Charlie Daniels, May 15, 2001

 

Written and photos by: Jason Perlman

 

Jason Perlman: So, how's it goin' these days? You've been able to do this for a while.
Charlie Daniels: It’s going good. We are rocking and rolling! Oh yea, we sure have that. We’ve been at it for a long time.

JP: And you have been doing this Volunteer Jam for a while now.
CD: Well, you know, we don’t follow trends or fads or anything like that. I think that makes a difference. People know they’re going to get something pretty consistent. I absolutely refuse to do a bad show. Some shows are definitely better than others, but I refuse to do a bad one. And we’d been pretty consistent through the years, I’d say.

JP: The one thing about going to the Jam is you are going to see people of all different backgrounds and with different musical tastes. Does it surprise you at all?
CD: We started it in 1974, but we never took it on the road ‘til the last three years. This is our third year of touring with it. And we just decided to, and to be honest with ya, bud, I don’t remember the exact reason that prompted it, but we decided to take it on the road for a change. So, like I say, we are in our third season of doing that now.

JP: Yea, and I think the one thing they appreciate is it is live music. Music meant to be played and heard sitting outside with a drink, not in your living room.
CD: Oh, we have a ball with it, I tell you what. It’s a fun show. It’s got a real loose sort of feel to it and we are really getting into the Jam of it. We got Dickie Betts, who is out with us, and of course we go way back. We have jammed a bunch together. It’s like, Dickie just walks out on stage with us and we get in honkin’ boy.

JP: You have been at this for a while, how long can you go on doing this, or even want to?
CD: You know, in my personal life I like all kinds of different music. My record collection has just about any kind of music you could think of. Except rap, I don’t get into rap. I never understood rap. But just about any other kind of music I really am into. I’ve got classical records. Jazz records. I have really been getting into jazz. Did you happen to catch any of that Ken Burns' thing he did about Jazz? I thought it was one of the finest pieces of work I have ever seen. I really got into that. I had kinda forgotten and really not gotten into Jazz for the last several years, and I really got back into listening to it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a fun music.

JP: You seem to have toured with anybody who is anybody. Is there anyone you'd like to share the stage with?
CD: That’s true and I feel the same way about it. That’s what it is all about to me, is the live show. I mean, you could do all kinds of records and stay in the studio all the time, but that’s not my thing. I enjoy studio work, but nowhere close to what I do playing live.

JP: Well, you were with Hank Jr. last year, and Columbus sold out of beer early on.
CD: As long as it’s the good Lord’s will and the people want to see me, I’ll be right out here picking and grinning, ya know? I can’t imagine not doing … I’ve had people say, ‘When are you going to retire?’ Retire from what? What am I going to do? Sit around in my living room and play guitar all the time. I wouldn’t have any thing else to do. I can’t imagine my life without music. So, I’d be doing music in some form, so I might as well be out doing it on the road.

JP: Is there anyone out there today you woldn't mind hitting the highways with?
CD: Well, I’m sure there will always be somebody we would enjoy touring with. But we have toured with a lot of folks. Gosh, we have played dates with the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, just so darned many people. I wouldn’t mind touring with BB King. I love BB king. Other than that, I really can’t think of anybody off the top of my head. I’m sure that if I put a lot of thought into it I probably could.

JP: And you have some rowdy fans who like to have a good time.
CD: I don’t know if that’s good or what. I tell you what; our crowds are not the destructive-type rowdies by any means. I mean, they don’t get up and throw chairs and stuff like that. But they like to have a good time. They are very demonstrative about enjoying themselves. And the more they enjoy it, the more we enjoy it. We kind of feed off each other. You go to a CDB concert and it just may be loud and raucous, but it’s a lot of fun.

JP: You just released a new single, called 'High Speed Heroes,' as a tribute to Dale Earnhardt
CD: You know that’s a little bit of a misconception. It definitely is a tribute to Dale in one aspect, but there is a lot more to it than that. It starts back with the dirt tracks and the guys that drive on dirt tracks and it gets around to ... It certainly is a tribute to Dale, the last part of it, but there are other things involved also.

JP: So you are a big racing fan?
CD: Well, if you are born in the Southeast, if you are from the Southeast and North Carolina, which is where I am from, if you are from the Southeast you can just about figure you are going to be exposed to a lot of racing. That’s where a lot of it originated. So I have been aware of racing all of my life. I have not been the type of person that watches it every week on TV. I don’t have time. But I do enjoy it. And like I say, when you come from the Southeast, it’s almost like part of your life. It’s just something you are going to be exposed to. But I would say, yea, I am definitely a racing fan. I don’t live and die by it, but I am a racing fan.

JP: You kind of started a trend of allowing the fiddle to be a Top 40 instrument. That couldn't have been by design, could it?
CD: It was kind of strange the way that actually happened. I played fiddle back when I played in a bluegrass band when I first started out. When I started playing rock music with Elvis, and Bill Haley and the Comets, Fats Domino and Little Richard and so on, there was no fiddle. And I just quit playing the fiddle. For several years I just did not play it. For some reason, one night I just picked it up and started fooling with it and played on stage with it. Played Orange Blossom Special with it and people really liked it. So I started putting it back into the show and I’d play a song. Then, when I went in to the recording studio again, I thought, ‘Well, I’m gonna give it a shot.’ I started to say it’s been by accident, but it’s not by accident. I guess you can call it be design because I did to it on purpose. But, it was just kind of a thing where I just decided to kind of break ranks with everybody else and do what I wanted to do and I have always been glad I have done that because that’s the only way to go, really. I never did any good in this business until I decided to just be myself and not try to sound like anybody else or be like anybody else. It’s been a gratifying thing to do. It’s been a wonderful way to go, just being your own self and do what you do. If the fiddle works for you, then get in on with it. If it doesn’t work for somebody else, well, that’s just too dang bad.

JP: There have been numerous country and non-country bands pay homage to you and the path you helped pave. Can you see yourself as a pioneer in this industry?
CD: I don’t look at myself that way, actually. It’s nothing I dwell on. But when somebody else does bring it up, it’s very gratifying. I am tremendously humbled by it and for somebody to think I had influence. I can’t hear, well, actually I can hear some of my stuff in some of the things other people do. It feels good. It does, it just does. Its pretty dog gone amazing.

JP: Charlie Daniels has been a part of music since the days before commercialism, videos and FM radio. Have you seen a change in music and has it changed for the better?
CD: There are good things and bad things. A lot of people in the music industry are in it strictly for the money. There is nothing wrong with it particularly, but it’s not … this business was not founded on people who strictly want to make money. It took a lot of dedication. I think back to all the young disc jockeys who worked for next to nothing at the radio stations, especially on the rock stations before rock really came around. And the kids worked for next to nothing just to be on the air and let it be the lead in. I think this thing capitalized on by some people who really don’t particularly give a darn about the music. It’s just a paycheck to them. And I hate to see that happen. I hate to see music become such a business that value, and I hate the word product, but I will use it for easiness sake, but it becomes just a product. It just doesn’t mean anything other than money. I just don’t think about music that way. I think of music in a whole different way, and it is such a big part of my life. And I hope there will be some people that will get back into it, and there are still some people, that really love what they are doing and not be motivated strictly by money.

JP: The one thing a fan can count on is Charlie Daniels has a great relationship with his fans?
CD: You owe it to people. People who buy your records and your concert tickets. If you ain’t got a minute for them, then you ought to get out of this business, is the way I look at it. Nothing aggravates me very much, but to see somebody mistreating a fan or to not appreciate their fans. My fans have been won long and hard, and I appreciate every one that we have. It seems like people who don’t appreciate their fans stay around for very long.

JP: And you have .38 Special on tour with you this year.
CD: Ohh, they’re great. You know, we have history together and we have worked together before. In fact, I was just talking to Donnie the other night, and it’s funny. You get to know people and it’s like, ‘How’s your dad doin’?’ ‘Can we get him out to the show in Jacksonville?’ ‘Gimme his phone number, I’m gonna call him.’ It’s that kinda thing. That was one of the things that I think Southern musicians have that a lot of the other groups don’t, because it’s a familiarity sort of a thing. You know, ‘How’s the family?’ ‘How’s this?’ ‘How’s that?’ You just get to know people a little better because the people involved in music down here were people who came up basically the same way. Came up with the same religious and financial situation. You don’t meet a stranger is what I am trying to say. Most of the guys, we are all pretty friendly to each other.

JP: Does it ever surprise you how the North and Midwest embrace your Southern sound?
CD: You know, oddly enough, when we started playing, out first big markets were in the North and Midwest before we ever made very much headway in the South. It was Chicago, which was an early on big market, Kansas and Indianapolis. I remember having crowds there that we weren’t ever expecting. And that was very early on. We have kind of a history with that part of the world. We have a long-running love affair at least and an awful friendly feeling toward each other.

JP: When you were a little Charlie in North Carolina picking at the fiddle, did you ever imagine you would still be playing in front of this many people in the new millennium?
CD: Absolutely not. I had no idea. In fact, when I was a kid I used to think, you were talking about the new millenium. When I was a kid, I thought ‘Gosh, I will be 63 years old, that’ll be forever.’ And sure enough, time goes by and before you know it I am 63 years old and it is a new millenium. But, even that is pretty neat, really, to see a new millenium. I mean, how many people do that? I know a lot of people right now have, but how many people have I known in my lifetime didn’t live to see the new millenium? It’s pretty neat.

JP: How does it make you feel to see kids enjoying your music?
CD: I absolutely love it. Absolutely love it. I have had so many good things happen to me that it’s just mind-boggling. Just literally mind boggling to think of all the things I have done, accolades I have received, all of the incredible things that have happened to me. You look back over the years, its just mind-boggling. New generations of fans are the most mind-boggling. I still get requests for ‘Uneasy Rider’ from kids that weren’t eve alive when that song was written. And of all the songs that we have, you would think a piece out of time would be that one because it was a time of hippies and rednecks. When the kids used to wear their hair long and the rednecks used to make fun of ‘em for it. If there was a song frozen in time, it was that one. And I still get requests from kids for this song. To me, it’s really amazing.

JP: If you never made it in music, can you picture yourself doing something else?
CD: I had no idea. You know, I started professionally in 1958 and I just can’t imagine doing anything else or having spent my life any other way. I’m not much of a person to think ‘What if?’ I’ve never been much for that. I can’t do anything about it anyway. Just kind of let things roll as they will. I just can’t imagine what I would have done. I can’t imagine doing anything else I would have enjoyed as much as I enjoy this.