Still Going for Perfect
Charlie Daniel's Band
June 1, 2017
Charlie Daniels first went on tour around 1971 and he may still be on the very same tour.
That's hyperbole, but the man has always worked hard.
He'll turn 80 years old in October, but he still takes a stage somewhere in the world about half the nights of a year.
In a phone interview, Daniels said his love of music is the reason for his force of will.
"I just love what I do and God has blessed me with the energy to do it," he said. "If I didn't enjoy it, it would aggravate me to death."
Daniels performs at the Foellinger Theatre on September 1.
To people who can't believe his stamina, Daniels jokes that he only works a couple of hours a day.
"When you only work a couple of hours a day," he said, "you'd better make the most of them."
Even though he was fitted with a pacemaker a few years back, Daniels said music still makes him leap out of bed in the morning.
Daniels came into national prominence in 1979 with the hit, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," surely one of the greatest story songs and one of the greatest crossover songs in the history of country music.
It was constructed one day during a jam session from phrases that had been rattling around in Daniels' head: "Oh, hell's broke loose in Georgia," "Fire on the mountains" and "rosin up the bow," among them.
They are all from a poem by Stephen Vincent Benet called "The Mountain Whippoorwill" about a fiddle contest without the diabolical implications of the resulting song.
He and his band have surely played it thousands of times, but Daniels said he never tires of revisiting it or any of his hits.
"The reason is that I always get a fresh chance to play better tonight than I did last night," he said. "I haven't done anything perfect yet."
Daniels said he has never understood performers who seem resentful and combative during concerts.
"There's really no downside to entertaining people," he said. "If they like what you're doing, you should like what you're doing."
Touring can be hard on the touring musician's family, but Daniels said his wife and son have always accepted the trappings of his chosen profession.
"My family always understood what I am trying to do and were willing to go along with it," he said. "As soon as my son started college, I outfitted a bus so my wife could be with me.
"We've been traveling together ever since," Daniels said. "I'd quit if my wife were not with me. I'd hang it up. We have an adventure every day."
It was about 50 years ago that Daniels drove a clunker to Nashville with a wife, baby and $20.
One of his first major gigs was playing electric bass for Bob Dylan on his controversial Nashville Skyline album.
Dylan subsequently hired him to play on Self Portrait and New Morning as well.
The music business has had its up and downs since then (mostly downs), but Daniels is fairly insulated from all that thanks to his loyal following.
Daniels releases new music (including a recent collection of acoustic Dylan covers) on his own label, "Blue Hat Records."
"It's a good situation," he said. "I've been at this a long time, and I didn't want to be under some record company where I can't operate the way I want to, where I can't pick my own songs and musicians, where some A&R guy is trying to tell me what to sound like. I want to sound like me."
Daniels said the Dylan album was inspired by some work his band did for the AMC show Hell on Wheels. They were restricted to playing period instruments - all pre-1900 - and the music they made sounded so good to them that they decided to come up with an excuse to keep playing it, or something very much like it. Thus, the Dylan album.
Daniels lives and records far enough away from Nashville to be estranged from the Nashville "scene."
"We're out in the country," he said. "Our offices are out there. Everything is in the country. I love Nashville, but what goes on in Nashville has very little to do with what we do and the way we want to do it."
Daniels said he doesn't listen to enough contemporary country radio to weigh in with an opinion on it.
But he does observe that the system seems designed to discourage rather than encourage multitalented individuals like Zac Brown from forging ahead.
Daniels intends to keep forging ahead. The only thing that would convince him to retire would be physical limitations.
"I'd have to live to 150 years old to get to all the ideas I have," he said. "I am never short of ideas. I don't ever want to do a bad show, however. I don't move around as fast as I used to, but music still loves me, and I can move around pretty good for a senior citizen. But I have way too much respect for the music industry to stay after the fruit is past ripe. If I ever felt like I was not giving people their money's worth, I'd stop."