Charlie Daniels: Architect Of The Southern Sound
By Walter Price
“Time is the one thing that can never be rewound, relived or replaced.Use it wisely. Let’s all make the day count.” – Charlie Daniels
There are a few artists/acts that really had a hand in shaping the way we hear country-rock or southern-rock music today. For me, there are ultimately only two songwriters/performers responsible for the way it all turned out. One being Gram Parsons and the other being Charlie Daniels.
And no, I didn’t forget the Allman Brothers. They’re a topic for another day…
North Carolina native Daniels cut his teeth in the music business when he had a chance meeting with song writer and producer extraordinaire, Bob Johnston (Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkle, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen).
It was this relationship that helped define generations of music. A working and personal friendship that led to Daniels being called on as a sessions player to be on legendary album by the before mentioned Dylan, Cohen and later with artists Ringo Starr and Al Kooper.
When Daniels took the step to the front of the stage in the early 70’s the musical landscape would never be the same again. You just need to listen to any one of his country-boogie-rockin’ albums from this era to understand the foundations on which Daniels, probably unknowingly, was laying for almost every rock and/or country artist from then on.
You will find a little of everything in these offerings culminating in a true to the bone Charlie Daniels sound that is as unmistakable as is Charlie’s outspoken belief system. If you want to truly invest yourself in the foundations of all things southern rock and honest musicology, get started on building your Charlie Daniels Band collection today.
I had a chance to chat with Mr. Daniels a few years back in NYC and I found I didn’t get to ask all the things I wanted. So I went back to the well. Again, I didn’t get to all the things I wanted but I am pleased as a bee on soda that he made some time for me once more.
Here is our email exchange:
Charlie Daniels, Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to answer these questions. After we spoke in NYC several years ago, I always wished we had time for more.
How did you come to know Bob Johnston?
I met Bob in 1959 on a trip to California when I stopped in Fort Worth to visit a friend who introduced me to him.
Would it be fair to say Johnston gave you your first big break or at least gave you a foot in the door in the music business?
How old of a man were you when you co-wrote “It Hurts Me”, what were your thoughts when you hear Elvis wanted to record it?
Around 27 and I was ecstatic when Elvis recorded it.
Even though it’s mentioned in several of your bio’s many people don’t know that you played on three of Bob Dylan’s great albums. Including ‘Self Portrait’… Did you just play bass/guitar as a session player or did you have any say on the arrangements?
I played guitar and bass and the arrangements just kind of happened.
How would you say it was working with Dylan in the studio?
It was fun and educational.
Before you started CDB you seem to be one of the most in-demand session musicians going at the time. How did you find yourself working with Leonard Cohen?
Bob Johnston was producing and put me on Leonard’s sessions, but I was never one of the first call session players in Nashville.
The list goes on, who did you play with or for at the period in your life that you think was the real deal and/or that maybe doesn’t get much mention these days?
I played sessions with a lot of people but I soon found out that my heart was on the stage with my own band doing my own songs
How long into being a very busy session player before you really wanted to do your own sounds?
Your debut album is probably one of the best debuts of any artist of any genre. Matter of fact, or so I think, critics didn’t even know how to describe you at first. How did you feel to finally get those songs out to the world? And what did you think about the critics?
Actually it took five albums for me to really find myself and start being myself.
Fire on the Mountain was the real jumping off place for CDB
As an outsider looking in I’ve always thought that you really didn’t care about radio play or critical acclaim, am I far off?
Yes, way off. I like recognition as well as any one .
In ’74 you released Fire On The Mountain, which would become your biggest success to date. Did you think that you’ finally made it under your own name?
Man, you made so many important albums. Let’s talk 1979’s ‘Million Mile Reflections’. That thing exploded upon release. How were you doing personally when you had become one of the biggest stars around?
I never looked at myself as a star, I never surrounded myself with yes men, I always had people who helped me keep my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds.
I used to get up early for school so I could catch The Devil Went Down To Georgia on the radio before that bus came. At the time, did you realize what a role that album and all your previous works were playing in the music world or on culture in general?
I just felt very blessed when my music had an effect on someone but it was always hard for me to judge the gravity of the effect.
By the time the 80’s hit pop music was severely changing the way country music and rock n’ roll was sounding. Yet, you really didn’t change you style. Does that go back to your preserved indifference to trends?
I just feel that I do a better job of being me than I would of trying to do it somebody else’s way.
You seemed to really enjoy the ‘good life’…At what point in your career did you decide the wild life wasn’t for you? You’ve been known to change some of your lyrics at shows, why is this important to you?
Although I had my share of good times my family has always been more important to me than the wild side of life and if you take your profession seriously and you want to be successful you’ve got to keep it together.
As far as the lyrics I got concerned that young people would think I was condoning a life style that could be detrimental to them.
I have seriously tried to live closer to the teachings of my Lord Jesus Christ for many years now.
You are a patriotic man to the core. What is it about being an American that makes you the proud man you are?
I think this is the greatest and freest nation on earth and worth fighting for.
Why do you think people fear writing about God in their songs these days?
I guess they fear criticism.
Are you ever afraid your outspoken thoughts and beliefs will offend people?
Offense is not my intention but my opinions are honest and anybody has the right to disagree with me.
Have you ever reflected on what your music has done for the Southern sound?
Not really, I’d rather leave that evaluation to others.
You still record with other artists; of the newer acts who do you really enjoy?
When we spoke in NY you gave me a message to give to Marilyn Manson. You said (I hope I remember right) “Tell him God loves him and tell him Charlie Daniels said so.”…What message do you have for the artists making their way right now?
Learn to entertain; don’t depend on hit records and looking good in a pair of tight jeans to sustain your career.
Out of everything you have done, achieved, contributed, seen, the highs and the lows, what is the biggest misconception the world may have about Charlie Daniels?
Probably in thinking I’m a natural musician, I’m not, I have to work really hard to be proficient on my instruments.
Once again, I had to take out a lot of questions from this interview. Maybe we can do it again one day. Thanks for talking with me. If it wasn’t for you and your musical contributions the world of music would be drastically and tragically different.