Charlie Daniels Interview – 60 years of entertaining fans

Charlie DanielsOn March 6, 2014, News & Views publisher Tim Collins had the opportunity to interview Charlie Daniels. He will be appearing at Mill Town Music Hall in Bremen on April 12. Here is a complete transcript of the Charlie Daniels interview. He was super easy to talk to, as he talked about his career that has spanned 60 years. Tim was able to ask him some questions that he does not get asked frequently, so hopefully you'll learn something new about this legend.

Tim: I know you just launched a tour. Is there a particular theme for this tour?

Charlie: Not really. Once in a while when we have an album come out, we’ll name the tour after the album, but I hadn’t really thought too much about it. I wasn’t sure if I should name it “Off the Grid Tour” or not, because the new album is called Off The Grid. We haven’t really discussed it all that much. We just started touring last weekend, and I’m out in Indiana right now as I am speaking to you. Sometimes we just go out and do a tour and don’t name it anything, you know?

Tim: You tour a LOT! I was looking at your schedule. How many dates do you have this year?

Charlie: We’ll do around 100 to 110 this year, and then we’ll do 10 Grand Ole Opry appearances, probably some recording, and I’ll do probably somewhere around 200 to 300 interviews, roughly traveling around 100,000 miles – enough to keep a 77 year-old pretty busy.

Tim: (laughs) I was going to say – I am 54, but I don’t think I could keep up with that pace – that’s amazing!

Charlie: Oh, I imagine you probably could. I think you could. You get used to it. If you love it like I do, you can. That’s the thing. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to enjoy every facet of what you do, and I DO enjoy every facet. My favorite thing, and what keeps me going is playing live. I love to do live shows. But I love it all. I love what I’m doing now. I love doing interviews and talking to people, the recording, the writing, the whole thing. I don’t think you can survive in this business or any other one that involves a lot of traveling unless you love what you do.

Tim: That makes a lot of sense. I know on April 12th, you are coming to Bremen, Georgia at Mill Town Music Hall. What can fans expect a concert like that to be like, in general?

Charlie: You know there are songs that people buy tickets to hear us play, and we realize that. If I didn’t do Devil Went Down to Georgia, and Long Haired Country Boy, and Legend of Wooley Swamp and the things that people have heard us do over the years, people would feel like they were cheated, and I would feel like I was cheating them. So we always do the songs that people have a perfect right to expect us to play. And then, I usually have about four or five places in the set that we can put some new stuff, maybe old stuff we haven’t done in a while, or whatever we decide to do. This year, two of the songs that we do will be off our new “Off The Grid” album – the Bob Dylan song album that we are doing. We might grab old songs - something that was not played on the radio a lot but something that people like and something that people enjoy the band playing. We always try to have a few surprises in there. We keep coming around year after year, so we’ve got to be a little bit different.

Tim: Tell me a little bit about “Off the Grid”? What inspired you to do that album, and what are some of the songs on it?

Charlie: It’s kind of funny in a way. We were approached by the folks that do the Hell on Wheels television show. It’s a cable show that takes place back in the 1800s, and they wanted us to do a song for it, which we did. But, since the show takes place in the 1800s, we had to use instruments that were around in the 1800s. And we did that, and we were so taken with the way that it sounded – it was a whole new sound for us. We’d never done that before. And we said, “We should do an album”. I guess it had always been in the back of my mind to do some Dylan music, and I thought “What a great time to do that – let’s do an album of Bob Dylan songs.” That’s basically how it came about. We really enjoyed it. The band really got into it, and the guys really played well and were really creative on it, and I am very happy with the result.

Tim: Have most of the members of the band been with you for a long time?

Charlie: Yeah. Our newest member is going into three years. Our keyboard player, Taz Digregorio got killed in a car wreck three years ago, and he took his place. But everybody else has been around for, gosh, my newest member after that would probably be ten years.

Tim: What is the most unusual thing that you can remember happening at one of your concerts?

Charlie: Well I remember I walked out on stage one night in Washington with my pants unzipped in front of several thousand people. (laughs) That was a little different experience. Gosh, you never know what is going to happen. But basically, we come out on stage and do our show. That’s what we’re into. That’s what we are there for. That’s what we do. And we are so into it, that very little ever disturbs our show.

Tim: Looking back at your career, there have to be so many great memories. Is there one “special” moment that stands out above the rest?

Charlie: Well, one of the memories that really stands out, that you remember where you were, was the night when we found out that Skynrd’s plane crash went down. We were doing a concert in St. Louis. I remember when I found out about it. I had heard a rumor, but I found out right before I went on stage that it was fact. When we went on stage we knew there were fatalities, but they were holding the names pending notification of next of kin. We knew we had some friends that died but we didn’t know who they were. It was a pretty strange night. Not one that I would want to repeat.

Tim: It was probably difficult to play that night.

Charlie: Yeah. We took it out on the music that night. We played a long time. That’s all we could do. We couldn’t do anything else.

Tim: Are you writing any new material lately?

Charlie: I am always writing new material. Constantly, I’ve always got some songs in the works at one stage or another of being finished. I don’t have anything right now that I am looking to go in and record right away. But, I will be. I told somebody the other day I need to live to be 110 years old to get everything that I want to get done before I pass away. So, I’ve always got something to do. I have not been bored in years. I have no reason to be. I’ve always got something interesting to do - something that I enjoy.

Tim: if someone looks back at your career and your life, is there something that you would want to be remembered for – like Charlie Daniels was this?

Charlie: Gosh, I don’t think anybody deserves to be remembered for any more or any less than they were. I think memories of the people are in the eye of the beholder, in the psyche of the one that remembers. So, one person remembers one way, and one another. So, however they would perceive me as being, is how I deserve to be remembered.

Tim: You have played in huge arenas, and some smaller venues, like Mill Town Music Hall will be. Do you have a preference, and what is different about playing in a smaller venue than a big arena?

Charlie: I don’t differentiate between venues. I walk up on stage and the people at Mill Town will get the same show that a large arena would get. I mean playing at a smaller venue is a little more intimate. You feel a little closer to the folks. You feel more in touch than you do in a venue where the crowd is way back, and they have a big barrier between you and the crowd – that sort of thing. But like I say, I just go on and do the same show. When people buy tickets, they deserve a show, and when they come to see us they’re going to get the best event available that night.

Tim: I know faith is a big part of who you are. Was there one particular thing that caused you to grow in faith, or has it been a process over the years.

Charlie: It’s been a process – a process of trying to become a better person. Trying to do like God wants me to do, with the will of God becoming the most important thing in your life - which I am still striving for. We all know it’s what we should be doing. You know, it’s a constant, ongoing thing, to try to get there.

Tim: When people listen to a Charlie Daniels song, what influence or effect do you want it to have on them?

Charlie: Well, I want to entertain. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what they listen for. They want to be entertained. That’s what I do - I am an entertainer. I want them, when they walk out to feel like, “Man I had a great time and I want to go back and see them next time when they come back into town”. That’s my whole purpose right there. I want to do this right, on and on, and I can’t do this if people don’t come back and see me again.

Tim: You came out with a book called The Devil Went Down To Georgia: Stories By Charlie Daniels. What brought that about?

Charlie: It was quite a few years ago that we came out with that. It was a book of short stories that I had written. A friend of mine said, “You write short story songs – why don’t you write short stories?” So, I did. I sat down in a motel room when I was on the road one day and I wrote a short story.

Tim: Are they fictional, or like life stories?

Charlie: Well, there’s a LITTLE bit of autobiography in there, but not a day-to-day sort of thing or anything. Maybe taking some traits from some people I know or have known and magnifying them, and if somebody was silly or funny making them bigger than life. But it’s not like a life of Charlie Daniels or anything like that.

Tim: I know the military is very important to you. What are some things that you are involved in to help members of the armed services?

Charlie: Well, we’ve toured extensively. Well, I don’t think you can ever really tour extensively for the military. We’ve done quite a few shows for the military in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Kuwait, and Uzbekistan, Kurdistan, Bosnia, Kosovo. We’ve been around a lot of places where they are. I feel very beholden to the military. I feel that we owe them an un-payable debt of gratitude. And I do things during the year. We’ve got a thing in Nashville – it’s called Charlie Daniels Scholarships for Heroes, which raises money and tries to raise awareness, to award scholarships to our wounded veterans, at Lipscomb University in Nashville. We’re in our 5th year now. We started with just a handful of students, and now we’re up to over 200.

Tim: If you look back at Charlie Daniels as a musician and as a person over the span of your career, how would you say that you have changed?

Charlie: Well, I have mellowed a lot, as far as that goes. I am able to view things a little different than I used to. I take the long view a lot more. I attach importance to things now that I feel need to have importance attached to them, and things that do not really matter I just ignore them and move on.

Tim: How old were you when you first started playing the fiddle, and you gave your first public performance?

Charlie: I was about 16 when I first started playing. I’ve never been bashful about performance. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but suffice it to say it was probably the first time that I could scratch out a tune (laughs).

Tim: Wow – so you started the band not that long after that, right?

Charlie: Actually the first band that I ever played in, like on a regular basis as a working band that was actually making money, was started back in 1956. But it was not the band I have now. Not even close to the band I have now. And our whole musical philosophy was different because we were a copy band. We didn’t write our own stuff or anything. It took me many years before I got into that.

Tim: What do you like most about the fiddle as an instrument?

Charlie: Well, it’s a fun instrument to play. People seem to kind of get into it. When you bring the fiddle out, I think everybody thinks that we’re going to stomp our feet for a while and have a good time. And that’s the way it should be. That’s what we want people to do. But it’s just a fun instrument to play. It’s a little different. Every band doesn’t have a fiddle in it, so when you bring the fiddle out, you bring a little bit of separation from everybody else.

Tim: Of all of your songs, which ones are the most popular commercially? Is it The Devil Went Down to Georgia?

Charlie: Absolutely. That’s our signature. I mean that’s the tune that everybody identifies us with. I mean all the people in (pause) Holland know. (laughs) They do know that one. That’s the song that – if you say Charlie Daniels Band – that’s the song that everybody is going to say “Yeah, The Devil Went Down to Georgia – we know that one. That’s the only one we know but that’s the one we do know”.

Tim: They probably know all the words to it too.

Charlie: To some degree or another, yeah (laughs).

Tim: In looking at your Discography, you have another song called Georgia. Does the state of Georgia have any particular significance to you?

Charlie: Oh yeah. I have a history with Georgia. I lived a couple of places in Georgia back in my early years. Back when I was a kid I lived in Valdosta for a while and I lived in Baxley for a while. Yeah, me and Georgia have a history together. It’s a special place to me and it always has been. And I love the name Georgia. It just kind of lends itself to…it’s kind of a poetic sort of a name.

Tim: It is kind of – I never thought about that. Is there one particular moment that you could say was your “Big Break”?

Charlie: Not really it’s been more of a collage of smaller things that would count up over the years. Little things that would happen like being in the right place at the right time for the Bob Dylan sessions I did on Nashville Skyline. It’s all just been the blessings of God. God knew I wanted this bad. The Bible says you get the desires of your heart, and that’s exactly what has happened. He has given me so many desires of my heart, and He still is because I am doing what I want to do now. If somebody told me you can be the, which I am not qualified to be, but the president of General Motors I’d say no, and I’d just keep on pickin’. It’s what I love to do – what I’m about, where my heart is. And I would not trade places with anybody.

Tim: What are your plans for the future?

Charlie: Doing the same thing I have been doing now. Just more records, more touring, more Grand Ole Opry, more creating music and recording music, and being a part of this business that I love so much.

Tim: Do you ever plan to retire, or are you just going to keep on going?

Charlie: I have no plans for retirement and have made no plans for retirement. Obviously I’ll have to quit one of these days for one reason or another, I mean, if for no other reason than I die. But as long as it’s God’s will for me to do this, and as long as people want to hear me, I’ll be out here doing it.

Tim: I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me, and I am really looking forward to seeing you when you come to Mill Town Music Hall in Bremen, Georgia.

Charlie: It will be my pleasure. Thank you my friend. God bless you.

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