Charlie Daniels started his music career in the 1950s as a studio session musician playing fiddle. Charlie also wrote music, which has been recorded by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and many others. Daniels' 1979 hit, "The Devil Went Down To Georgia," won the 1979 Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance. Charlie Daniels has also written several books, and is now on a tour that included a stop in Iraq. Daniels recently spoke with VOA's Larry London to discuss his life in music.
Although Charlie Daniels is an award-winning musician, songwriter, producer and performer who has spent 50 years in the music business, there is one label that gives him the most pride.
"I am not the most gifted musician around,” he says. “I am not a natural musician. I have to work a little harder at it. I found out a long time ago musicians get out of work but entertainers never do, so I have always tried to be an entertainer."
Daniels' music defies classification. He grew up listening to gospel, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, and country. Daniels talks about listening to the rural radio stations that helped to shape his musical taste.
"During the course of the day they played some of all kinds of music. They would start off the day with country music, and then in the afternoon, when the kids came home from school and whatever the popular music would be, they would have a spasm of playing that. If you are from the Southeast, you are always exposed to blues and gospel music. I was exposed to so many different kids of music. I went through the big band era, the early rock era, the Elvis [Presley] era, all of these different kinds of eras. I was exposed to so many different kinds of music, and when I sit down to write original music it all just came into my subconscious or whatever, and leaped out in the form of different songs and different band arrangements because we do play a big variety of music."
Daniels is proud of his heritage, growing up in the southern United States. He fiercely defends the culture and the rural way of life.
Daniels recently edited a collection of essays on what it was like to “grow up country.” The book includes chapters by people in many different professions including a former U.S. President.
"I got a response from a NASCAR (auto racing) champion, a rodeo champion, an ex-President, many, many music people … about three generations of people,” he tells us. “The interesting part about the book is, from my point of view and [former U.S. President] Jimmy Carter's point of view who wrote a piece in the book, growing up country at the time we grew up was totally different from, like a Carrie Underwood, who’s a new artist that grew up in Oklahoma a couple generations later. There are some common things that run through it. There is a big emphasis on family and the people in the music business. There is a big emphasis on that they (musicians) really wanted to make it in the music business."
As a struggling musician, Daniels managed to talk his way into playing on a recording session for legendary songwriter Bob Dylan. As Daniels was packing up to leave for another job, Dylan asked him where he was going and then demanded that Daniels stay to play on the rest of the album. "He [Dylan] will never understand what those nine words meant to me career-wise, certainly because he was always kind enough to put the studio musicians' names on his albums, and that was a very special memory. I went on to do three albums with Bob [Dylan].
Deuces is the latest Charlie Daniels CD release. He has paired himself with vocalists from a variety of musical styles. Charlie wouldn't have it any other way.