Charlie Daniels Dead at 83

The Country Music Hall of Famer is gone.

The legendary country music fiddler best known for his 1979 hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” has died of a stroke.

The Nashville Tennessean (“Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie Daniels dies at 83“):

Charlie Daniels, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame best known for “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” died Monday morning after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke. He was 83.

Daniels’ death was confirmed by his publicist, Don Murry Grubbs. He is survived by his wife, Hazel, and son Charlie Daniels Jr.

By the time the Charlie Daniels Band topped the charts with “Devil” in 1979, the instrumentalist, singer and songwriter had long established a remarkable, multifaceted career in Music City. As a session musician, he played on three of Bob Dylan’s albums – including the revolutionary “Nashville Skyline” – as well as recordings for Ringo Starr and Leonard Cohen.

At the other end of that 60-plus year career, Daniels used more of his voice in support of U.S. veterans, and was known to speak out on their behalf on social media until his final days.

In 1974, he launched the first “Volunteer Jam,” a regular all-star concert that has continued for nearly 50 years. Daniels joined the Grand Ole Opry in 2008, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

Upon its release in 1979, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” didn’t just top the country chart, it became a huge pop crossover hit – climbing up to No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart behind The Knack’s “My Sharona” and Earth Wind and Fire’s “After the Love Has Gone.” It gained even greater ubiquity one year later, when Daniels and his band performed it in the 1980 film “Urban Cowboy.”

“I get a chance to play it better tonight than I did last night and better tomorrow night than I did tonight,” Daniels said in 2016 of the song’s famous fiddle solo. “I haven’t played it perfect yet. I am in love with walking on stage and entertaining people with songs I have written. It’s one of the few times in my life that I feel like I know what I’m doing.”

CMT News (“Charlie Daniels, 83, Dies of a Stroke”):

Country legend Charlie Daniels, 83, died on Monday morning (July 6) after a hemorrhagic stroke.

[…]

Known as one of country music’s most patriotic personalities, Daniels joined the Grand Ole Opry in 2008 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016. Equally known for being outspoken about his conservative political beliefs, he accepted the First Amendment Center/Americana Music Association “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award in 2006.

[…]

A prolific recording artist, Daniels charted 34 singles on Billboard’s country chart. His Top 10 hits include “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye” from 1986 and “Boogie Woogie Fiddle Country Blues” from 1988. Other notable singles from his catalog include “Uneasy Rider,” “In America,” and “Simple Man.” A devout Christian, Daniels also earned four Grammy nominations for his gospel recordings.

[…]

Daniels served as a role model for innumerable country artists who weren’t afraid for their music to get rowdy. His countless collaborators in his later years included George Jones, Aaron Lewis, Montgomery Gentry, Travis Tritt, and Gretchen Wilson. He appeared on cue in a comical 2009 Geico TV commercial when an announcer rhetorically asks, “Does Charlie Daniels play a mean fiddle?”

The Country Music Hall of Fame hasn’t yet noted his passing but his induction page says,

Steeped in musical traditions ranging from folk and bluegrass to gospel, country, and rock, Charlie Daniels was a pioneer in introducing southern rock sounds into mainstream country music.

In the process, he brought millions of young people to a greater appreciation of their country music heritage, established musical alliances with a wide variety of artists in country and other music fields, and helped take country to deeper levels of American culture.

Critical to this achievement was his session work on albums Bob Dylan recorded in Nashville in the 1960s, including Nashville Skyline. Daniels also supported Ringo Starr on Starr’s Beaucoups of Blues. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and the Charlie Daniels Band were featured in the landmark film Urban Cowboy (1980), a movie that helped ignite a boom in country music’s popularity and widened its audience across the nation.

According to the RIAA, Daniels’s lifetime record sales have exceeded 13.5 million units. When he was signed for three million dollars by Epic Records in New York in 1976, the contract set a record for a Nashville act. Daniels has nine gold, platinum, or multi-platinum albums. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a platinum single, was the Country Music Association (CMA) Single of the Year in 1979 and earned the Charlie Daniels Band a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. The chart-topping country hit crossed over to become a Top Five pop smash as well. Daniels was named CMA Musician of the Year in 1979. The Charlie Daniels Band won CMA Instrumental Group of the Year Awards in 1979 and 1980. Daniels’s religious recordings won Dove Awards in 1995 and 1997. Daniels became a Grand Ole Opry cast member in 2008 at age seventy-one.

I grew up listening to what was then called “country and western” music as a kid and was just coming back to the states from Germany when “Devil Went Down to Georgia” was breaking out. I was making the transition to listening mostly to the rock music of the day but that song crossed boundaries. Indeed, not only was it a crossover hit but I distinctly remember to country stations my parents listening to using “son of a gun” and rock station I listened to using “son of a bitch” in the classic line near the end of the song. (I haven’t heard the “gun” version in a long time.)

Daniels came to play at Jacksonville State when I was there and I’m pretty sure I helped work security and stage setup for that concert as an ROTC cadet. (We worked several shows during my time there to earn money to pay for extracurricular activities.) I definitely went to one of his shows in Hanau, West Germany circa 1989-1990 when I was stationed in nearby Babenhausen. I still own many of his albums on CD.

Over time, he drifted off the top of the charts and became more known for his politics and religious views, which were perhaps unsurprisingly not all that sophisticated.

One particular song illustrating that point, which we’ve discussed in the comments section here before, is this one:

His 1973 hit “Uneasy Rider,” which I must admit is a very different song to me now than it was a few decades ago, is another:

His vocal support for the military is interesting in that he never served himself. But, although there was a draft in place when he graduated high school in 1955, the Korean War was over and Vietnam was a long way down the road. One of his big hits was “Still in Saigon,” one of many that rode the wave of re-embracing those who served in Vietnam in the early 1980s.

He was undeniably a legend in the business and it’s actually surprising that he had to wait so long to get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Thankfully, he and his wife lived to see it.

Some of my other favorites, most of which predate the music video era:

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Obituaries, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    “Devil, just come on back if you ever want to try again
    I told you once, you son of a bitch I’m the best that’s ever been”

    RIP…

    1
  2. Mu Yixiao says:

    Two great musicians lost this week: Enio Morricone and Charlie Daniels.

    I’m only couple years younger than you. “Fire on the Mountain” was frequently spinning on my sisters’ turntable when I was growing up (they were 6 and 9 years older than me). I don’t remember my parents listening to music very much (except while watching the Lawrence Welk Show)–but I know they were lovers of music (Dad could play a lot of instruments–but only by ear).

    Charlie Daniels and Jethro Tull are the two bands that stood out to me when I started talking to other kids about music (most of their parents were the same age as my oldest brother–serious generation gap). To me, a fiddle and a flute were normal in “rock music” (because of context, I always put Daniels into the “rock” category–along with Cat Steven, Carol King, the Allman Brothers, etc.).

    Mark O’Connor’s sequel (The Devil Comes Back to Georgia) was… a nice effort (and brought in some serious talent), but… falls just a bit short.

    However… I expect that the last 5 seconds of that video will be turned into a gif and shared quite a bit in the next week. 🙂

    Normally we say “Rest in Peace”, but in this case: Fuck that. Charlie? Pick up that golden fiddle and kick it up! Tell Gabriel to pick up the harmony, and teach them cherubim what their strings can really do. Angelic Choir? There’s your back up singers.

    While we may mourn his passing from this Earth… the Silver City has become infinitely richer–and a lot more fun.

    3
  3. Joe says:

    Two great musicians lost this week: Enio Morricone and Charlie Daniels.

    As it turns out, Mu Yixiao, we are more of a Morricone family – hear/watch Cinema Paradiso – but RIP to them both and what they brought to all of us in so many different voices.

  4. Bruce Henry says:

    Jesus the lyrics to Simple Man are freaking terrifying. For a guy who seemed normal in 1973 he sure was a fanatical kook by whenever that thing came out.

    I actually shook hands with the guy once, in 1976 in Jacksonville FL. I worked stage set-up for a big benefit concert for Jimmy Carter that was being put on at the Gator Bowl by the CEO of Capricorn records. Had a backstage pass and stuck out my hand as he walked by, lol. Also on hand were Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dickie Betts, 38 Special, The Outlaws, and the Marshall Tucker Band. It was way cool.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Bruce Henry:

    Jesus the lyrics to Simple Man are freaking terrifying. For a guy who seemed normal in 1973 he sure was a fanatical kook by whenever that thing came out.

    In 1973, when he had a minor hit with “Uneasy Rider,” he was a 36-year-old hippy. By 1989, when “Simple Man” came out, he was a 52-year-old.

    But, honestly, much of what he sang in that song was pretty standard Southern thinking about law and order. Hank Jr.’s “A Country Boy Can Survive” (1981-82) wasn’t quite as graphic but had similar concepts.

    The preacher man says it’s the end of time
    And the Mississippi River, she’s a-goin’ dry
    The interest is up and the stock market’s down
    And you only get mugged if you go downtown
    I live back in the woods you see
    My woman and the kids and the dogs and me
    I got a shotgun, a rifle and a four-wheel drive
    And a country boy can survive
    Country folks can survive
    I can plow a field all day long
    I can catch catfish from dusk ’til dawn (Yeah)
    We make our own whiskey and our own smoke too
    Ain’t too many things these old boys can’t do
    We grow good-ole tomatoes and homemade wine
    And a country boy can survive
    Country folks can survive
    Because you can’t starve us out and you can’t make us run
    ‘Cause we’re them old boys raised on shotguns
    We say grace, and we say ma’am
    If you ain’t into that, we don’t give a damn

    We came from the West Virginia coal mines
    And the Rocky Mountains, and the western skies
    And we can skin a buck, we can run a trot line
    And a country boy can survive
    Country folks can survive
    I had a good friend in New York City
    He never called me by my name, just Hillbilly
    My grandpa taught me how to live off the land
    And his taught him to be a businessman
    He used to send me pictures of the Broadway nights
    And I’d send him some homemade wine
    But he was killed by a man with a switchblade knife
    For 43 dollars, my friend lost his life
    I’d love to spit some Beech-Nut in that dude’s eyes
    And shoot him with my old .45

    ‘Cause a country boy can survive
    Country folks can survive
    ‘Cause you can’t starve us out and you can’t make us run
    ‘Cause we’re them old boys raised on shotguns
    We say grace, and we say ma’am
    If you ain’t into that, we don’t give a damn
    We’re from North California and South Alabam’
    And little towns all around this land
    And we can skin a buck, and run a trotline
    And a country boy can survive
    Country folks can survive
    A country boy can survive
    Country folks can survive

    Ditto the more humorous “Beer for Our Horses” (2002) by Toby Keith and Willie Nelson.

    Well a man come on the 6 o’clock news
    Said somebody’s been shot, somebody’s been abused
    Somebody blew up a building, somebody stole a car
    Somebody got away, somebody didn’t get too far yeah
    They didn’t get too far
    Grandpappy told my pappy, back in my day, son
    A man had to answer for the wicked that he done
    Take all the rope in Texas find a tall oak tree,
    Round up all them bad boys hang them high in the street
    For all the people to see
    That justice is the one thing you should always find
    You got to saddle up your boys, you got to draw a hard line
    When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune

    And we’ll all meet back at the local saloon
    We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces singing
    Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses
    We got too many gangsters doing dirty deeds
    Too much corruption, and crime in the streets
    It’s time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground
    Send ’em all to their maker and he’ll settle ’em down

    You can bet he’ll set ’em down
    ‘Cause justice is the one thing you should always find
    You got to saddle up your boys, you got to draw a hard line
    When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
    We’ll all meet back at the local saloon
    And we’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces singing
    Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses
    Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses
    You know justice is the one thing you should always find
    You got to saddle up your boys, you got to draw a hard line
    When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
    And we’ll all meet back at the local saloon
    And we’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces singing
    Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses
    Singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses