*Charlie Daniels passed away this morning at the age of 83.
The 1970’s in the American south was truly a time of innovation, recognition and acclaim. A Georgia peanut farmer won the White House, Muscle Shoals became the center of the music world, a couple bands from Jacksonville would create and expand an entirely new genre. And there would be a session musician and master of anything with strings from Wilmington, North Carolina named Charlie Daniels that would end up tying all of that transcendence together.
Daniels first success as a musician came in the studios of Nashville, but it was the formation of his seminal Charlie Daniels Band that would allow him to truly take his talents to the world. CDB’s radio success started with the rambling narrative song “Uneasy Rider” and would continue on the charts for the next two decades. This was a man and band as at home in the hallowed circle at the Ryman as he and they were in front of 40,000 Allman Brothers fans tripping on acid. Daniels sang and played with a swag and style that reeked of rock n’ roll, but he never abandoned the bluegrass roots at the anchor of his arrangements. The fiddle made him famous, but he was just as dangerous with a goldtop Les Paul in his hands. “He’s the Charlie Daniels of the torque wrench” only made so much sense because Charlie Daniels was singularly remarkable at what he did.
He was one of the only folks on the planet that could put Ronnie Van Zant in his place when need be, and on record he always sounded fearless. That fearlessness was ratcheted up when the Charlie Daniels Band would perform live. Members came and went over the years, but the sonic output remained the same. Daniels could turn up the redneck authenticity and go super country “Long Haired Country Boy” and he could rock too (see “Legend of Wooley Swamp”). Of course, his signature song “Devil Went Down to Georgia” showcases both sides of the coin on the same song.
Daniels was a complex man and a complex musician. He was influenced by everything around him and had a way to distill it and turn it into pure Charlie Daniels Band fodder. He eschewed many of the Nashville machinations of the era and recorded in Macon, Georgia for the most part. Cutting his own songs and doing things his way. All without the marketing ploy of being called an “Outlaw”. Fire on the Mountain and Saddle Tramp are perhaps the creative zenith. Yes, you’ll even find him on the Urban Cowboy soundtrack alongside Bonnie Raitt and Johnny Lee. Even in the late 80’s when the class of ’89 was beckoning with folks like Garth Brooks, Clint Black and Alan Jackson, Daniels was still doing his thing and finding success with the Simple Man project.
His output didn’t really lose its fizzle until the 90s when he became as absorbed in political ideologies as he did creating songs. Through it all, the CDB remained a steady draw on the road and never stopped giving the fans what they wanted or paid to see. Charlie Daniels had a work ethic and he pushed it to the end of his road.
Country music wouldn’t be the same today without him or his contributions. The same could be said for Texas/Red Dirt music. The influence of Charlie Daniels is most obvious in the fiddle playing of Brady Black of the Randy Rogers Band and Kyle Nix of Turnpike Troubadours. But, his attitude and the way he arranged songs with southern rock guitars and fiddles all blared way up in the mix set a template that folks are still looking to for inspiration.