Charlie Daniels Interview
(The Charlie Daniels Band)
He's sold more than
18 million records in 35 years. In April 1998, two former Presidents paid
tribute to him when he was named the recipient of the Pioneer Award at the
Academy of Country Music's annual nationally televised ceremonies. His studio
work includes sessions with artist such as Bob Dylan, Flatt and Scruggs, Leonard
Cohen, Ringo Starr and Johnny Cash. His songs have been recorded by Elvis
Presley and Tammy Wynette. Songs like, "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", "The
South's Gonna Do It Again", "Still In Saigon" and "The
Legend of Wooley Swamp" have helped make his name a household word. By
now, you know who we're talking about - Mr. Charlie Daniels. Charlie is still
touring and recording. In fact, his latest CD is titled "Fiddle Fire,
Twenty Years of The Charlie Daniels Band" (Blue Hat Records). We spoke
to Charlie Daniels recently about his life and music.
Q - Charlie, you went into the studio and re-recorded the songs you liked.
Now, why did you feel the need to do that, and aren't you really competing
with the original masters?
A - Well, obviously we are competing with the original masters, but I
have very valid reasons for wanting to do it. This is something I had planned
on doing for a long time. This is not something that just came up in my
head. For several years it's been inside my head, the reason being, the
old songs that we've done; "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" and "The
South's Gonna Do It Again", are the ones people are familiar with and
were recorded a long time ago. Back before the advent of the CD. Back before
digital recording, and all the bells and whistles that make records sound
so good today, it makes you think. Then, there was another reason, you have
to buy basically three CD's to get all the fiddle songs on one album, so
we wanted to make era sound better. We wanted to put 'em all together on
one album. I just wanted to re-recoid these things for a long time and we
wanted to sell some records(he laughs). If I left that out, I'd be lying.
Q - Do they make records anymore?
A - No. I'm an old-timer. I say record, but I really mean CD nowadays.
I still call 'em albums.
Q - Does it also come out on cassette?
A - Yeah, we still sell a lot of cassettes. People like to use our music
to travel by, I think (he laughs).
Q - How much are you working these days?
A - We'll do about 150 dates this year.
Q - Where have you been playing?
A - We were over in Australia earlier this year. Of course, we did smaller
venus over there. We do all kinds of venus. We do a lot of fairs; state
fairs, county fairs, that sort of thing. We play casinos, we play all
over the place.
Q - You're as busy today as you've ever been then.
A - Pretty much so, yeah.
Q - Charlie, I think you had a distinct advantage
over almost every other musician, and that was your father. He told you, "As
long as you have to work, you better find something you enjoy doing."
A - Absolutely
Q - How'd your father get so smart?
A - Well, you know he was just telling me the way he felt about things.
My Dad loved pine timber. He made his living as long as I can remember
one way or another with timber. He was a buyer. He was an inspector. But
always in the timber business. That was just one of the things he felt.
The way he put it was; "A man is going to be work¬ing more than
he's not working, and he ought to do something he enjoys doing."
Q - At one time you were involved in this "Trivia Country Style" game
that was developed by two Syracusans...
A – Right
Q - Whatever happened with that game?
A - Well, I don't really know. I don't know what the deal was on it.
We got involved in a TV commercial for 'em. I thought it was a good game.
I thought it was well conceived and well thought out. But, I don't know
what actually happened with it. I'd like to see it happen 'cause I think
it could be a really good thing. But, I really don't know. I haven't had
any contact with 'em for a long time.
Q - You wrote a song "It Hurts Me" that
Elvis recorded in 1963. How'd you get a song to Elvis?
A - Well, actually the guy I wrote it with, a guy named Bob Johnston
was a staff writer for the company, not Elvis's company, but the company
that handled Elvis's publishing. If they ran across a song that they thought
Elvis would like, they would hold it for him. They held this particular
song for about a year and he decided to record it. Of course, I had no idea
that Elvis would do it when we wrote it. It was really neat, you know (he
Q - Did you ever meet Elvis?
A - No. I never met Elvis. I wish I had. He was one of my favorite artists
of all time.
Q - The only time you didn't work in music was a five week stint at a Denver
A - That's right
Q - Now, how'd you like working in a junkyard?
A -1 didn't like it at all. It was just a means of keeping body and soul
together. It was really kind of silly to go to Denver. I couldn't even
get anybody to listen to me play. It was just a bad time to be there.
I would go around & say, "Hey man, I'm a player. I'm looking
for a gig." There was no interest. I left there and went back to
El Paso to play music again.
Q - But, why Denver? Did they have a musk scene?
A - No. I just kind of pulled it out of the air for some reason. When
you're young and foolish, you do crazy things (he laughs).
Q - Back in 1979, you headlined the Grandstand at
the State Fair in Syracuse and set a new attendance record of 17,000 people,
which stood for a long time. At that point, did you think, "I'd better enjoy this while I
can"... or ..."This is gonna go on forever"?
A -1 didn't think in those kinds of terms, actually. I was more or less
doing things on a day-to-day basis. I remember that date. I was just taking
it one day at a time. I remember that date, 'cause I was not with the band.
I flew in for some reason. I must've had something else to do before we
got together. I had no idea the show was sold out. I was very gratified
when I found it out. For some reason, the New York State Police would not
allow the last couple hundred people in. That really bothered me. I was
afraid they'd blame it on me, and there was nothing I could really do. They
were very nervous, for some reason, about the crowd. I don't know what the
reason was. I never did find out. It really bothered me that they wouldn't
let these people in. I tried to find out who they were. I wanted to send
'em all an album or something. I do remember that and I do remember it a
record. I think Bob Hope finally broke it didn't he?
Q - You know, I don't know.
A - Well, it was really a feather in our cap, that's for sure.
Q - The gentleman who books the entertainment at
the Fair referred to this season as a "Dollar Frenzy." He stated
that acts that would've played for $100,000 in the past have doubled,
or in some cases, tripled their asking price. But, when you get right
down to it, there is only one Clint Black. There is only one Vince Gill.
There is only one Charlie Daniels.
A - Believe me, that is not what we're charging to come there. We don't
command those kind of prices. I feel that sometimes acts charge more for
fair than they do other places. I feel sometimes the agents and the managers
who handle the acts take advantage to some extent. I think there is sometimes
one price for the general dates and then another price for fairs. I think
they tack on a little extra sometimes. It's unfortunate, because I want
to see entertainment continue at fairs because it's a good situation. It's
a family situation which we fit right into, 'cause we're a family type band.
I hate to see acts price themselves out of the category. What it comes down
to is, if you can't make money with an act, there's no sense in having them.
If you can make money with 'em regardless of what their price is, I'm sure
Michael Jackson would be worth $200,000, or whatever it would cost to get
him. Some acts that maybe aren't worth quite that much, I think from time
to time, tend to charge money like that. If you're gonna pay somebody $100,000
and it costs you $150,000 to put the show on, and you lose money, it's kind
of ridiculous. It doesn't make sense. If you can make money on someone regardless
of what they charge, absolutely, by all means, that's fine. Bring 'em in.
Q - We had two guys from Syracuse, Marty Lee Flynn
and Gary LaVancher, who traveled to Nashville to try and break into the
big time. They even had two people in Syracuse, Dan Dunn and Eric Will
(of "Homegrown" radio
and "Rhythmz" TV fame) who were going to put them in touch with
you. I say these guys most likely never made it past the secretary in
your office. How difficult is it to get a song to you?
A - Well, in the first place they probably couldn't find our office because
our office is way out in the country. It's not on Music Row (he laughs).
Secondly, we have to be very careful about unsolicited material. The reason
being, if I was soliciting a song and just by chance, without even knowing
I was doing it, would lift a line from their song, they would sue me. It's
unfortunate, but you have to be very careful about material that somebody
just brings in and plays. I don't do it, myself. I very seldom listen to
a tape. I get a lot of tapes. I pass 'em on to somebody else to listen to.
Q - In your office?
A - Well, in my office or my son is in the publishing business. I'll
pass it on to him. But, myself listening to it, I don't do it usually,
unless it's somebody I know. It's unfortunate, but you can literally get
sued for doing nothing. That way, if somebody says, "I sent a song
to your office", I can say, "I never heard it." The stains
of the business sometimes make it pretty difficult. So, the best thing
to do, is affiliate yourself with a publishing company and let them fight
your battles for you.
Q -1 recall seeing an article about you in "Rolling Stone" about
the time "Still In Saigon" came out They described that song as
being controversial. What was controversial about that song?
A - I don't know. Everything is controversial with Rolling Stone. I have
no idea. I'm ashamed of the way Vietnam veterans were treated when they
cam back. I think they deserve just as much honor and just as much glory
as anybody whose ever fought a war for this country. I didn't write this
song, it came to me from another source, but I certainly agreed with it.
I talked to people. I've never been in the service. I didn't want people
who had been in the service to think I was trying to speak for them, and
tried to put myself in their place. I think the Vietnam experience was very
unique and I don't think, unless you had been there, you can speak about
it with any kind of authority. The guys i talked to said, "by all means,
go ahead and do the song", and I did - and I'm glad I did. I don't
think it healed any wounds, but at least it let some people know that somebody
was thinking about 'em. What was controversial about that, I do not know.
I have never been able to figure that one out myself.
Q - Country music today, sounds a lot more "Rock" influenced
than ever before. What's going on here anyway?
A - Well, that just happens to be what's going on right now (he laughs).
I have never considered myself to be a total country artist. I love country
music. We obviously play some of it, but we play a lot of other things,
too. But, it's at a point right now where it's become a very narrow business.
I can't listen to country music anymore, because the radio stations keep
playing the same 14 songs over and over again. You literally get tired of
listening to 'em. I think country music is kind of in the doldrums right
now. It's gotten very dance oriented. Dallas, Texas has been a big country
market. Obviously. At one time, country radio controlled, or had, twenty-two
percent of the overall market. Today they have twelve percent. Ten percent
is gone. Their upper demographics have left, because they don't like what
they're hearing on the radio. They're hearing the same song on the radio
over and over again. That's what's going on right now. Country has had,
for the longest time, this thing that we need to get the younger audience.
Well, now they've done that, but at the same time they have run off a pig
part of their older audience. So, country music is very strange right now.
Who knows? It's that way this week, and next week it'll probably go back
to traditional. It's become a business that is very "fad" oriented,
and it never was fad oriented. It's more image than sound now, with some
Q - And who would those exceptions be?
A - Garth Brooks. I'm a big Garth Brooks fan. I love Garth Brooks. I
think Garth is one of the best things that's happened to the music business,
in that he's very sincere about it. He works really hard. He tries to
give people their money's worth. He's just really good for the business.
I think Vince Gill is a great artist Travis Tritt, I like a lot Like I
said, there's some notable exception
Q - You're wearing a white hat, yet you call the
record label "Blue
Hat". Why Blue Hat?
A - (He laughs). The first album we made was a Blues album. Well, I wore
a blue hat on it There's a song on that album called "Blues Hat" and
that's basically where the name came from.
Q - And tab is your own record label?
Q - For you exclusively?
A - No. We're probably gonna do some other artists later on. That's our
thoughts at the time, if we don't go broke first (he laughs). What
we will do with the label is, we'll do music that other people aren't
doing. I'm not necessarily interested in the mainstream of music. We want
to do things that nobody else is doing. We're probably operating from
more of an aesthetic angle than most record companies would be.
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