Charlie Daniels Biography

Charles Edward Daniels, 28 October 1936, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA. Daniels, who wrote ‘Carolina (I Love You)’ about his youth, was the son of a lumberjack and was raised with a love of bluegrass music. He borrowed a guitar when he was 15 years old and immediately learned to play basic tunes. He then acquired skills on mandolin and fiddle, but had to modify his playing when he lost the tip of his ring finger in an accident in 1955. He formed a bluegrass band, the Misty Mountain Boys, but the group changed its name to the Jaguars following the single ‘Jaguar’, which they recorded in 1959 (produced by Bob Johnston). Daniels says, ‘for nine years we played every honky-tonk dive and low-life joint between Raleigh and Texas’. This enabled him to master a variety of musical styles, but his only national success came in 1964 when he wrote an Elvis Presley b-side ‘It Hurts Me’, a tender ballad that remains one of his best compositions.

In 1967, Daniels followed Johnston’s suggestion to accept regular session work in Nashville. He played electric bass on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and later appeared on his albums Self Portrait and New Morning. He also worked with Marty Robbins, Hank Williams Jnr. (on Family Tradition) and Ringo Starr (on Beaucoups Of Blues), and took Lester Flatt’s place alongside Earl Scruggs. He produced albums by the Youngbloods and by Jerry Corbitt. The latter, in turn, produced one by Daniels, both of which were released in the USA by Capitol Records.

The Charlie Daniels Band was formed in 1970, with Daniels joined by Barry Barnes (guitar), Mark Fitzgerald (bass), Fred Edwards and Garry Allen (drums), and Joel ‘Taz’ Di Gregorio (keyboards). They started recording southern rock-styled albums for the Kama Sutra Records label. Although a multi-instrumentalist, Daniels was a limited vocalist, but his voice was well suited to the talking-style ‘Uneasy Rider’, which reached the US Top 10 in 1973. He followed it with his anthem for southern rock, ‘The South’s Gonna Do It’. In 1974, Daniels had members of the Marshall Tucker Band and the Allman Brothers Band join him onstage in Nashville. It was so successful that he decided to make his so-called Volunteer Jam an annual event. It led to some unlikely combinations of artists such as James Brown performing with Roy Acuff, and the stylistic mergers have included Crystal Gayle singing the blues with the Charlie Daniels Band.

The Charlie Daniels Band underwent some personnel changes on 1975’s Nightrider, with Tom Crain, Charlie Hayward and Don Murray replacing Barnes, Fitzgerald and Allen respectively. When Daniels moved to Epic in 1976, there was a concerted effort to turn the band into a major concert attraction, despite the fact that at 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 20 stone Daniels was no teenage idol: he hid his face under an oversized cowboy hat. The albums sold well, and in 1979, when recording his Million Mile Reflections album, he recalled a 20s poem, ‘The Mountain Whipporwill’, by Stephen Vincent Benet. The band developed this into ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’, in which Johnny outplays the Devil to win a gold fiddle. Daniels overdubbed his fiddle seven times to create an atmospheric recording that topped the US country charts and reached number 3 in the US pop charts. It was also a UK Top 20 success and won a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance.

In 1980 the band recorded ‘In America’ for the hostages in Iran, and then in 1982, ‘Still In Saigon’, about Vietnam. The band was featured on the soundtrack for Urban Cowboy and also recorded the theme for the Burt Reynolds’ movie Stroker Ace. The 13th Volunteer Jam was held in 1987, but financial and time constraints meant the event was put on temporary hiatus (it resumed four years later). In the late 80s Daniels appeared in the movie Lone Star Kid and published a book of short stories, but continued touring and playing his southern boogie to adoring audiences.

During the 90s Daniels updated ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’ with Johnny Cash and continued in his politically incorrect way - in simple language, he advocates both lynching and red-baiting; not a man to stand next to at the bar. He signed a new recording contract with Liberty Records in 1993, but also targeted the white gospel market through a contract with Sparrow Records. The albums The Door (1994) and Steel Witness (1996) earned Daniels several awards from the Christian recording community.

In 1997 Daniels inaugurated his own Blue Hat Records label and also released his first children’s album, By The Light Of The Moon: Campfire Songs & Cowboy Tunes, on the Sony Wonder label. Two years later he took his Volunteer Jam event on the road for the first time. In 2007, nailing his political views to the mast, he recorded a live album in front of US troops in war-torn Iraq. Later in the year he was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

Filter Results