April 18th, 2008 at 6:30 am
The Charlie Daniels comes down to Fayetteville on April 25. Courtesy photo.
Although many may know him best for the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Daniels is entering his 50th year of making music. Prior to his performance here on April 25, he chatted with the Northwest Arkansas Times about why Bob Dylan reminds him of William Shakespeare, his longevity in the music business, why he dislikes the video game “Guitar Hero 3” and other topics.
Charlie Daniels: Sorry about calling so late. I ran into a long-winded radio guy here a few minutes ago.
Kevin Kinder, Northwest Arkansas Times: Well, imagine someone in the media talking too long.
CD: I know. Isnât that something?
KK: I promise, weâd never do that.
KK: So, where are you calling from today, Charlie?
CD: Iâm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Iâm close to a place called Escanaba. Weâre doing two nights here. Itâs the first dates of the Volunteer Jam.
KK: The first date is tonight?
KK: Whatâs it like to get back on the road after a hiatus?
CD: Well, Iâve actually been on the road. This is just the first night of the Jam.
KK: Oh, OK.
CD: Weâve done something like seven dates so far, something like that. Itâs great. I thank God I make a living doing something like this. Itâs a joy to me to be out here. I think Iâve got the best band Iâve ever had and getting onstage and playing music with these guys is just a lot of fun.
KK: Charlie, tell me a little bit about the album you guys released last year [a duets album called âDeucesâ]. How did you choose the guests artists that you ended up including on that album?
CD: Basically, we just sent out someâ¦ My manager came up with this idea, and said, âWhy donât you do a duet album.â I said, âWell, Iâm game, you know.â So, we sent out some feelers to say, âHey, would you be interested in doing a song with Charlie?â and we had a great response. Thatâs when the work started, because we had to come up with a compatible song and have the time to get together to do it, and it took us a little over a year to get that album finished. It was a long time on that album, really, just because of schedules and that sort of thing. But we got it done. I like this album a lot. I kind of enjoy listening to it.
KK: Can you say that about all your albums? Can you sit down with one of your older ones and listen to it front to back?
CD: I like, uh, most of the albums we have done. As you listen to the older ones, of course, the technology has improved so much â weâve been recording a long time, I made my first album in 1971 â and technology has improved so exponentially that of course, the sound is not buried and itâs been digitally remastered. You know, I hear things that I think I could have done better. But all in all, thereâs only a couple albums we ever did that Iâm don’t really feel good about, but itâs albums I had interference from record companiesâ¦ and I donât think it turned out the way I wanted them to, but other than that, Iâm pretty happy with our body of work.
KK: Back to the âDeucesâ album: How did you go about deciding what were compatible songs? How did you say, âWith this performer, this is going to be the best song?â What was that process like?
CD: Well, you know, thatâs what I do, actually, is putting music together with people, my band, and just imagining a song, casting it around in your mind, âWell, what would be a good song for us to do?â In the case of like Dolly Parton, she wrote a song she wanted to do. And the others, it was a matter of, âHey, Gretchen [Wilson], you want to do âJackson’ [a song popularized by Johnny and June Carter Cash]?ââ âYeah, I know that song. Letâs do it.â So, you know, basically, Travis Tritt, heâs a big Ray Charles fan, we did, âWhat I Say,â which was no problem. Just finding somethingâ¦ [recording is unclear for several words] It was finding something that you both felt good with, trial and error until you came up with something.
KK: Did you try any songs with one of these performers that just simply didnât work?
CD: No. Once we got in the studio, they all worked. Because we went and cut the tracks, the musical tracks, we would go and record, and then have the artist come in and help me do the vocals. But no, we agreed on something before we ever did the track. We would be sure thatâs what we wanted to do. We would agree on a key to sing it in. We put some preparation into it. And thatâs what took so long. And schedules. People in the music business are going 20 different directions while trying to find a time where we could both do the vocals. But we got âer done, and Iâm happy with it.
KK: Two of the songs on that album were written by Bob Dylan. I found this out as I was researching you: You played on several of Bob Dylanâs albums [including "Dylan" and "Nashville Skyline"]. What was that experience like?
CD: It was wonderful. I found Bob Dylan to be a really nice guy. Iâve read accounts of Bob Dylan that I donât particularly, I just donât think those people know him very well that wrote them. Heâs a little shy, you know, and I think that shyness sometimes gets… heâs eccentric to some degree, I think we all are. But I found him to be a warm sort of a guy that was really into the music, and really liked being in Nashville and being with a bunch of pickers and going to cut a record. âItâs no big deal, letâs just go do it.â I really like Bob Dylan, of course, Iâm a big fan of his work. I compare him to Shakespeare, not that they do anything close to each other, but the fact that he used the English language in a way that no one else has been able to. Heâs just unique to me, and working with a legend like that was wonderful.
KK: Back in the days when you were a session musician, did you always want a solo career? Was that the plan all along?
CD: I had always had a solo career. I came to Nashville to get off the road, believe it or not. I was playing clubs, and was [recording is unclear for several words] a lot. Come to find out, Iâm not really the consummate session musician. There are some kinds of music I work well on, and some, when youâre a musician in Nashville, youâve got to fall in with everything that goes on, all kinds of different things, and anywhere else for that matter. And I just, Iâm not that way. Iâm better off doinâ my stuff, and my real love is being onstage. As much as I made myself think thatâs what I wanted to be, a songwriter, a record producer, a session musician, itâs not really what I wanted down inside. What I really wanted was a solo career. And I had always had one until I went to Nashville. No, Iâm just not cut out to be in a studio all the time. Iâm much more happy when Iâm onstage.
KK: Youâre now entering your 50th year of playing, and I read your Soapbox [Charlie Danielsâ personal blog] entry that talks about that. Did you expect that when you first picked up a guitar, that this would be the career that youâd have?
CD: You know, you canât see around the corner, or over the hill, so you canât know, but one of my prime targets when I first started was longevity because I truly love this business. I wanted to be in it for a long time. Now, if you had asked me if I was going to be in it for 50 years, I would have said, âI just donât know,â especially to be as active as I still am after 50 years. But it was something I wanted. I wanted a long career. If youâd have asked me how long I wanted I couldnât have answered it, but I did want a long career.
KK: On that same Soapbox post, you list some of the important accomplishments: some of the places youâve been, some of the things youâve seen, some of the stages youâve been on. Whatâs still on the list?
CD: Well, just doing what I do. Basically, going around the country playing music. I set a goal back when I started: I wanted every album platinum and every show sold out, and I havenât got that yet [laughing]. If I ever get to that, Iâll set another goal.
KK: For all that work, among the honors youâve received, one was an invitation to join the [Grand Ole] Opry. You didnât expect it at all, the way I read about it.
CD: I certainly did not expect it to happen that night. It was a total surprise. We were doing a show at the Ryman Auditorium, a charity show, and when Martina McBride came out to tell me this, I thought maybe since we were doing this charity show maybe we had a citation from the governor or something. I didnât know what it was. The card said, âYouâve been invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry,â and it pretty much floored me, because I have such great respect and admiration for the Opry. We had played there many, many times over the years, but we never were a member. Looking from the inside out, rather than the outside in, is a very special thing to me.
KK: I wanted to talk to you about the current Volunteer Jam, which is the one thatâs going to come here in a couple weeks. Did you select the bands that tour with you? Did you say, âI want Shooter [Jennings], and I want .38 Special?â How did they come on the bill?
CD: Basically, I believe in everybody doing their job. I mean, we have a very good, responsible agent at William Morris, and he knows whatâs compatible with us. Heâs been booking it for years. And between that and our management, I pretty much leave that up to them. Now they know, there would be some bands that would not be compatible with us, that would not fit the Volunteer Jam bill well at all. Last year it was Marshall Tucker [Band] and The Outlaws were on tour with. Weâve been with several different packages, but theyâre all compatible. In other words, people donât come in and hear one band and get completely jerked out of context with the next one. Itâs something thatâs kinda got a continuity to it, that appeals to basically the same kind of people. Thatâs the big thing. And theyâre very good at putting these kind of things together. I think if they came with someone I did not want to tour with, I donât have to tour with them. What Iâm saying is, if they bring someone I donât want to go on the road with, that I would just say, âHey, Iâm not going to do that.â But other than that, they are pretty good at it. In fact, theyâre very good at it. I leave that part of it to them.
KK: Onstage, do you just play fiddle, or will you also play guitar?
CD: No, Iâll play guitar.
KK: On the Soapbox, again, I guess Iâve read quite a few of those, you said in the 50th anniversary post said âGetting onstage with my band was still a thrill.â Do you have any plans to slow down, or are you doing to keep going on as long as you can?
CD: Iâm going to keep going on as long as I can. I have no plansâ¦ You know, I donât do as many dates as I used to do, I do about 100 a year, and we used to do a lot more than that. I am 71 years old, and I donât try to kill myself on the road. A hundred is plenty for me. Weâll do, give or take, about 100 dates every year. But thatâs something I can do. I can handle the miles, I can handle that amount of dates. If I ran like I used to, where I used to hit town and a record promotion guy was standing there waiting for me to go to the radio stations and we went and worked all day and came back and worked that nightâ¦ that much would be too much for me. I know it. I realize it. I couldnât do it now. Iâm not 35 years old anymore. But what we do, we schedule stuff I can handle. I do stuff not on our schedule. I do a lot of interviews, Iâll do several hundred interviews in a yearâs time. Every Friday is my interview day, and Iâll sit on the phone. Iâve got eight interviews today, that sort of thing. And then the recording, the writing, the TV appearances, you know, the things that we are asked to do. The charity things we do, that sort of thing, gives me a pretty good slate. But itâs not something I canât handle. I donât try to take on more than I can handle.
KK: Speaking of, thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview today. I really appreciate it.
CD: Weâll, Iâm honored that youâd want to talk to me.
KK: Of course. Now, youâve also recently made news about âGuitar Hero.â
CD: Uh huh.
KK: Iâve been seeing that pop up on national news sites. What is it youâd like people to know about your position on that?
CD: They completely violated the spirit of the song I wrote with the graphics, with the visual part of it. My song never lets the devil win, and that is a possibility in this âGuitar Heroâ thing. I think the whole game, to some extent, or the version of it I saw, has a lot of dark things in it, that as a Christian, I donât agree with. Certainly, not a lot of the rest of it is my business, but my song is. I just want people to know I never agreed. This was never run by me, as if I would have agreed to let them them do the visual part the way that they did. I did not agree to it. I didnât know anything about it until I saw it, and I have nothing against them using this song, but they way they have portrayed it is not Charlie Daniels. Itâs not what Iâm about. I donât ever let the devil win. The devil is very real. Iâm a Christian, and I have beliefs about these things. It just violated my Christian principals, it violated what my song was about, and Iâm not happy about it. There is probably nothing I can do because these things are owned by big companies and when you try to sue a big company, I found this out with record companies, I never sued a record company, but I thought about it. Come to find out, they have so many lawyers, and so much money, youâre looking at years. And, at this time of my life, I just donât feel like getting involved in a long, protracted thing. The reason I wrote the Soapbox is, I wanted America, I wanted the world, to know that this is not what the song is about, this is not the way I wrote it, this is not my intentions when I wrote it, and I donât want anyone thinking I condone what they did to my song.
KK: Speaking of your Christianity, youâve recorded a couple Christian albums throughout the years, youâve recorded a bluegrass album, obviously there is the old country, too. I was just curious if you try to mix all of that into the live show or just exactly how you try to approach all the different types of music youâve created.
CD: We have actually done four gospel albums, and one of them was a bluegrass album. I do a gospel song a the show every night. I just have a spot where I do a gospel song, down late in the show. Thatâs just part of me, part of what I am and what I believe in. People like gospel music, I mean, our fans do, anyway.
KK: Last question I have for you, then Iâll let you get to your next interview. Are you aware if youâve played in Fayetteville before?
CD: Oh yeah. Thereâs very few place that we havenât played in the past 50 years [laughing].
KK: 50 years, right.
CD: Yeah, weâve been there. Weâve done that more than one time. I couldnât tell you a date.
KK: Charlie, again, thanks so much for agreeing to the interview. I know there are a lot of people excited for the next time you come here.
CD: Weâre looking forward to it. And Iâve got a question for you: Is it Kinder?
KK: Yes, thatâs right.
KK: [spells out last name] K-i-n-d-e-r.
CD: I wanted to make sure I had it pronounced correctly.
KK: Youâve got it.
CD: OK, my friend. God bless you. Thank you for talking to me.
KK: Thank you, Charlie. Take care.