I told everyone. Heck, I even told Charlie Daniels. I was thrilled.
“You just called my cell phone, Mr. Daniels. Did you know?”
What is impressive (leaving aside the nearly 57 years of performing and his contributions to “American music”) is the number of people with whom I spoke that had a personal story or connections to Charlie Daniels. From my nephew who used to play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” on Guitar Hero with my brother years ago to my 12-year-old niece who recalls Mr. Mike Anderson playing it at Eisenhower, his music energizes each and every one of his recording years.
The years have changed, though. From the “practical changes,” says Daniels, “the technology has changed tremendously, in so far as the recording is concerned. We got started recording on literally mono machines back in the ‘50s … stage equipment is not as noisy as it used to be.” Daniels recalls, “It used to be that amplifiers screamed all the time and it was hard to get a clean sound on stage.” Even the fact that the interstate system is “finally reaching completion … that is a big deal because of traveling as many miles as we do in a year’s time … well, having good roads means a lot.”
“As far as how it has changed for me, if anything I would say that I appreciate having had a life of playing music for a living probably more now than ever. I just am so thankful to the good Lord that I have been able to spend my life doing something that I enjoy so much, and sharing with people things that I’ve created, and having them enjoy it.”
The biggest joy within it all, says Daniels, “It’s walking on stage in front of a million people to entertain them. I am addicted to it. I love it. Every night when I get ready to go on stage, I am standing on the side of the stage listening to our music – the music we play just before we go on – just literally chomping at the bit to get out and entertain these people. It’s always a challenge, but it’s one of the few times in my life where I actually feel like I know what I’m doing. I go out on stage and we just have fun with the people. We all have fun together.”
The Charlie Daniels Band works from about February or March, increasing their appearances as the summer hits, until about the middle of December. “That’s our basic routine every year,” notes the nearly 79-year-old Daniels. It’s a busy year that includes near 107 shows, 10 or so Grand Ole Opry appearances, plus charity gigs and then “The Journey Home Project,” as well. Daniels recollected that the last time he was in Jacksonville was for the Morgan County Fair, but joked “when you do as many things as I do, and you’re as old as I am, it all starts running together after awhile. We have played every state in this Union, and almost every town of this size.”
Daniels loves small towns. Daniels was born and raised in the country (Wilmington, N.C. – which he says was only a city of about 30,000 at the time he was there), so he prefers a whistle-stop to a megalopolis. “I’m just not as in-time with what goes on in a big town…I’m just not as in-sync with them. I can go to a small town and am still pretty much at home.” “My years (in Wilmington), it was quite a bit smaller than now, and I think they waited until I got to the edge of town, leaving town, and said, ‘Okay, now he’s gone. Let’s go now,’” laughed Daniels. “So they put up studios, and my gosh, all this stuff … But, I left North Carolina because to make a living in the music business, there was just no place to play there.” This was before they had open bars, mind you.
Daniels started traveling around the country and he’s “been doing it ever since.” He started with guitar, then mandolin. The fiddle followed. Daniels remarked that a kid he went to school with used to say that when he “played the fiddle, it sounded like somebody stepped on a cat. And that’s the story it was for quite a while. How my parents put up with that, I don’t know. But they did. Bless their hearts.” As time went on, he “got to doing all kinds of music, because (he) heard so many kinds of music.”
The questions of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” came up in conversation and Daniels replied with a slight chuckle, “Ehhhh, probably the boringest story of any song that we’ve done. This particular song, we had written and rehearsed an album’s worth of material for an album called ‘Million Mile Reflections.’ We were actually in the recording studio, recording, when we came to the guttering realization that we did not have a fiddle song for this album. Why we did not decide that before then, I do not know. But, we didn’t … I had this idea, this one line, this devil went down to Georgia … We started, you know, ‘Let’s try this. Let’s try that and the other thing.’ We wrote the lyrics to it and went back to the studio to record it.” Still, the song has been pretty amazing. It has endured. Daniels has a friend who was in Israel who sent him a video of an Iranian band playing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and he said it was fascinating to hear it in English, but with their accents. “I love to hear other people do our stuff,” added Daniels.
“I just love it. I love what I do. I wouldn’t trade jobs with anybody.”
The conversation ended with a shameless ploy, suggesting to Daniels that if he wanted to dedicate a song to Kyla and The Source, that’d be okay. He let out a laugh and said, “We’ll see.”