A fierce fiddler and guitarist, Charlie Daniels has crafted a style that combines
straight-ahead country music with good ol' rock and roll.
Daniels began his early career as a session player in Nashville, TN, sitting in with
such artists as Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr. By 1972, the Charlie Daniels Band became his main focus.
A CDB concert features searing originals like "Long Haired Country Boy" and the smash hit "The
Devil Went Down To Georgia," along with covers by such groups as Lynyrd Skynyrd and The
Allman Brothers Band. The recipient of several awards, including
the TNN Music City News Living Legend Award, Daniels is a fiery player who shows no sign of "slowing down."
Digital Interviews: How did you cultivate an interest in music?
Charlie Daniels: A friend of mine, that I had known for some time, came up one day with an old guitar. I donít know where he got it, I donít know
how long heíd had it, but he knew about two chords on it. He proceeded to teach them to me, and then we proceeded to go crazy over music.
There were a few people around that knew a chord on a guitar here and there, and we would go to them, aggravate them until they taught us
what we wanted to know. And I started playing professionally -- of course, there was a lot that went on through those ensuing years, between
the time I was 15 to the time I turned about 19.
DI: Garage bands and the like?
CD: Yes and no -- that present day version, my dayís version of a garage band. We didnít have a garage to rehearse in. We had to
aggravate the folks in the house. But I got a chance to play in a beer joint, and thatís how it started.
DI: Your first group was the Jaguars. What kind of music was that?
CD: Copy music. Rock music or popular music of the day, you know, whatever was popular. We played everything from
"White Sports Coat" to Bill Haley and the Comets -- whatever happened to be the "in music" at the time.
DI: Did you release a Jaguars record?
CD: I did. It was called Jaguars. In fact, we released a couple of records. The song ďJaguarĒ was on Epic, but it was a long time
DI: In the early '60s, your composition "It Hurts Me" was recorded by Elvis Presley. How did that experience strike you?
CD: I was deeply honored by it. What can you say? All the incredible adjectives you can think of to attach to that experience were
very definitely in play.
DI: And you moved to Nashville?
CD: Yes, I went to Nashville in 1967. I had been on the road for a long time and was not really getting anywhere. Bob Johnston,
a friend of mine, had taken over Columbia in Nashville. He asked me if I wanted to come down. I did -- thank God I did.
DI: What memories do you have playing with Bob Dylan?
CD: I played on three of Bob Dylanís albums. I have very pleasant memories, especially the Nashville Skyline album was a
real fun album to do. He was in a great mood. He was glad to be in Nashville, where the musicians were very laid back and very creative. We
had a lot of fun doing that album. I have nothing but pleasant memories about Dylan.
DI: Who else did you sit in with?
CD: It was mostly...not country people, but rock-type. I didnít really fit well with what was going on in Nashville at the time. I was too
loud, I was too bluesy, I was too ďa lot of things.Ē When somebody like Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan would come to town, I would do a
session. I did a few country sessions, but not a lot. I played with Marty Robbins. When Bob [Johnston] had somebody that he felt that I fit in
with, heíd give me a call.
DI: When you started the Charlie Daniels Band, were you moving in a rock direction?
CD: Oh, yeah, we were. There was very little country about us at that time. Country music has changed tremendously, so what
now is considered country was not considered country at that time. We were doing stuff that probably could have been called country
music today, but would certainly have not have fit in at that time. So, it would be more of a rock-type thing.
DI: The single ďSouthís Gonna Do it AgainĒ first got most people aware of who you were.
CD: It was, actually, that whole album -- that whole Fire On the Mountain album, rather than just the one song. We went in and
wrote the songs, and went in and played them, basically. [laughs]
DI: What is your songwriting process?
CD: I donít have any real ďprocess.Ē Some people in Nashville go in like an assembly line. Theyíre able to go and write. My son runs a
publishing company. He has writers that come down. They get together in a room with the people that actually make appointments, and write --
which is great. I canít do that very well. I mean, Iíve tried it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnít. I do more writing by myself than with
anybody else. My best thing is sitting around the bus with a guitar, sitting around somewhere with a guitar, and having an idea. You never
know where itíd come from. Songwriting is a God-given talent. Itís always there. It needs something to prick around the edges and get it started.
Itís not anything that I can just turn on and turn off. If Iím working on something, I can certainly sit down to it. But I canít just say, ďWell, Iím
gonna go write a hit song today.Ē [laughs] Iím not that good.
DI: How did the Volunteer Jam start out?
CD: It started as a live recording session. We were doing the Fire on the Mountain album, and we wanted to do two live cuts.
The only place we could draw a crowd of any size was in Nashville, our hometown, because we were just getting started. It was about the only
place we had any following thatíd amount to anything. Of course, it was a small crowd then, but we did it after the recording was over. Some of
our friends came and sat in with us, and it was just so much fun. We said, ďHey, letís do this once in a while.Ē We did them every year for a
while, then we took it on the road. Weíve done eighteen now, I think.
DI: In the late Ď70s, ďThe Devil Went Down to GeorgiaĒ becomes one of the most popular songs of all time. Did you have any idea, when
you were putting that together, that it was going to take off the way it did?
CD: Of course not. You can never gauge. I had an idea that it might. AOR Radio was a big thing at the time -- Album Oriented Radio. If
they liked something, they may play two or three cuts. So, I had the feeling that maybe it might do well, but I didnít have an idea that it would
do what it did. It was like, ďLetís do two versions of this, just in case.Ē [laughs]
DI: Were you moving to more of a country sound at this time?
CD: That was 1979. That [song was] a long way from what country was, back at that time. They played the record, but
everybody played the record, because it was just that kind of record that could go across the board. As far as actually having anything at all to
do with a "country record,Ē at the time it was not.
DI: Did you help move country music into a harder direction?
CD: If we did, Iím glad we did. But itís hard for me to see myself in that light, that I was a pioneer or a groundbreaker. I know we were
on the cutting edge, as far as a lot of music was concerned, but itís hard for me to think about it when I think about the other people that have
done it. But I guess we were there at least. As far as being responsible for it, I donít know. The funny thing is, the music that Iím writing now is
probably some of the most cutting edge weíve ever done. The music that Iím thinking about putting on our next album. Itís funny that my
mind would be operating that way at this stage of the game. Iíve got stuff coming in my mind that is amazing me.
DI: Your song ďSimple ManĒ expresses a lot of intense feelings. Do you always try to add social themes to your songs?
CD: No, I am very much into entertaining people with my music. If I come across an issue, or something I feel strongly about, and I
happen to think of a song that would go in that direction, then I do it. But thatís not what I start out, necessarily, to do. Sometimes I may have
an idea for a song -- ďWell, Iím going to write about a thing.Ē Being a Christian, the song ďThe MartyrĒ is probably the one that leads mostly in
that direction on the [new] album. I had so much admired this young girl, Cassie Bernall, and the other children there [at Columbine]. But she
refused to deny her faith, even in the face of death. I think that kind of courage deserves to be remembered.
DI: Youíve also released several entirely Christian albums in the Ď90s.
CD: Oh, definitely.
DI: Is that something youíre going to be continuing?
CD: My next project will be a Christian album, another one. I wrote the songs for the ones youíre referring to, but I want to do some of
my old gospel favorites. Thatís what my next albumís going to be.
DI: Youíve recently received several awards recognizing you as one of the pioneers of modern country music. Are you honored by that?
CD: Every award Iíve ever received has been very gratifying. The Living Legend Award was extremely gratifying; it was voted
on by the fans. Itís just great to be remembered after all these years, to still be a viable part of the music business. So, Iím very deeply honored
by all the awards.
DI: Why did you start your own record label?
CD: Well, I just canít play the game anymore. Iím 63 years old, and Iíve been in the business for 40 years now. I take good advice and
direction really well, but I donít need somebody that finished college two years ago to come in and tell me what I should be recording. I donít
mean that in a bad way at all. Itís just a very honest feeling that I have, that Iím much more in touch with my audience than they are. I should be
the one to say what I do. Itís just not done that way anymore in Nashville, and I canít do it the other way. Thatís how our record label came
DI: Tell us a little bit about the new Road Dogs album.
CD: Iíve been self-indulgent, especially since weíve had the record label. [laughs] Iíve been doing things that Iíve been wanting to do
for a long time. I wanted to do all the old fiddle songs over again, so I did Fiddle Fire. I wanted to do a blues album -- I did
Blues Hat; in fact, thatís where the name of the label came from. I wanted to do a tribute album to the Southern bands, and I did
Tailgate Party. So, it was time for some new music. I said, ďWell, time to get busy writing some songs.Ē Basically, the concept of the
album was, ďItís time for some new music. Letís get busy.Ē This was the outcome.
DI: Is ďRoad DogsĒ also a reference to being on the road, playing live?
CD: Very definitely. Itís not a thematic album 100-percent. The first song deals with being on the road. The last song, ďSail Away,Ē
deals with being on the road. The rest of it is pretty much straight-ahead music, actually.
DI: Youíve got a great relationship with your audience. People camp out to see you. How does that make you feel?
CD: Well, it makes me feel wonderful. Any accolades that anybody puts toward this band really makes me feel good, because I have
devoted such a big part of my life to this band, making it what I want it to be.
DI: Whatís in the future?
CD: Iím looking forward, of course, to our next project - the Christian album. Like I said, Iíve got some wild music coming in my head
right now, and I want to get that done. I want to do an album of it. Itís going to take a little while to do that. Itís going to be an experimental
album. Road Dogs is a straight-ahead album that you walk in and do. This is going to take a little time. A lot of it is going to have
to be created in the studio, as we go along. I am looking forward to doing that. Itís a lot of fun to do albums that way. I donít know when Iíll get
it finished, hopefully some time next year. It is going to be different from any album we have ever done.
DI: So does having your own label mean you donít have to play the game?
CD: I just feel such freedom to do whatever. If a songís seven minutes or ten minutes long, then so be it -- itís that long. I donít
have to be concerned about putting a ten-minute song in a three-minute box, if you will. I feel a lot of freedom in getting ready to do what Iím
doing. I just thank God I can make a living doing something I enjoy as much as I do playing music.
DI: Any advice for a young musician?
CD: Make sure to be honest with yourself, about if thatís really what you want to do with your life -- to make music. It takes a
commitment -- a tremendous, thick-skinned commitment of being the first one to get there and the last one to leave, doing what you want to do even
if you have to work twice as hard as anybody else ever did. Itís that kind of commitment. If you donít have that commitment, if you donít feel
that way about it, itís better not to start out. Stay home and play on the weekends, and save yourself some grief. Always try to be honest with
yourself, about if youíve got it. If you havenít got it, donít torture yourself. If somebody says, ďHe sounds just like Michael Jackson,Ē
well thereís already a Michael Jackson. You donít want to sound like Michael Jackson; you want to sound like yourself. The only way youíre
ever going to get anywhere, and stay there, is by being your own self.
Then, youíve got to go somewhere where there is a ďmusic business.Ē Youíve got to decide, ďHey, this is what I want to do. I am digging my
heels in. Iím going to stay here. Iím going to do this, regardless of what kind of commitment it takes, however long it takes, no matter what
anybody else says. I believe in me. I believe that I can do this and Iím going to do it.Ē You know, there is no ďyellow brick road.Ē You
want to do it, go do it.Ē [laughs] Itís going to take some commitment -- a lot of commitment. If you donít have that commitment,
donít try it.