Like the State of Texas, Charlie Daniels is partly Western and partly Southern.
His signature "bullrider" hat and belt buckle, his lifestyle on the
Twin Pines Ranch (a boyhood dream come true), his love of horses, cowboy lore
and the heroes of championship rodeo, Western movies, and Louis L'Amour novels,
identify him as a Westerner. The son of a lumberjack and a Southerner by birth,
his music - rock, country, bluegrass, blues, gospel - is quintessentially Southern.
In fact, even his bent for all things Western is Southern, because his attire,
his lifestyle and his interests are historically emblematic of Southern working
class solidarity with the "lone cowboy" individualism of the American
It hasn't been so much a style of music, but more the values consistently reflected
in several styles that has connected Charlie Daniels with millions of fans.
For decades, he has steadfastly refused to label his music as anything other
than "CDB music", music that is now sung around the fire at 4-H Club
and scout camps, helped elect an American President, and been popularized on
a variety of radio formats.
Like so many great American success stories, the Charlie Daniels saga begins
in rural obscurity. Born in 1936 in Wilmington, North Carolina, he was raised
on a musical diet that included Pentecostal gospel, local bluegrass bands, and
the rhythm & blues and country music emanating respectively from Nashville's
50,000-watt megabroadcasters WLAC and WSM.
He graduated from high school in 1955 and soon enlisted in the rock 'n' roll
revolution ignited by Mississippian Elvis Aron Presley. Already skilled on guitar,
fiddle and mandolin, Daniels formed a rock 'n' roll band and hit the road.
While enroute to California in 1959 the group paused in Texas to record "Jaguar,"
an instrumental produced by the legendary Bob Johnston, which was picked up
for national distribution by Epic. It was also the beginning of a long association
with Johnston. The two wrote "It Hurts Me," which became the B side
of a 1964 Presley hit. In 1969, at the urging of Johnston, Daniels moved to
middle Tennessee to find work as a session guitarist in Nashville.
Among his more notable sessions were the Bob Dylan albums of 1969-70 Nashville
Skyline, New Morning, and Self Portrait. Daniels produced the Youngbloods' albums
of 1969-70 Elephant Mountain and Ride the Wind, toured Europe with Leonard Cohen
and performed on records with artists as different as Al Kooper and Marty Robbins.
Daniels broke through as a record maker, himself, with 1973's Honey In the
Rock and its hit hippie song, "Uneasy Rider." His rebel anthems "Long
Haired Country Boy" and "The South's Gonna Do It" propelled his
1975 collection Fire On the Mountain to Double Platinum status.
Following stints with Capitol and Kama Sutra, Epic Records signed him to its
rock roster in New York in 1976. The contract, reportedly worth $3 million,
was the largest ever given to a Nashville act up to that time. In the summer
of 1979 Daniels rewarded the company's faith by delivering "The Devil Went
Down to Georgia," which became a Platinum single, topped both country and
pop charts, won a Grammy Award, became an international phenomenon, earned three
Country Music Association trophies, became a cornerstone of the Urban Cowboy
movie soundtrack and propelled Daniel's Million Mile Reflections album to Triple
Platinum sales levels.
The album's title was a reference to a milestone in the Charlie Daniels Band's
legendary coast to coast tours. Including two drummers, twin guitars, and a
flamenco dancer, the CDB often toured more than 250 days a year and by this
time had logged more than a million miles on the road. On the Million Mile Reflections
Tour, transported by a convoy of busses and gleaming black tractor-trailer rigs
- a show that stopped traffic all over the country - the bank now included a
full horn section, back-up singers, a troupe of clog dancers and sometimes a
gospel choir. By 1981, the Charlie Daniels Band had twice been voted the Academy
of Country Music's Touring Band of the Year.
Full Moon, issued in 1980, became Daniel's third Platinum album. Simple Man
(1989) is also Platinum while A Decade of Hits (1983) is Triple Platinum, and
Windows (1982), Saddle Tramp (1976), and Midnight Wind (1977) are Gold. He earned
a Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association in 1994 for The Door, and a 1997
CMA nomination for his remake of "Long Haired Country Boy" featuring
John Berry and Hal Ketchum. Amazing Grace: A Country Salute to Gospel, a compilation
album including Daniels' "Kneel at the Cross," garnered a 1995 Grammy
Award. In 1996 he was honored with a boxed set of his classics. His By the Light
of the Moon: Campfire Songs & Cowboy Tunes (1997), Christmas Time Down South
(1990) and Blues Hat (1997) albums added further layers to his multi-faceted
Daniels' annual Volunteer Jam concerts, world-famous musical extravaganzas
that served as a prototype for many of today's annual day-long music marathons,
always featured a variety of current stars and heritage artists and are considered
by historians as his most impressive contribution to Southern music. Among the
artists "Jam Daddy" has hosted at 16 of these mega musical samplers
are Roy Acuff, Don Henley, Tanya Tucker, Amy Grant, Leon Russell, Billy Ray
Cyrus, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, James Brown, Duane Eddy, Pat Boone, The Outlaws,
Dwight Yoakam, Steppenwolf, Bill Monroe, Exile, The Judds, Orleans, Willie Nelson,
Carl Perkins, Vince Gill, George Thorogood, Emmylou Harris, Alabama, the Allman
Brothers, Link Wray, Ted Nugent, Bill Joel, the Marshall Tucker Band, Solomon
Burke, Little Richard, B. B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eugene Fodor, Woody Herman,
and Bobby Jones and the New Life Singers.
"I used to say, 'I'm not an outlaw; I'm an outcast,'" says the Grammy
Award winning star. "When it gets right down to the nitty gritty, I've
just tried to be who I am. I've never followed trends or fads. I couldn't even
if I tried. I can't be them; I can't be anybody but me."
When you hear a classic Charlie Daniels Band performance like "The Devil
Went Down to Georgia," you hear music that knows no clear genre. Is it
a folk tale? A southern boogie? A country fiddle tune? An electric rock anthem?
The answer is "yes" to all of that and more. And the same goes for
"In America," "Uneasy Rider," "The South's Gonna Do
It," "Long Haired Country Boy," "Still in Saigon,"
"The Legend of Wooley Swamp," and the rest of a catalog that spans
more than 35 years of record making and represents more than 18 million in sales.
His resume includes recording sessions with artists as diverse as Bob Dylan,
Flatt & Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Mark O'Conner, Leonard Cohen, Ringo Starr
and Johnny Cash. His songs have been documented by ABC Newsmagazine 20/20. In
1985, he published a collection of short stories, The Devil Went Down to Georgia,
peopled with the same kind of characters and tall tales as his songs.
In April 1998, top stars and two former Presidents paid tribute to Daniels
when he was named the recipient of the Pioneer Award at the Academy of Country
Music's annual nationally televised ceremonies.
"In his time he's played everything from rock to jazz, folk to western
swing, and honky-tonk to award-winning gospel, former President Jimmy Carter
said. "In Charlie's own words, 'Let there be harmony. Let there be fun
and 12 notes of music to make us all one.'."
"Charlie's love of music is only surpassed by his love of people, especially
the American people," former President Gerald Ford said. "For almost
five decades, he's traveled this land from coast to coast singing about the
things that concern the American people. Tonight, the Academy of Country Music's
Pioneer Award is presented to a supremely talented compassionate and proud American,
and a fair to middlin' golfer, too!"
With an unerring instinct for the universal ties that bind people together
and an equal abhorrence for the intolerance and fear that do the opposite, Charlie
Daniels has kept the specifics of his cultural heritage as the soul of the CDB
music that has impacted the lives of everyday people everywhere.
"It's purely American music with something for everyone," he said.
"At least that's what I've hoped for in my 40-plus years in music."