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Charlie Daniels looks to do it again

By Brian Baker, May 1999

Charlie Daniels' story is as big as the man himself. In his 62 years, Daniels has worked with the most renowned names in the music business, created and sustained the longest running concert event and literally changed the face of musical history as an instrumental force in softening the ground for today's alt.-country sound.

From his groundbreaking successful country rock albums of the '70's right up to his latest "Tailgate Party" on his own Blue Hat label, Daniels is a singular chapter in the big book of musical accomplishment.

On his latest, Daniels gives tribute to some of the greatest Southern rock bands of the ages.

Covering artists as disparate as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hootie & the Blowfish, the Allmans, the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie and Grinderswitch, Daniels has shown just how many rooms there are in country music's house.

Daniels mulled the possibilities of "Tailgate Party" for quite awhile, and with Blue Hat was finally able to bring it to life. "This is an album I've wanted to do for a long time," he says. "I hadn't planned on doing it. It was just a concept I had for many years that kept broadening as we went along. First, I wanted to do an album of obvious tribute material - Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, that sort of thing. The idea started to expand chronologically to include some of the newer people like Hootie & the Blowfish and Georgia Satellites, and geographically expanded to take in Texas so we could add Z.Z. Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan. So it became bands from the South, music from the South, from yesterday and today. Bands that I like. We just finally got around to doing it."

The whole concept would probably have been tabled by a major label, which is why Daniels formed Blue Hat.

"I don't fit, and I can't play the game here, or anywhere for that matter," he says honestly. "When I go into a studio, I've got to do what I want to do. I've always done that, That's where I've always had my success. It's hard to record for a major record label now and have that freedom. When we started, we thought we'd just lease the records to labels, and my manager said, 'Let's just start a label. Let's just set up distribution and see what happens.'"

Daniels' graduation from high school in 1955 came at a cosmically predestined point in history as Daniels formed several rock and roll bands inspired by the "subversive" influence of Elvis Presley.

Finally settling with a band that would hold his attention for eight years, Daniels and his rock combo The Jaguars scored a hit in 1959 with a song called "Jaguar," and never looked back.

In the early '60's, Daniels and his songwriting partner (and Jaguars' producer) Bob Johnston relocated to Nashville, even though Daniels felt particularly out of place in the country music capital.

In an amazing musical irony, Daniels and Johnston wrote a song called "It Hurts Me," which Elvis Presley's scouts secured for him. The song eventually wound up as the B-side to "Kissin' Cousins," and Daniels had a bona fide hit song, covered by the singer that had inspired him in the first place.

"It was a tremendous thing to me," Daniels remembers. "Of course, the money was always welcome. But it was also a milestone in saying, 'Hey, this is going to work. I can do something that can be marketed at a national level.' You need one of those every once in awhile."

Once he had established his songwriting cred, it was a short step to do the same with his performance resume, and Daniels very quickly became a hot session property.

When Bob Dylan began assembling talent for his country triptych ("Nashville Morning," "Self Portrait" and "New Morning"), Daniels was a lock for the fiddle player's position.

Daniels also played on Ringo Starr's grand country experiment, "Beaucoups of Blues" and toured with Leonard Cohen. Curious to explore the producer's role as well, Daniels moved behind the console to produce a pair of albums for The Youngbloods, "Elephant Mountain" and "Ride the Wind."

In 1971, Daniels made the momentous decision to form a band of his own to play his country compositions. Christened the Charlie Daniels Band, the group combined the rootsy rock of the '60's with the country sound that was quickly coming to the fore.

After several game tries, Daniels found the formula with "Honey in the Rock" and a talking blues/bluegrass narrative called "Uneasy Rider," which made its way up the country and pop charts simultaneously. 1974's "Fire on the Mountain" offered up a pair of Daniels' classics, "Long Haired Country Boy" and "South's Gonna Do It," and the album went on to achieve double platinum status, signalling a long run for the CDB.

1974 also saw the inadvertent birth of the Volunteer Jam, when Daniels organized an impromptu jam session to record a couple of live tracks for "Fire on the Mountain."

Assembling conveniently scheduled members of widely respected Southern bands like the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band, Daniels accidentally launched the longest running concert series in music history.

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