Q&A - Charlie Daniels of The Charlie Daniels Band
Before Charlie Daniels released his first self-titled solo album in 1971 he already had over a decade in the music business under his belt. Charlie Daniels started his musical life playing bluegrass with The Misty Mountain Boys here in North Carolina, where Daniels was born and raised, but the first record he cut was with a band called The Jaguars in 1959. After leaving North Carolina for Nashville in 1967, Daniels went on to co-write a song Elvis Presley recorded, tried his hand at producing, and played on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait, and New Morning albums. When Daniel’s first went into the studio under his own name, he had a good idea where he wanted to head as a musician, and had a good understanding of the business behind the music.
Daniel’s first hit landed in 1973 with “Uneasy Rider”, which reached #9 on Billboard’s Top 100, and he became a household name when “Devil Went Down To Georgia” won Best Country Vocal Performance at the 1979 Grammy Awards and charted at #3 on Billboard’s Top 100. Daniel’s has had a steady career since he came out of the gate, and the million miles he galloped eventually led him to an induction into the Grand Ole Opry in 2008 and an induction into The Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016; as well as his own exhibit at The Country Music Hall of Fame Museum.
Now at 81 years old, Daniels is set to release his memoirs in a book called Never Look At The Empty Seats. The book comes out on October 24th, three days after The Charlie Daniels Band will be headlining "Carolina Uprising" at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary, NC. Along with the book, Daniels is releasing an album that tells a chronological story of his career through his recordings, called Memories, Memoirs, and Miles. The album will be released on October 20th.
NC Music Magazine’s Brian Turk recently had the pleasure to chat with Charlie Daniel’s about his long career, his new book, his new album, and some childhood memories from growing up here in North Carolina.
BT: Never Look At The Empty Seats will be released later this month. What lesson is in the book's title?
CD: If you are a young musician, and you want to make it, you are gonna have to play anywhere you can and stare at a lot of empty seats. You have to play for who shows up and you have to capitalize on who is there. You gotta forget the seats that are empty and play to the ones that are full. You accentuate the positive. That is a life lesson that I learned very early. You can either make good out of a bad situation or make a bad situation worse. I choose to make it better. Always have.
BT: Do you think that philosophy has helped in your longevity as a musician?
CD: Oh yeah. My main goal with this music thing was longevity. I have always loved playing to people and I knew I wanted to do it for a long time. The career moves that I made were all related to longevity. I tried to make moves that would extend my career. I tried to lay a foundation of entertaining people. Not just playing music or depending on hit records or radio airplay. I still to this day think that is sound ground to stand on. I always keep an eye out for longevity.
BT: You still maintain a pretty heavy tour schedule. Has touring ever been hard on you?
CD: Life on the road comes very naturally to me. I don’t look at it like a lot of people do. It has never been a drag for me to be on the road. I enjoy all of it. I even enjoy waking up in the morning and looking out the bus window to see what motel parking lot we are in. I enjoy the traveling aspect of touring. I enjoy being in a different town every day. The road has always appealed to me. Moving around. Seeing places. Meeting people. Playing music in front of people. Seeing people react to something I wrote. I love everything about being on the road.
BT: You’ve maintained a marriage throughout these past 60 something years as a touring musician. How did you make that work?
CD: Well, my wife travels with me, and she has ever since our son started college in 1983. Rather than packing and unpacking, we have two of everything. Well, not everything, but you know what I mean. I have a set of clothes that I leave home to wear to the Grand Ole Opry and that sort of thing. Then I have a set of clothes I leave on the bus. I have hats I wear at home and I have hats on the bus. I have a practice guitar on the bus and a practice guitar at home. Practice fiddle on the bus and practice fiddle at home. That sort of thing. It’s just natural for the two of us. We are extremely comfortable with it. It has been a great experience for both me and my wife.
BT: When did you decide you wanted to write a book about your life?
CD: I just started writing years ago. I started writing about my early life; earliest remembrances and that sort of thing. As I got on down into it and thought that there might be a book there, I started editing it and eliminated things that people would not be interested in. Then the problem was I could not find a place to end it. It was hard to find a stopping place because my career was going on. I didn’t get asked to join The Grand Ole Opry until I was in my 70s, and things kept happening, and I kept on writing until the night I found out I was gonna be inducted into The Country Music Hall of Fame. I thought it was a great place to end the book. So the book goes from my earliest remembrances up until the night I got inducted into The Country Music Hall of Fame.
BT: The book starts with your earliest remembrances. What is a favorite memory from childhood?
CD: Some of my best memories are sitting around the radio with my family in North Carolina. I was not raised in the television age and I am very happy about that. We only had the radio. Rather than actually seeing The Lone Ranger riding across the desert and shooting, I had to envision it. I had to think. I think growing up on the radio helped me be able to paint pictures with words. Whether it's the words to a song or writing this book.
BT: What about the music you were exposed to here in North Carolina?
CD: When I first started playing music I was a bluegrass fanatic. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were on WTPF in Raleigh and I used to listen to them all the time. I was a big fan of Bill Monroe as well. About the time Elvis came along I started getting interested in the rock side of music. From then on I just went all kinds of different directions.
BT: Speaking of the different directions you have taken during your musical career, how does Memories, Memoirs, and Miles go along with the book?
CD: Well, for one thing, it’s got the first record I ever made on it. An instrumental song called “Jaguar” from 1959. What we were trying to achieve was a chronological musical companion to the book. It’s the musical story of my life.
Charlie Daniels is a country music legend. His new book not only tells the story of him growing up and his musical career, it also shares life-lessons that can lead young musicians on a solid path, and these lessons are applicable to the general reader as well. Whether you see him live, read the book, purchase the album, or listen to “Devil Went Down To Georgia” for the thousandth time, Charlie Daniels will show you just how a long-haired country boy is doing his thing.
The Charlie Daniels Band Headlines “Carolina Uprising”
October 21, 2017
Koka Booth Amphitheater
Carolina Uprising featuring performances by (Bands, times & order are subject to change):
8:00PM The Charlie Daniels Band
6:25PM The Marshall Tucker Band
4:55PM The Outlaws
3:35PM Pure Prairie League
2:15PM Poco featuring Rusty Young
1:00PM Scooter Brown Band
12:00PM Super Grit Cowboy Band