HJ/EDJune 5, 2006

An interview with Charlie Daniels

By Ryan Gueningsman

He is country. He’s rock. He’s rebellious. He’s bluegrass. He’s gospel. He’s both southern and western. He doesn’t have a “style of music,” he is simply Charlie Daniels.

“I have a hard time with adjectives to describe our music,” Daniels said. “We just play it.”

“Just playing it” is what his legendary band does best, which is proven in its most recent release, “CDB DVD Live.” Last summer, the group took part in a concert sponsored by Great American Country Television over the July 4 holiday in Nashville. Daniels was asked if his band would be interested in playing at the show.

“We said ‘yeah, we’d love to do it. Would you consider letting us have an hour after the show is over to let us come back out, and use your facilities to make a DVD?’” Daniels said. He cites having 11 cameras, “incredible lights, great equipment, and a great stage,” to be able to do something of this magnitude.

The finished product features hit songs like “The Legend of Wooley Swamp,” “Long Haired Country Boy,” “The South’s Gonna Do It (Again),” and the song Daniels is perhaps best known for, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

“We were able to do a very quality DVD of our performance,” he said. “It’s an hour performance. There are interviews and footage from our first trip to Iraq. It’s all about the CDB, who we are, what we’ve been up to, and what we are up to.”

Each year, the band takes the months of January and February off, then as spring blossoms, the band gets busier and busier, building up to the summer months, when it is on the road basically non-stop, doing about 110 to 120 shows a year, Daniels said.

“We’ve played a lot in Minnesota over the years – of course, it’s a big state, so we’ve been all over it,” he said with a laugh.

Daniels and his band recently returned from a trip overseas to play for troops stationed in Iraq; an experience he calls “enlightening.”

His ties to the military go back many years. He first started playing music professionally in Jackson, North Carolina, which is the home of the Second Marine Division.

“I’m no stranger to the military, and I can’t remember a finer bunch of young men and women in any of our militaries in, any of the years, than we have right now,” Daniels said. “They are all the things that we wish all American youth had. They are disciplined, they respond incredibly to authority, they are healthy, motivated, educated – they’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to go and do what needs to be done. It’s an honor to be among young men and women who have given up some of their prime years to serve this nation.”

Daniels said he feels there is “no doubt we are winning the war over there.”

“I know there’s a big political thing going on right now – one side saying yes we are, one side saying no we’re not, but from my impression from going last year, and going this year, there has been a lot of headway made,” Daniels said. “There’s a lot of progress that’s being made that’s not being reflected in the coverage that we’re getting.”

After he returned back to his home in Tennessee, Daniels was asked many times about his time spent in Iraq, and said he has a hard time coming up with words to describe it.

“You can’t call it fun,” he said. “You don’t want to see young people in life-threatening situations, having to carry guns and riding on helicopters with machine guns out each door . . . you can’t describe it as fun. I would just describe it as an honor to be there. It was enlightening.”

Now that he is back home, Daniels and his crew are hitting the road, mainly doing shows on the weekends until the heart of the summer. In between show dates, he is also working two different albums, including a duet album, which will feature big-named artists like Gretchen Wilson, Brad Paisley, and Brenda Lee.

“I’m taking my time with it, because I want to make sure we get as many people as we can involved with it, and the right people,” Daniels said.

His other project, which has been put on the back burner for the time being, will feature his band, and its progression through the years. Throughout his many years of making music and hitting the road, his love for the industry has never faded.

“I love what I do. I sincerely do,” Daniels said. “I look forward to going to work at night. I look forward to everything I do – some more than others obviously. My very favorite thing to do is performing – I love live performing, but I love it all . . . It’s not without difficulty sometimes, or things happening you wish didn’t happen, but all in all, my life has been just blessed by God and it rolls along. We’re very, very blessed. I enjoy it every day.”

Approaching the age of 70, Daniels said he frequently gets asked when he is going to retire. He doubts he could ever find anything to do as much as he enjoys music.

“I sit around playing guitar in the living room – I might as well be getting paid for it,” he said with a laugh. “I still got a lot of music left in me that hasn’t come to the surface yet.”

From where Daniels was sitting when he called from his tour bus, he said he can pull out a guitar and/or a fiddle at any time.

“I keep instruments around me so I can do my writing, and take my ideas and practice them and keep my chops up,” Daniels said. “I’ve always got something in the works.”

Even though he is constantly working on new thoughts and ideas, that doesn’t mean Daniels minds going out and performing his hits like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” night after night. He knows some of those hits from earlier in his career are what the fans wants to see.

“I get a chance to play it better tonight than I did last night, and I’ll be able to play it better tomorrow night than I did tonight,” he explained. “Believe it or not, I have never played it perfectly to my total satisfaction, so I keep trying every day to play it better and better.”

Like fellow Winstock 2006 performer Little Big Town, Daniels was excited to learn about Lynyrd Skynyrd performing the same night as him at Winstock.

“They’re one of my favorites,” he said. “Our histories together go way, way back. Ronnie Van Zant (the late original lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd) was a good friend of mine. There has been so much tragedy in that band, and yet they keep playing . . . that they have been able to maintain that Lynyrd Skynyrd sound – that’s a great tribute to them, and I am so happy that they got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t think anybody has ever deserved it more than they do.”

Daniels is excited to be coming back to Minnesota, and noted the area was instrumental in the success he had earlier in his career.

“That part of the world was one of the first places that paid very much attention to The Charlie Daniels Band,” he said. “We appreciate it and have had a lot of fans up there for a long time. We will not disappoint you – come see us.”

Charlie Daniels called May 11 while on the road in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, which is near Charleston, where the band was getting ready for an evening show.

Daniels and his band will perform at the Winstock Country Music Festival in Winsted Saturday, June 10. He is scheduled to take the stage at 4:55 p.m.

For more information on Winstock, visit www.winstockfestival.com, or call 1-888-946-7865.

For more information on Charlie Daniels, visit www.charliedaniels.com.

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