Back to Tennessee:
Catching Up with Charlie Daniels
by Michael Buffalo Smith
What inspired you to record the songs you recorded for your new album Tailgate Party?
It’s something I wanted to do for a long time, to pay tribute to Southern musicians. With special emphasis on Tucker and the Brothers and Skynyrd, people we worked with. And some of the new guys, Hootie and well, ZZ Top is not at all new. They’re not usually thought of in the same genre, but they are very southern. It was an idea I had for a long time that just happened.
You dedicated the record to Duane Allman. Was Duane an influence of yours, or a favorite player?
Duane was a favorite and an influence. I don’t believe there has been a musician come along from our part of the country since that early Allman Brothers Band that hasn’t been influenced by Duane in one way or another, at least by the caliber and intensity of Duane’s playing. I know I have.
Early on, you had the chance to record with lots of great performers. What were some of your most memorable sessions?
Well I had a great time recording with Bob Dylan. They were great sessions. It was real loose, and there was no pressure to do this or that or the other. He wanted everybody to play their own thing. And that’s basically how his music is. He writes the song and everybody just sits around and plays whatever they feel fits. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed playing with Leonard Cohen. A lot of the country artists were just straight ahead sessions.
You recorded with one of the Beatles. Was it George?
Yes. It wasn’t released. It was George and a drummer named Russ Kunkel and myself. And I recorded with Ringo Starr but it was pretty much a straight ahead country session.
You’ve written and recorded a lot of songs. What would you say has been your favorite?
I can’t do that. It’s hard for me to choose between songs. Of course the biggest song we ever had was “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but I can’t really say that’s my cut-and-dried favorite song. It’s just be hard to say. So many songs meant a lot to me. “Carolina I Remember You” means a lot.
Would you tell us a little about each one of the band members?
Sure I can. Taz DiGregorio (keyboards) is from Southbridge, Massachusetts. He’s been working with me for about 34 years, other than a few years he was in the Army. Charlie Hayward (bass) has been with me for 23 years. He’s from Holt, Alabama. Jack Gavin (drums) is from Niagara Falls, New York and he’s been with me for about 13 years now. Bruce Brown (guitar) is from West Frankfort, Illinois and he’s been with me for almost ten years. The new kid on the block is Chris Wormer, who is in his fourth year now.
Are you currently performing any of the songs from your “Blues Hat” CD during your shows?
We’re doing “Just to Satisfy You” and “Long Haired Country Boy.” Of course, that’s not a blues tune but it was on the album.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a popular entertainer?
The most rewarding thing is being able to do whatever I want to do for a living. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve enjoyed this, just being a part of the music business for all this time has been great.
When you have time to listen to music, who do you listen to?
You know who I listen to, probably more than any other artist? Stevie Ray Vaughan. I love Stevie Ray. I love the blues, obviously you do too. I listen to music a lot when I go in to exercise during the day. I ride on one of those exercise bikes for about a half hour a day. It all depends on what I pick up off the bus. Sometimes it may be Stevie Ray, and other times it may be Beethoven, or Mozart, or a jazz album. It all depends on what kind of mood I’m in.
How did the Volunteer Jam first come to be?
Volunteer Jam was a live recording session. We were doing the Fire on the Mountain album and we wanted to do two live cuts so we figured the best place to do it was in Nashville, which was about the only place we could draw a crowd at that time. We got some recording equipment and asked some of our friends to come up and jam with us. That first year, Toy Caldwell, Jerry Eubanks and Doug Gray from The Marshall Tucker Band and Dickey Betts from The Allman Brothers was in town, and we invited him up. It was called Volunteer Jam, naturally, after the state of Tennessee. After the first time, we decided we needed to do this again.
Did you continue to have those jams every year after that?
We had them every year for a while, then they got to be entirely too big an undertaking to do every year. This is the first time we’ve taken it on the road.
What can the fans expect to see during the Volunteer Jam shows?
Just a good ol’ - Toy used to say “watermelon jam.” Just a good ol’ southern down home, fried chicken and cat fish type, great, great entertaining evening. Maybe coming in not feeling too good with the traffic and stuff and leaving with a smile on your face.
As far as the Volunteer Jam tour. What are your feelings about it?
It’s been special to me, working with old friends like The Marshall Tucker Band. There ain’t a whole lot of the original band left but I’ve made friends with the new ones. We get along great, our road crews get along great. And Molly Hatchet only has one original member but hey buddy, it’s down home week.
Do you recall the first time you encountered The Marshall Tucker Band?
I sure do. We first played a show together in 1973. We both opened for The Allman Brothers Band in Nashville and I walked in their dressing room and said, “Somebody told me you s.o.b.’s used to go to Jenkins Junior High School. Toy jerked around and looked at me like,”who in the hell are you?” (Laughs) I told him I used to go there too. We just kind of hit it off. We’ve been doing that way ever since.
What was it like touring with the MTB during the seventies?
Playing with the MTB was great. It was a natural show. We used to end the night up with three drummers on the stage doing something everybody knew. We probably did more dates with Marshall Tucker than any other band that I know of.
I know you probably have a lot of old material from the past jams. Is Blue Hat planning on putting any of that out?
There’s a problem with trying to get clearance on that stuff, Michael. It’s just a total nightmare to try and get clearance. Like Stevie Ray is dead, and having to deal with his estate. Just trying to clear it with record companies, it’s real tough. We have just released a Jam record from some of the Epic Records material. It’s a Blue Hat Record, released through Epic. We also have a second volume of “the best of the jams.”
What’s happening with Blue Hat Records right now? It seems pretty exciting to have your own record company.
It can also be pretty expensive. (Laughs) We just signed a new group, two girls called The Wades, that are just a breath of fresh air. They do acoustic music. We had a showcase for them last night. It’s just good music. One of the aims of Blue Hat Records is to release good music. We’re not going to be doing fluff. This is good music.
Do you have any other projects planned for the near future?
I plan to do more recording next year, I just don’t know what yet. Mostly it’s the same ol’, same ol’, Michael. Just going out there and picking and grinning.
What do you feel are the most important things on life? What advice would you offer young people of today regarding a career in the music industry?
Salvation. I think committing your life to Jesus Christ is the most important thing you can do. If I could drive a point home to the youth of today, I would say that the single most important thing you can do is to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. It’s the only way to true peace and success. When you have Jesus, you have everything that really counts.
As far as professionally, I would say to any young person who desires a career in the music business, to make very sure that’s what you want to do, then go somewhere where there is a music business and go for it. You have to be willing to be the first one there and the last one to leave. You have to work when everybody else is playing; to take scathing criticism in stride and to decide that you’re going to make it even if you have to work twice as hard as anybody else ever has. Be honest with yourself about the amount of talent you have. Never compare your career to anyone else’s. Everybody goes at their own pace.
Update: Charlie continues to record great albums, tour continuously, support charities and spread his faith and beliefs at every stop. Keep up with the CDB at www.charliedaniels.com