By Crystal Caviness
Charlie Daniels. Mere mention of the name conjures as many images as the musician has Gold and Platinum albums on the wall - and that's quite a few.
Fiddle player. Unapologetic American patriot. High-energy entertainer. Country artist. Legendary songwriter. Sincere and devout Christian. Southern rocker. Gospel musician. Benevolent humanitarian. International star.
Daniels and the music he makes with The Charlie Daniels Band have long defied easy definition. Neither has his music fit into a neat box with a tidy label.
"I've always been a challenge for record label executives," Daniels said, laughing.
The 68-year-old North Carolina native credits many musical styles, including early influences of Pentecostal hymns, local bluegrass, R&B and Country Music for driving his creative muse during a career now in its fifth decade.
"I've spent a lot of time in clubs in the middle 50s through 1967 when I came to Nashville and even after that, playing what happened to be the popular music of the day. Before the radio stations were so strictly formatted, popular music was Elvis, Marty Robbins, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Bill Haley and the Comets, Carl Perkins - so many kinds of music of all formats and they all made the charts together.
"Between playing that and hearing it on the radio, I was exposed to so many kinds of music - and then my background - when I got ready to play original music, I just let it all kind of creep in. I was very irreverent as far as musical styles."
Daniels' lack of respect for singular genres may have caused headaches for music business chiefs, but when his first album came out in 1971, the music transcended boundaries in a way that caused The Charlie Daniels Band to be embraced by fans of many musical styles.
While songs "The Devil Went Down To Georgia," "The South's Gonna Do It Again" and "Long Haired Country Boy" made their way into the annals of music history, Daniels and The CDB toured the world, creating a fan base that still keeps them busy performing more than 100 shows a year.
Along the way, Daniels became an unofficial spokesman for the everyday American man and woman by putting into songs his opinions and concerns about politics, injustices and patriotism. "In America," "Simple Man" and "This Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag" became instant hits and garnered the straight-talking Daniels much publicity for his unapologetic views.
He has lent his talent and time to numerous charitable causes, including hosting two annual golf tournaments. The Charlie Daniels Celebrity Golf Classic & Angelus Concert - in its 14th year - in Hudson, Fla., benefits The Angelus, a full-time residential facility and day school program for the severely handicapped. The Charlie Daniels Golf Classic in Wichita, Kan., now in its 20th year, benefits Starkey, a non-profit organization serving individuals with developmental disabilities.
Daniels has been a longtime supporter of the T.J. Martell Foundation and its many events supporting cancer research, charity work that became very personal.
In 2001, Charlie and The CDB "rocked the house" at Country in the Rockies, a ski and music event in Colorado benefiting the T.J. Martell Foundation and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) in Nashville.
Later that year, Daniels was struck with cancer and became a patient, benefiting from the very research he was helping to fund.
In January 2004, he returned to Country in the Rockies singing and speaking from his heart about the work that made him cancer-free.
Daniels now sits on the VICC's Board of Overseers.
The singer is also on the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Professional Advisory Board. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is internationally recognized for it's pioneering work in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas and based in Memphis, Tenn., the hospital freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world.
Accolades and awards fill two pages of Daniels' biography, with honors ranging from CMA Awards to GRAMMYs to Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association. Daniels also won a Parents' Choice Gold Award in 1997 for his By the Light of the Moon: Campfire Songs and Cowboy Tunes children's album.
With seemingly no musical challenge left to conquer, Daniels has released his first bluegrass album, a collection of bluegrass hymns titled Songs From The Longleaf Pines.
While the recording is new for Daniels, the genre is not.
"Bluegrass is the oldest genre I've dealt in. When I first started playing, that's what I started with," Daniels said, adding that Lester Flatt and Earl Scuggs were played on the local radio shows he listened to as a teen.
Some of bluegrass' most famous names played on this project, including Ricky Skaggs, Mac Wiseman, The GrooveGrass Boyz (Ronnie & Rob McCoury and others) and Scruggs.
"Not every musician understands bluegrass. ... You either get it or you don't. ... There's an intangible there. I don't know how to put it. It's a feel - when to come in, when to lay back. It's not carved in stone, it's very innovative.
"While I certainly don't consider myself any kind of virtuoso, I am thankful that I at least 'get it,'" Daniels said.
Songs From The Longleaf Pines begins with Daniels reciting John 3:16 from the Bible before he and the musicians begin a lively rendition of "Walking In Jerusalem."
Along with bluegrass versions of classics such as "I'll Fly Away" and "How Great Thou Art," and other songs, additional Bible verses are peppered throughout the recording, a testimony to Daniels' faith walk.
"I don't want any confusion. I want people to know I am a Christian. I am a believer," he said.
With a new album on the shelves, Daniels already is planning another musical project, one, he said, that can't be easily described.
"The next record is so different. ... I've already got about four songs. I'm not in any hurry to do it. As the music comes to me, as I write it and work it out with the band, I will record it. If I mention a genre of music, it will mislead you. I've got fill stuff, some guitar stuff."
The project will be released on Daniels' own Blue Hat Records, a label he started in 1997.
The label's first project, Blues Hat, yielded a remake of Daniels' "Long Haired Country Boy," with special guests Hal Ketchum and John Berry, and earned a nomination for CMA Vocal Event of the Year.
Ten additional albums have followed from Blue Hat, bringing CDB fans a plethora of music, including Christmas songs, a greatest hits collection, a live album, Volunteer Jam performances and new tunes.
Daniels, who says he does as he wants musically, is in a place he's earned after more than 30 years on the road as a major recording artist.
"I'm at that stage, I'm just totally into music. Basically what I'm concerned with is getting down what I create," Daniels said. "I chop the musical log and let the chips fall where they may."
SIDEBAR: Charlie Daniels timeline
October 28, 1936: Charles E. Daniels is born in Wilmington, N.C.
1964: Daniels co-writes "It Hurts Me," a song recorded by Elvis Presley for the flip side of "Kissin' Cousins."
1967: Daniels moves to Nashville to begin work as a session player. Producers complain that Daniels plays too loudly. Later that year, Daniels plays on Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline. "It was the first time I felt at home in Nashville. You experienced a lot of freedom from Dylan," Daniels said of the session.
1970: Daniels records solo album Charlie Daniels on Capitol Records Nashville.
1974: Fire on the Mountain is released. Daniels invites friends from the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band and others for a concert he calls the Volunteer Jam. They have so much fun, Daniels said they should "do this once in a while."
1975: The second Volunteer Jam is held in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
1977: Volunteer Jam becomes an annual event.
1979: "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" reaches No. 1 and wins Daniels a GRAMMY and CMA Single of the Year Award. He wins CMA Instrumentalist of the Year Award and CDB wins Instrumental Group of the Year Award.
1980: CDB hits the charts with "The Legend of Wooley Swamp." They win CMA Instrumental Group of the Year Award.
1987: Volunteer Jam plays its 13th concert and takes a break for a few years.
1991: Volunteer Jam returns, with B.B. King, Steppenwolf, Tanya Tucker and the CDB.
1994: Daniels releases his first Christian record on Sparrow Records, The Door, which earns him a Dove Award the following year.
1996: Charlie Daniels: The Roots Remain box set is released. Daniels is presented the honorary degree of doctor of letters from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he delivers the commencement address.
1997: Daniels forms Blue Hat Records. Sony Wonder releases By The Light Of The Moon: Campfire Songs and Cowboy Tunes, Daniels' first children's album.
2001: The Charlie Daniels Museum opens on historic Second Avenue in Downtown Nashville. Daniels is inducted into his hometown's Walk of Fame in Wilmington, N.C.
2003: Daniels' book, Ain't No Rag (Freedom, Family and the Flag) is published by Regnery Publishing.
© 2005 CMA Close Up News Service