Interview: Charlie Daniels

Charlie Daniels is an icon in country music and I have been a fan since childhood. My Dad and my grandparents took me to see The Charlie Daniels Band growing up in Tennessee many times. As an adult I have seen Charlie several times over the past few years and he still puts on one of the most dynamic shows in the business. 

I have always been nothing but impressed with Charlie and how he is the truest professional when it comes to music and performing. I was able to cover Charlie’s 80th Birthday Celebration is Nashville at a sold-out show at Bridgestone Arena where generations of fans came together along with an all-star lineup of musicians who wanted to pay tribute to the man and the music. One thing that stood out to me that day is how much Charlie respected the media. He sat in a press conference for over two hours as each guest performer of the night did a Q&A with him and the press. It was amazing to see someone have so much respect for their fellow musicians and the guests attending the party in his honor.

For Memorial Day, I could not think of a better person to interview than Charlie. He is one of the biggest supporters of Veterans in the United States. He was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service award for his support of military personnel. He has performed for our troops from Guantanamo Bay to Bosnia, Kuwait, South Korea, and repeated trips to Iraq for Stars for Stripes as well as visiting troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Korea.

Charlie Daniels serves as the Chairman of the Journey Home Project. The Journey Home Project’s mission is to connect donors to veterans’ organizations that do the most good. Cutbacks to veterans’ services from the federal government, combined with an increase in wartime active personnel has put a strain on health care, education and job opportunities for veterans.

It was an honor to catch up with Charlie and talk about the Journey Home Project, life on the road, Bob Dylan and a new fiction book in the works.

Are there any favorite off the beaten path travel destinations that you would recommend after touring the past six decades?

Quite a few of them actually. Of course, I have been traveling for a living for a long time. I haven’t been everywhere but I have been to every state in the union. In fact I have worked in every state in the union. The four corners area of Colorado is one of my very favorites. It is not completely undiscovered but there are parts the public hasn’t gotten around to yet. I like the southern states. I am a southerner. I can come up with some place I really enjoy going to in most of the states in America.

I want to talk about the Journey Home Project. Can you tell us a little bit about what you guys are doing during the coronavirus crisis?

Journey Home is an organization put together to help our veterans. We have found during this pandemic the veterans are out of a job like everyone else is. The veteran population is so proud. They have to be really in need to ask for anything. They just don’t like to do it. 

During this pandemic there are veterans that are literally so broke, they don’t have money to pay their rent. They don’t have money to buy food. A lot of them have kids. It is a bad situation. We are not just doing it during the pandemic, we have been around a few years and been doing it full time. The need is great right now so we are trying to help out as much as we can.

If people want to help out and donate should they go to the Journey Home Project website?

Yes, www.journeyhomeproject.org. They can go there and find out who we are and what we do. I don’t think I have ever seen this much real need among the vets in the time we have been doing this. Then you stop and figure I have never seen a time like this for that matter. This is a truly unique time. I have been around this earth for 83 years and never seen anything like it. 

The whole world is shut down and we are dealing with something we know nothing about. We have to start from scratch with it. There was really nothing else to do but close the country down until we have a handle on it and find out what it was and what can be done about it or what caused it. People are out of work. The government was trying to help with the programs they had going. It took a while to get that out and some people didn’t qualify and it was this and that. All of a sudden you have a bunch of folks including veterans out of work and needing help. We try to be there for them as much as we can.

What do you miss most about being out on the road?

Just being out on the road. We are always out this time of year. We started out the 14th of March when we started the tour in Huntsville Alabama and then going down to Lake Charles, Louisiana. We did the show in Huntsville and right after that they started falling like dominoes, people started closing. It was just all of a sudden something we have been doing for many years at this time of year is no longer happening. Masses of people can’t get together for concerts. It is a very strange feeling actually not being on the road during the summer. We are always on the road in the summertime.

I am ok at home right now. I live in this patch of woods and it is hard to get me out of them when I am at home anyway. It is where I want to be. I have no complaints as far as the quarantining is concerned. I live on a ranch and have plenty of room to get outside to get fresh air.  We are not actually isolated but we don’t have anyone that lives really close to us. We are kind of on our own here and have a lot of privacy. I don’t really have a problem staying home; it is not nearly as bad for me staying at home with the conditions I have. I feel for the people in the big cities that are jammed up in the little apartments and can’t go nowhere. 

People have idiot governors telling them they will put them in jail for going swimming or something. We don’t have that to put up with that here (in Tennessee.) We have a sensible governor, good Christian guy. He is doing his best to get the state open. In the meantime, he is not being dumb about it. We get along. I don’t really have complaints staying at home. It has not really hurt me that bad to be honest except not being able to work. That is the part that bothers me.

Have you been able to work on any new music while being at home?

I am working on a book right now trying to get it finished and put the finishing touches on it. I am working on music too. I haven’t really got full time into the music yet. I have been putting quite a few hours in on the book. It is a fictional book and it is almost finished. I probably have another two days on it. Once I finish it up I will start full time on music.

I didn’t realize you were a fiction writer.

Well I have not released that much. I released a book of fictional short stories. Most of my writings, I did some essays. I did an autobiography called Never Look at the Empty Seats and I did an inspirational book called Let’s Make the Day Count, but this is a totally different enterprise. I have been working on it a long time. It is not a new project. I have worked on it for a number of years and it has gone through several different phases. I about have a handle on what I want it to be. As soon as I finish it, I am ready to go to work on some new music.

You use Twitter a lot. Has it helped stay in contact with your fans during this time?

Yes, I have been using social media for a long time, several years. It is not new to me. It is not anywhere close to being new to me, but it is still exciting to me. I have certain things I do every day. I put up a bible verse. I put up a prayer. I put up wise little sayings the good Lord helps me put together. I am constantly writing how I feel about things. I do a soapbox every week. It can be on anything. It may be humorous. It may be political. It may be about America. It might be complaining about something or bragging about something, whatever I am feeling about. I deal with a lot of current topics.

“Devil Went Down to Georgia” just celebrated 40 years. Do you ever get tired of playing it?

No not at all. It is what people want to hear. What people want to hear is what I get paid to do and my whole career is based on. I never get tired of it. We do a lot of the old songs; it is what people come to hear you for. They don’t come to hear your new stuff. They will tolerate your new stuff. They come to hear the stuff they hear on the radio and you owe it to the people to play the songs for them because that’s what they paid their money for. We always do our hits. We build our show around those and add in our new music as it fits. No, I never get tired of playing them. I love playing the old songs.

We have lost a lot of amazing musicians. One is Kenny Rogers. I wanted to ask if you had any fond Kenny Rogers memories.

Kenny and I didn’t travel in the same circles a lot. We worked together. We knew each other. We had done a show or two together. We are not bands that were asked to get packaged together that much. We are not what you ordinarily think of as a package. We are a more raucous type band, a little more on the rowdy side. I love Kenny’s music but we didn’t work together a lot.

Bob Dylan celebrated a birthday this week. You have talked about how he changed your life. Can you tell us how that happened?

I’d be happy to. In 1969, Bob came to Nashville to do an album called Nashville Skyline, a lot of people think that was the first album he did here but it was the third one he had done. John Wesley Harding and Blonde on Blonde had been recorded here. I came to town in 1967. My friend Bob Johnston, his producer brought me to town to try to do something in Nashville. Bob Dylan was coming to town to do Nashville Skyline and he had been using the same musicians to play on the album, every album. He like the players he had so he used the same players. 

When he went to book the sessions for Nashville Skyline, the guitar player they used throughout the years was unavailable. He was already booked on another session. Bob Johnston asked if I would want to play on one of the Dylan sessions until the other guitar player got back. I said I’d be glad to. I was much more excited than that, believe me, that was not my reaction at all. My reaction was wanting to jump through the roof or something. 

I went in and played and at the end of the session I was packing up my gear to leave and Bob Dylan asked Bob Johnston where I was going. Bob Johnston said I was leaving and he had another guitar player coming in. Bob Dylan said he didn’t want another guitar player, I want him. That was, well you can imagine, it was an incredible big shot in the arm, a recording artist the caliber of Bob Dylan to validate my playing is really hard to even articulate. It meant so much. It saved me a lot of steps because Bob was nice enough throughout the years to put the players names on the back of the album. When you play on a Dylan album your name was on the album. He is the kind of artist where people actually read the lines on the back cover. It was a lot of recognition. It happened instantly basically. It did a lot for me. I don’t even know how much it did for me but it did a lot believe me.

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