Today’s Guest: Charlie Daniels, country singer, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “Still in Saigon”
(NOTE — This interview with Charlie Daniels was originally published on November 11, 1984. As you’ll read, I always enjoyed talking to Charlie! — Bob Andelman)
Big, burly and wholly countrified, Charlie Daniels is one of the friendliest, most amiable performers working today.
Two years ago in Lakeland, backstage after his show at the Civic Center, Daniels quietly interrupted this reporter’s very first question.
“Mr. Daniels, do you think …”
“Don’t call me ‘Mr. Daniels’, “he said.” ‘That’s my daddy’s name. Just call me Charlie.’”
In a telephone interview last week, Charlie said he was doing “purty good- better an’ better, I reckon.”
The Charlie Daniels Band is the opening night headliner at the five-day Florida Fall Festival.
“I THOROUGHLY love gettin’ on stage,” he said. “We’re very cognitive of the fact that we have to sell records and that we have to keep the energy in our show so people will want to come back an’ see you year after year. When we’re on the road, we live for that 9:20.We’re just chompin’ to get out there an’ entertain people.”
Daniels, at 47, hasn’t released an all-new collection of songs since 1982, when Windows went gold. His last album, Decade of Hits, was released in early summer 1983. It was a retrospective of his most popular material, including “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” “Still in Saigon” and “In America.” He plans to have a new album, Honky-Tonk Avenue, in stores by February.
It is his reputation as a storyteller i that has always preceded him, whether he’s singing about the ghost of Lucius Clay in “The Legend of the Wooley Swamp,” the fiddler who beats Satan in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” or the wild young men portrayed in “Uneasy Rider” and “Long Haired Country Boy.” Daniels’ characters are all drawn from the South but are unlike any described by Tennessee Williams or William Faulkner.
CHARLIE DANIELS interview excerpt: “‘In America’ came from the Iranian crisis. It really kind of jolted everybody awake, that someone could do somethin’ like that to our country. Patriotism runs a lot deeper in America than they would have you think a lot of times,” he says. “If it comes to something that would display some type of emotion, moral, idea, some feelin’, yeah, I don’t hesitate to do that at all.”
DANIELS GREW up in a “pretty isolated part” of North Carolina, near Wilmington. He said his background in storytelling comes from listening to “nameless; faceless old men,” sitting around hunting fires when he was a boy.
“I never saw a television set with a picture on it ‘til I was 15 years old. People communicated a little more there. They entertained themselves by talkin’. I think that was kind a the day of the storyteller. Some people just had a way of telling the simplest thing, making it sound good. I’ve heard ghost stories an’ huntin’ stories … it’s not so much the story as the guy who’s tellin’ it. .
“Some people just have a flair for tellin’ stories, almost like they’re on stage, sittin’ around with two or three people. They use all the gestures with their hands, the voices – they imitate people they (are) tellin’ the story about. I was not that much of just a sit-down type storyteller. But I’ve always admired people that could be an’ I’m sure that’s where a lot of my affection for that sort of thing comes from.”
Until recently, most of his storytelling has been done in song. But he has begun a new career of sorts, writing short stories.
“Ah,” he explained, “just mainly for the most part nonsensical sorts of things, humorous, more or less, tongue-in-cheek, kinda set in the surroundings of the town I came up in North Carolina and the way people were in the pre-television days. They’re adult stories – I don’t mean in the language or the story manner – I don’t think 7, 8-year-old kids would particularly get a charge out of it. Rural-type people, I think, would get more of a charge out of my stories because I use that vernacular.”
The short stories, he added, should see print in some form next year.
Whether it be a song or a short story, though. Daniels is likely to . have -a strong message to get across, as he did with the super-patriotic “In America.”
NONETHELESS, HE insisted his prime concern in doing a song is that it be entertaining. “That’s the first thing.” Then, he confessed, if there happens to be a moral or lesson, “an’ it can be told in less than a morbid or preachin’ type way, I enjoy gettin’ somethin’ across. But … I’m not trying to be Bob Dylan. I’m not trying to be an angry young man or the angry old man of the ‘8Os.
“ ‘In America’ came from the Iranian crisis. It really kind of jolted everybody awake, that someone could do somethin’ like that to our country. Patriotism runs a lot deeper in America than they would have you think a lot of times,” he says. “If it comes to something that would display some type of emotion, moral, idea, some feelin’, yeah, I don’t hesitate to do that at all.”
When Daniels recorded Dan Daley’s composition “Still in Saigon” for the Windows album almost three years ago, he was apprehensive, he admitted. Having never been in the service, he was uncomfortable because men who had served in Vietnam might think he was trying to put himself in their place, speaking for them.
“They have a lot to say, and I’m not the one to say it,” he says, but even so, his production of the song and subsequent visits to V.A. hospitals won “overwhelming response” from veterans.
“My reading of the song is it hopefully gives people an insight into how these guys felt when they came home from war. This song kinda said somethin’ that they didn’t get a chance to say. They felt like hidin’ all the time, that nobody sympathizes with them. ‘Their brothers called them baby killers, their daddy called them veterans.’ It was just an impossible, catch-22 situation. They just kinda melted out of public view. These guys got swept under the rug when they came home from the war. They’ve been fighting a long hard war to get anything done for the drastic needs Vietnam vets have, the main one being a degree of respect.”
Perhaps altruistically, he disputes credit in releasing the record. “My motives for recording it were not as noble as they’re bein’ read to be. I recorded it because it’s a good song.”
The singer-songwriter, also proficient on the guitar and fiddle, said he can see definite developments in his music over the past 10 years.
“YOU CAN sit back an’ listen to the older things … recording techniques have changed, the band has been together longer, plays tighter, my vocal style’s changed to some extent over the years,” he said.
Daniels is “pretty much happy with the writing” of the songs. “In fact I’m probably happier with that than the other part of it … I’m motivated by the world around me, as we all are. I think, for some reason or other. my songs kinda tend to take on current events, I would say my basic philosophy has not changed, as far as the quality of the song an’ bein’ able to get my point across.”
Everything in his environment, he said, shapes his attitude.
All of that is important to Charlie Daniels, but it won’t get in the way-of a good time, like. his coming 11th annual Volunteer Jam scheduled for Feb. 2 at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium.
In years past, the eight-hour, marathon concert has been host to a diversity of unannounced guests including Billy Joel, James Brown, Ted Nugent, Woody Herman, Larry Gatlin, Willie Nelson and Carl Perkins.
This year, too, “it’s gonna be quite a show,” he boasted. “I can’t tell you who’s gonna be there, but it’s gonna be a tallywhacker of a show. You never know who’s going to walk on. There’s jus’ no tellin’. It’s a celebration more than just a concert of music. You’d really enjoy yourself. He laughs. “I guarantee it!”