reliant man who loved music and singing, joking and laughing, good people, good food and his work.''
His father, who passed away in 1976, was as a lumberman. ''He could look at a tree and tell you within a fraction how many board feet of lumber it would make after it was cut down'' he told us. “Work back then was hard to come by so we moved around a bit when I was younger.”
He lived in Wilmington, Elizabethtown, and Spartanburg, South Carolina. He graduated from high school in Goldston, North Carolina in 1955, but during those years he found a love for music and hunting with his dad. “We used to listen to the Grand Old Opry on WSM every Saturday night,” he smiled, remembering. “Back then it was something everybody did.”
“My first band was in High School. We formed a group called the Misty Mountain Boys, mainly a bluegrass thing,” he said. “Then about ’54 or ’55 we moved back to Wilmington and so that ended that. I started playing with a lady named Little Jill; She paid me $50 a week, which was good money back then. It was the first time I considered myself a real, professional musician,” he chuckled.
“I was working a day job with my father at the Taylor Colquitt Creosoting Company and around 1958 I think it was they had some lay-offs. There was a fella there, Louis Frost, who had been there longer than me and because he was black, you see, he was chosen to be let go. Well, he had a family to feed and I had my music so I went to the foreman and offered to go if he’d let Louis stay on. He was fine with that arrangement, so Louis stayed on until he retired. Anyway, that’s when I made the jump to being a full time musician.''
Has he stayed in touch with Louis Frost since then? We asked.
“He’s probably passed on, I would guess,” Charlie said. “Last time I saw him was at my father’s funeral in ’76.”
In 1959, Charlie started a group called The Jaguars. “We did some recordings and played around quite a bit. I still see some of those fellas. None of them are professional musicians anymore.”
Charlie’s first big break came when Elvis Presley recorded a song he had written called “It Hurts.” “That was a thrill for me, I tell ya,” he smiled. “It was the B-side to his single “Kissin’ Cousins.”
Tired of being on the road, Charlie jumped at the chance to become a session musician in Nashville in 1967. “Bob Johnston of CBS Records invited me out,” he said. “I didn’t fit in so well until Bob Dylan came to town.” Charlie can be heard as a session player for four Bob Dylan albums, including “Nashville Skyline.” He’s also played with Ringo Starr and Marty Robbins.
He formed The Charlie Daniels Band in 1970 and was part of the beginning of the Southern Rock explosion. His first big hit “Uneasy Rider,” was from his second LP “Honey In The Rock.”
His third album, released in 1974, was titled “Way Down Yonder” and had two hits, including “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” and “Long Haired Country Boy.”
"That was a big year for us,” Charlie reported. “That was the first year we had our Volunteer Jam Concert, with Marshall Tucker, the Allman Brothers and many others.”
When did his big hit “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” come out?
“That was in 1979,” he smiled. “It was our big #1 hit, of course. We also won a Grammy for that one, for Best Country Vocal.”
“Then in 1980, we got a spot in that movie “Urban Cowboy” with John Travolta; that was a lot of fun doing that, down at Gilley’s in Texas. Later that year we had another hit record, “In America,” which we still get a lot of requests for.”
Time was running out and we only had time for a few more questions before Charlie and his band hit the Freebird stage.
What advice would he give any budding, young musicians out there?
“A couple of things,” he said. “First, stick to it. Be the first to get there and the last to leave. Talk with everybody who can offer you something and learn as much as you can. Second, evaluate your talent and be honest with yourself. Either you got something unique or you don’t. We don’t need another Garth Brooks, we already got one of those. We don’t need another Alan Jackson, we got one of those. Either offer something unique or be one of those musicians playing the Holiday Inn on the weekends. There’s nothing wrong with that,” he quickly added, “But you have to be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot do. Finally, move to some place where the music is happening, be it Nashville, New York, L.A., Chicago, you have to be where the music is, if you’re gonna make it.”
Finally we asked Charlie when he was gonna run for Governor of Tennessee? ''Never,'' he laughed out loud. "Never. I like what I'm doing too much to quit,'' he said.
We thanked Charlie and headed into Freebirds where we joined the crowd of fans who saw a stellar set of Southern Rock and Country at it’s finest. Hats off to you, Charlie, and the rest of the CDB.