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. Isn’t that something?
KK: I promise, we’d never do that.
KK: So, where are you calling from today, Charlie?
CD: I’m in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I’m close to a place called Escanaba. We’re doing two nights here. It’s the first dates of the Volunteer Jam.
KK: The first date is tonight?
KK: What’s it like to get back on the road after a hiatus?
CD: Well, I’ve actually been on the road. This is just the first night of the Jam.
KK: Oh, OK.
CD: We’ve done something like seven dates so far, something like that. It’s great. I thank God I make a living doing something like this. It’s a joy to me to be out here. I think I’ve got the best band I’ve 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 “Deuces”]. How did you choose the guests artists that you ended up including on that album?
CD: Basically, we just sent out some… My manager came up with this idea, and said, ‘Why don’t you do a duet album.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m game, you know.’ So, we sent out some feelers to say, ‘Hey, would you be interested in doing a song with Charlie?’ and we had a great response. That’s 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 — we’ve been recording a long time, I made my first album in 1971 — and technology has improved so exponentially that of course, the sound is not buried and it’s been digitally remastered. You know, I hear things that I think I could have done better. But all in all, there’s only a couple albums we ever did that I’m don’t really feel good about, but it’s albums I had interference from record companies… and I don’t think it turned out the way I wanted them to, but other than that, I’m pretty happy with our body of work.
KK: Back to the “Deuces” album: How did you go about deciding what were compatible songs? How did you say, ‘With this performer, this is going to be the best song?’ What was that process like?
CD: Well, you know, that’s what I do, actually, is putting music together with people, my band, and just imagining a song, casting it around in your mind, ‘Well, what would be a good song for us to do?’ In the case of like Dolly Parton, she wrote a song she wanted to do. And the others, it was a matter of, ‘Hey, Gretchen [Wilson], you want to do ‘Jackson’ [a song popularized by Johnny and June Carter Cash]?’’ ‘Yeah, I know that song. Let’s do it.’ So, you know, basically, Travis Tritt, he’s a big Ray Charles fan, we did, ‘What I Say,” which was no problem. Just finding something… [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 didn’t 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 that’s what we wanted to do. We would agree on a key to sing it in. We put some preparation into it. And that’s 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 ‘er done, and I’m 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 Dylan’s 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. I’ve read accounts of Bob Dylan that I don’t particularly, I just don’t think those people know him very well that wrote them. He’s a little shy, you know, and I think that shyness sometimes gets… he’s 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. ‘It’s no big deal, let’s just go do it.’ I really like Bob Dylan, of course, I’m 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. He’s 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, I’m not really the consummate session musician. There are some kinds of music I work well on, and some, when you’re a musician in Nashville, you’ve got to fall in with everything that goes on, all kinds of different things, and anywhere else for that matter. And I just, I’m not that way. I’m better off doin’ my stuff, and my real love is being onstage. As much as I made myself think that’s what I wanted to be, a songwriter, a record producer, a session musician, it’s 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, I’m just not cut out to be in a studio all the time. I’m much more happy when I’m onstage.
KK: You’re now entering your 50th year of playing, and I read your Soapbox [Charlie Daniels’ 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 you’d have?
CD: You know, you can’t see around the corner, or over the hill, so you can’t 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, ‘I just don’t know,’ especially to be as active as I still am after 50 years. But it was something I wanted. I wanted a long career. If you’d have asked me how long I wanted I couldn’t 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 you’ve been, some of the things you’ve seen, some of the stages you’ve been on. What’s 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 haven’t got that yet [laughing]. If I ever get to that, I’ll set another goal.
KK: For all that work, among the honors you’ve received, one was an invitation to join the [Grand Ole] Opry. You didn’t 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 didn’t know what it was. The card said, ‘You’ve been invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry,’ 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 that’s going to come here in a couple weeks. Did you select the bands that tour with you? Did you say, ‘I want Shooter [Jennings], and I want .38 Special?’ 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 what’s compatible with us. He’s 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. We’ve been with several different packages, but they’re all compatible. In other words, people don’t come in and hear one band and get completely jerked out of context with the next one. It’s something that’s kinda got a continuity to it, that appeals to basically the same kind of people. That’s the big thing. And they’re very good at putting these kind of things together. I think if they came with someone I did not want to tour with, I don’t have to tour with them. What I’m saying is, if they bring someone I don’t want to go on the road with, that I would just say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to do that.’ But other than that, they are pretty good at it. In fact, they’re 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, I’ll play guitar.
KK: On the Soapbox, again, I guess I’ve read quite a few of those, you said in the 50th anniversary post said “Getting onstage with my band was still a thrill.” Do you have any plans to slow down, or are you doing to keep going on as long as you can?
CD: I’m going to keep going on as long as I can. I have no plans… You know, I don’t 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 don’t try to kill myself on the road. A hundred is plenty for me. We’ll do, give or take, about 100 dates every year. But that’s 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 night… that much would be too much for me. I know it. I realize it. I couldn’t do it now. I’m 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, I’ll do several hundred interviews in a year’s time. Every Friday is my interview day, and I’ll sit on the phone. I’ve 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 it’s not something I can’t handle. I don’t 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: We’ll, I’m honored that you’d want to talk to me.
KK: Of course. Now, you’ve also recently made news about “Guitar Hero.”
CD: Uh huh.
KK: I’ve been seeing that pop up on national news sites. What is it you’d 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 “Guitar Hero” 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 don’t 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 didn’t 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. It’s not what I’m about. I don’t ever let the devil win. The devil is very real. I’m a Christian, and I have beliefs about these things. It just violated my Christian principals, it violated what my song was about, and I’m 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, you’re looking at years. And, at this time of my life, I just don’t 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 don’t want anyone thinking I condone what they did to my song.
KK: Speaking of your Christianity, you’ve recorded a couple Christian albums throughout the years, you’ve 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 you’ve 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. That’s 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 I’ll let you get to your next interview. Are you aware if you’ve played in Fayetteville before?
CD: Oh yeah. There’s very few place that we haven’t played in the past 50 years [laughing].
KK: 50 years, right.
CD: Yeah, we’ve been there. We’ve done that more than one time. I couldn’t 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: We’re looking forward to it. And I’ve got a question for you: Is it Kinder?
KK: Yes, that’s right.
KK: [spells out last name] K-i-n-d-e-r.
CD: I wanted to make sure I had it pronounced correctly.
KK: You’ve got it.
CD: OK, my friend. God bless you. Thank you for talking to me.
KK: Thank you, Charlie. Take care.