Charlie Daniels wasn’t just a country music legend. He was a music legend, period, right up there with the likes of Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Bob Dylan. In fact, speaking of Dylan, did you know Charlie was in the studio band on 3 of Dylan’s albums? That’s Charlie playing bass and/or guitar on “Nashville Skyline”, “Self-Portrait” and “New Morning”. Daniels credits that time with Dylan as helping him not stay within the confines of traditional country, especially regarding live shows. Dylan, Daniels said, in an interview with Billboard magazine last year, “represented that kind of creative freedom to me as to somebody who was not concerned so much with how long it took to get a song done, whether it was three minutes or thirty minutes, whatever it took to get it done. That made a lot of people, including myself, think, ‘Wait a minute, let’s try not crowding things up. If we need 10 minutes, let’s just do a 10-minute song and do a long instrumental part if we need to.'” The two maintained a lifelong friendship as a result.
You can bet the entire music industry will be mourning the loss of Daniels, who has passed away from a stroke at 83, in the coming days. So now would be a great time to go back through some of Daniels’ biggest hits that have since been overshadowed by his signature classic, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia“. Here are 5 good ones to start with.
Click the song title of each to be taken to the video on YouTube.
5) Uneasy Rider. A hilarious spoken-word novelty song from 1973 that was his first legitimate hit. Daniels also wrote the song, which is about, as Wikipedia describes it, “a long-haired marijuana smoker driving a Chevrolet with a “peace sign, mag wheels and a four on the floor“, which may come as a surprise to some later Daniels’ fans who got to know him in his more conservative years. Then again, the guy played with Dylan.
4) Drinkin My Baby Goodbye. As good an instrumentalist as he was- and he was one of the best, Daniels was also one hell of a songwriter. This barroom scorcher from 1986 is balls-to-the-wall from start to finish, with great verses like
“Every time I tried to sit down and talk with her it always ended up in a fuss
I tried to reason with her right up till the time that she got on that Greyhound bus
It’d be better if I just forget if ’cause she sure forgot about me
And if it takes all night I’m gonna do it right
I’m gonna sit here till I can’t see”
And the immortal line from the chorus
“Pour me another one I’m finished with the other one
I’m drinkin’ my baby goodbye”
Those lyrics, and the guitar lick throughout the song, almost make breaking up sound worth it.
3) In America 1980 in America was a tough time. There were after-effects of Watergate still reverberating, unemployment and inflation were sky-high, and the Iran Hostage Crisis was front page news day after day. Daniels’ released this song as a sort of pep talk: a reminder to everyone that America still had a lot going for her, with a line that seems especially optimistic…or outdated…today, depending on your viewpoint:
“We’ll all stick together and you can take that to the bank/That’s the cowboys and the hippies/the rebels and the yanks“.
At the time, the line didn’t seem all that far-fetched at all, and personally, I wish we could get back to a place where we’d at least like to think we could all come together like that again. Maybe we need that reminder from Charlie.
2) The Legend of Wooley Swamp Like Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye, this song came from Daniels’ 1986 Full Moon album and it is another rocker, this time as southern as anything Skynyrd ever put out. It’s also another story song (again showing off Daniels’ ridiculous skills as a writer) that weaves the tale of “Lucias Clay“, a miserly old hermit who lives in a swamp “way back inside Booger Woods“, and a band of thieving, no good white-trash brothers intent on stealing all the money Clay has buried in mason jars all around his property. It’s a blast to listen to and even more fun to crank up and rock out to. Bonus points: just memorize the story and scare kids with it some night around a campfire!
1) Long Haired Country Boy One of my all-time favorite songs, period: a rollicking, honky-tonk declaration of defiant “country boy” independence, the song alludes to Daniels’-then southern-hippy ways, including getting “drunk in the morning and stoned in the afternoon” (which, born-again, Daniels changed for a later album of updated hits). The song celebrates a “Don’t Tread on Me” ethos that also mixes in a little “Live and Let Live” (again with the hippy thing). And, my favorite part, it also features a stinging verse addressed to the “Preacher man talkin’ on the TV/Puttin’ down the rock and roll” and makes fun of the preacher’s overly-pious ways (which Daniels didn’t change because, well, probably because those preacher men on TV are still overly-pious).
So there you go. 5 good ones to go listen to again, or for the first time. AND, if you’d like to honor Daniels’ memory, his family is asking for donations to the charity he founded to help soldiers transition to civilian life. It’s called The Journey Home project and you can find out more here. RIP Charlie Daniels. You will be missed.