The Heart & Soul of Charlie Daniels
by Michael Buffalo Smith
For the cover story of our third print issue in 2003 I called on our old friend Charlie Daniels. Having interviewed him numerous times in the past, I was looking for a new angle. It didn’t take much looking. Daniels had been very outspoken lately regarding his faith, his politics and other personal beliefs. We began by addressing the corporate music industry.
I wondered if you look at your role in the music industry different now as you looked at it in the 1970s?
I don’t look at myself as having a role, I feel like I am just an entertainer. I don’t see myself as an influence or having a certain image to live up to. I am just an entertainer that goes and plays shows and makes records and tries to entertain people. I have much more of a mature look at my career per se than what I had when I was younger. I have kids come up to me and say I have been listening to you for a long time and you have had an effect on my music but I really don’t look at myself in that way. They say it and I just don’t look at myself that way. I am just a picker, man.
A simple man..
A simple man (Laughs)
I wanted to ask you where you were when the tragedy of 911 happened?
I was at the Tennessee Driver’s License Bureau renewing my handgun permit. My son called me on the cell phone and asked me if I had seen that and I didn’t know what he was talking about. The first plane had hit the first tower and I felt like it was a horrible commercial airplane accident like I am sure most people did. Then the second plane hit and it became evident that was not what happened. Then things were happening one right after another and it was a very confusing day, to say the least. Looking back at about 12 hours of that day it was a confusing day and one of the worst times in the United States. Just one thing after another and we had no idea how far it would go, who was behind it or where it would end. It was a tough and hard day. I will never forget it.
How do you personally feel that President Bush handled the whole situation and what came out of it with Osama Bin Laden?
I think he is doing an excellent job. I think he is fighting a lot of politics and Hollywood numbskulls right now that have a very different view of the world from most of the people here do. He is the man for the job. I shudder at the thoughts of having a Bill Clinton or Al Gore being in office at this time. The problem that I think we have here is that there are lots of people in America here that don’t realize what is going on here. They think we should forget going to war with Iraq and pursue the war on terrorism. I have news for them that the war against Iraq is the war on terrorism and why people don’t understand that is amazing. It’s Islam and the rest of the world. If you look at it almost every shooting war going on at this time is between radical Islam and somebody. They are at war with the rest of the world. Then France and Germany just stick their heads in the sand and say that they don’t think we should go to war with Iraq. They will live to regret their attitude and they are no safer than we are. They don’t hate just us.They just hate us the most. They hate the Western world and freedom and anybody that does not believe the same way they do. We are in a fight to finish now and we are in fight to the death. Left to their own devices these people will destroy the Western world bit by bit and building by building and person by person. We must take a hard line and treat these people the only way that we can and go in and eradicate them. This is a sad state of affairs but anything less is not going to work. I don’t care how many times Martin Sheen sticks his head in the sand and says that we can solve this now let’s go have some more Perrier and lime and it will still be there until we do something about it. It’s going to be there when they wake up and it will be a sore on the face of humanity. What people don’t stop to say is that we know Saddam Hussein is working on nuclear weapons and has been doing it for 10 years. Bill Clinton gave him a free pass for years and the inspectors are not going to find anything. When he gets those weapons he will use them and this man could very well in the next five years start a nuclear war in the Middle East if we listen to people who say we should not go in and disarm him. We are going to fight Saddam Hussein with conventional weapons now or we can fight him with nuclear weapons later on. You can put that in print and keep it somewhere and then when it happens you can say well Charlie was either right or wrong.
(Laughs) I think you are right. This guy has been one of the father’s or terrorism. He has been messing with us for a long time.
We have enemies all over the Middle East. It’s Iran, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon. It’s a faction and not a blanket indictment against Islam. Notice I said radical Islam. There is a sect of Islam called Wahabi and they will not settle for anything less than either worldwide domination or extermination. That is all it comes down to. The sooner we face up to that and the sooner the politicians of the world face up to that then we will be able to get something done about it and have some peace in the world. Otherwise, we are never going to have any peace.
Do you find that all the things that are going on with the war and that type thing has it caused you to write more songs like when you wrote “In America” -- patriotic-themed songs?
I have written probably two songs “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag,” and the “Last Fallen Hero Song” that dealt with current events and I wrote a Christmas song that is titled “God Bless The Mother” that would work anytime as long as we have people in service because it’s about service people being away from home and their families. I don’t sit around and dwell on it. I wrote “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag” -- that line just came into my head -- and we don’t wear a rag on our heads and I just pursued it from that point. I don’t sit around and dwell on it so I just let an idea come naturally and flesh it out from there.
You got some flack for the “This Ain’t No Rag it’s a Flag” song, too?
Michael, as a guy that runs a magazine you should know that if you have enough guts to express your opinion in this country someone is going to take you to task. Unfortunately, some of the higher profile people that write for magazines are exactly like everybody else. It’s always the same old bunch. Like if someone asks me to do something with something like Time Magazine or something like that I know I am going to get a bum rap. I just want to be quoted correctly and I know that they are going to take a dim view of my opinions and it does not make any difference what I say and they do not like my philosophy or what I stand for. CNN for instance, every time I go down there they try to make something controversial about what I say and I say, hey, this is how I feel about it, I think this and that and the other and whatever you say is not going to change may feelings about it. It is the same people over and over. Somebody is going to take you to task about something if you express an opinion and I am very opinionated and will make no bones about it and have no qualms speaking about the way I feel about things. Naturally, I am going to be taken to task a lot of times. I am not surprised. What actually surprised me more than anything else was out of this whole thing was the people at CMT who didn’t want us to do “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag” song on that TV show. We are talking about what was supposed to be a middle America TV station and then the guy said that we could not do our “Last Fallen Hero Song” on PBS of all places. PBS! That is supposed to be a bastion of free speech and have some of the most off the wall people in the world on their channel. That surprised me and now I am not surprised about anything.
How did you become involved with the Angelus and what drew you to that organization?
I was approached by a friend and did not know anything about it and a friend of mine told me that he had this place that he wanted to help raise some money for and so we talked about it and started the golf tournament and then added the concert as time went along until it has gotten to be a large undertaking now and we have raised a lot of money for them over the years and it is something that I enjoy doing and intend to do from now on.
Tell us a little bit about the Angelus and what they do?
It is a place that is independently run and is not supplemented with government or county funding. It is run by a couple named Dave and Pauline Schaffer who do this strictly out of Christian love and take care of people who can not take care of themselves. People who are ambulatory, some that can not walk and some that can not talk and some that can’t do anything. They try to give them some independence by supplying mechanical devices and try to make life better for some people that can’t make life better for themselves. It is a huge undertaking trying to take care of people that are in wheelchairs and unable to do things for themselves. We forget how dedicated somebody has to be to do this. It is gratifying to go there and see it.
Tell us a little bit about the Redneck Fiddlin' Man album and are there some things that you could tell us about that?
I wanted to do another fiddle album and I did Fiddle Fire but wanted to do another one. I had some songs that I had recorded and was not happy with the original recording. I had one that I was not quite happy with one called Redneck Fiddlin' Man and I had some other stuff that I had done with the studio musicians on one of my Capitol album that I wanted to go back in and rework and some new songs I wanted to also do a song that Travis and myself wrote and he did one with me.
Is that the Travis Tritt duet?
It’s a song that Travis and I had wrote together and he was kind enough to do it with me.
Is this the second Christmas album?
We did one in 1990 or 1991 that was Christmastime Down South and this one is about three original songs and the rest is the traditional stuff. I love Christmas and I wanted to do another Christmas album so we decided to do one this summer.
What is your Christmas wish for the world?
My Christmas wish for the world would be for the world to remember what Christmas really is and that is the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of mankind and that the salvation of Jesus Christ is real and I would like everyone to be aware of that and give Jesus Christ a chance to come into their hearts. That would be my ultimate wish.
We recently had the 25th anniversary of the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash and I know that Ronnie Van Zant was a friend of yours and wondered if you might share a favorite memory of him with us?
When I think about Ronnie I think about shaking of hands. He would do that all the time. He would reach out and shake hands. If I had to name two people that were deeply loved I would say Elvis Presley and Ronnie. These are two people that have been revered so much by people since their deaths in 1977.
I have noticed that you and Tommy have been picking together again?
Oh yeah, Tommy and I have been friends for a long time and he just got burned out on the road and had reached a point where he didn’t want to get on the bus and leave town. That happens with people and he is still one of my favorite guitar players and friends and we still get together and pick and have a great time at it.
Do you have any plans to release any of the old Volunteer Jam music either audio or video, and someone in particular said that wish that they could see some of the old film footage of it?
We would love to, Michael, and we have some incredible footage of more people than I can begin to name, Skynyrd, Tucker and Allmans in the Southern part of it and then James Brown and others, oh, the list goes on and on. We have had some problems getting the footage cleared on Stevie Ray Vaughn and getting this done and going through managers, lawyers and record companies. It has been a pain trying to get this done and maybe as time goes along we may get permission to go into the vault and pull out hours and hours of video tapes and put some this stuff out. I hope so.
What are the most important things in your heart?
My being a Christian, Jesus Christ comes first, my faith, my family, my country and my career.