Title: Charlie Daniels
Charlie Daniels has always defied categorization. With Grammy Awards, Dove Awards, CMA trophies, even awards from Child Magazine and Sesame Street for his childrenís music, Charlie Daniels has carved a unique place for himself in the music industry. A winner of the BMI Icon Award, a Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music, and a Living Legend Award from the Music City News, he rose from session musician performing with artists as diverse as Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, to superstar with a renegade style. In 1974, Daniels started the famous Volunteer Jam, now a music tradition.
As dedicated to his charity work as he is to his music, Daniels has lent his talents and support to Habitat for Humanity, Christmas for Kids, and St. Jude Childrenís Hospital. He is a primary benefactor of The Angelus, a St. Petersburg, FL home for the severely disabled. In 2007 he received both the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service and the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award for four decades of service to American troops, performing for thousands of overseas troops and founding Operation Heartstrings to help soldiers battle depression and loneliness with music.
What does Tennessee mean to you?
I donít just like Tennessee; I love Tennessee. My son was under two years old when we moved here. Heís 42 now. Weíve been here 40 years. I enjoy going other places. I go spend a couple of months a year in Colorado. I love Colorado. I travel all 50 states and foreign countries and all over the place and Iím always ready to see whatís over the next hill.
But when I start thinking about home, when I start thinking about Christmas season or Thanksgiving, or someplace where itís time to be home, the only thought, the only place that comes to my mind is not anywhere else but Tennessee. Itís that land up there that Iíve been blessed enough to get and we put a house on close to 30 years ago, I guess, twenty-something years agoÖItís home for me. Itís the only home Iím interested in going to.
You could give me a penthouse on Fifth Avenue in New York, and I would certainly be appreciative and I would certainly spend some time there. But when I got to thinking about going home, I would go there [to Tennessee].
I love land. I love horses and cattle. You could give me 100,000 acres in the middle of Texas. I dearly love Texas, but when I wanted to go home, it would be in Tennessee. Thereís not a truer saying that home is where the heart is. And my heart is in Tennessee, in a specific place in Tennessee. I call it Twin Pines Ranch, and I canít imagine living anywhere else.
What makes Tennessee so special?
Thereís always been a mystique about Nashville to me, since I got interested in music at such an early ageówell, really kind of a late age for nowadays, but it was early for meómy early teens. With the Grand Ole Opry being here and the music business being here that I wanted so desperately to be a part of it. And this is where I wanted to do it.
I didnít want to go live in a big city. I didnít want to go to New York or L.A.. I wanted to come to Nashville, because it was so much more what Iíd been used to all my life: the people, the food, the whole periphery of the thing. For many, many years, I wanted to live in the Nashville area. And when I got here I just said, "I wasnít born here, but I got here as fast as I could."
How would you characterize Tennesseeís musical heritage?
Any place where the Mississippi River flows, as long as itís navigable, certainly the music that came out of the cotton fields, in Mississippi, Lousiana, where it developed in places along the river, the blues, Dixieland jazz, all came up the river and found their way to Memphis.
The Appalachian music was developed in the mountains. When the Grand Ole Opry started a lot of the original Opry members were out of the Smoky Mountain area, the Blue Ridge area. And they came in.
Elvis kind of split it all right down the middle. I think Elvis at heart was a country singer to start with, and of course, he became so big so fast that the pop world claimed him immediately. But he put rock and country music together, especially in his early days. He put it together; he played it with instruments that were used in a country band. He loved country music and he loved gospel music. Elvis was the guy who put it all together. You had the jazz and rock and the rhythm and blues and country and bluegrass and all this stuff, and Elvis stepped in and everything went Ö[BANG]
In one persona, the greatest entertainer that was combined with the most mysterious. Elvis couldnít happen the same way now it happened then, because back in the í50s there was no Entertainment Tonight, and there was no magazine shows and paparazzi following somebody around taking a picture of them every time they went out anywhere.
There was a mystique about him. You could not get enough of Elvis, you could not, there was no way. It seemed like pulling teeth to get a record out. It was forever between releases. The only thing you could hear was somebody would write a little piece in Country Song Roundup or somethingóthereíd be a little picture of Elvis. Then youíd hear some outlandish thing that somebody tore his clothes off him at a certain place or something like that. But it was like you could never get enough of him. You could not get a full report. Like weíre sitting down doing an interview. You never saw that with Elvis, especially in those days. I donít know of any in-depth interview thatís ever been done with Elvis Presley. There was a mystique about him that no other artist ever has had and probably will never have again because thereís so much media nowadays.
He was the hero; heís affected everything that has happened in music since the day that he walked on the stage. The manís been dead since 1977, whatís that 30 years? And thereís still a bunch of people running around trying to look like him, trying to sing like him. His birthday is commemorated; the day that he died is commemorated. His songs, his records are somewhere around a billion copies now. Heís the most recognizable figure in the world as far as entertainers are concerned. Thereíre no maybes with Elvis. When you see him, thatís Elvis; when you hear him, thatís Elvis. NobodyĎs ever been able to totally and completely impersonate him, imitate him.
Thereís one Elvis Presley and he lived in Tennessee. Enough said.
What other types of music influence your music?
Iíve got such a wide taste in music. I love B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn. I love Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Iíve listened to the Lawrence Welk show and heard stuff that I really enjoyed listening to. I like jazz. I like rock music. Rock is an ambiguous word anymore. Iím not really into the real screaming sort of stuff because I donít understand it.
I donít understand rap. Rap sounds like the same song over and over and over to me. I know a lot of people really like it and thatís fine. I like country, obviously. I love bluegrass. Iíve been influenced by--suffice it to say--everybody from Bill Monroe to Duane Allman and all the stops in between.
How did you end up in Nashville?
I always wanted to come to Nashville. Nashville was my prime destination; itís where I wanted to be. It was the one place where the music industry is big and it still retains some of the hometown, down-home flavor that I love so much and has always been such a big part of my life.
I had a friend that I met in 1959. He was living in Texas at the time, but he went on to become a prominent producer with people like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins. I could go on and name them. He asked me if I wanted to come to town and try to get something going. I was out playing beer joints. I said yeah, Iíd like to. So, in 1967, I moved here and Iíve been here ever since. I tell people when I leave Tennessee I want to go to heaven. Itís the only other place I want to live.
Are there other areas of Tennessee you enjoy?
This is home. Tennessee is home. Thatís the one tag I can put on Tennessee that I can not put on any of the other 49 states. I love them all. I love going to Alaska. I love going to Hawaii. I love going to New York City. I have a great time in New York. I love everything. I love seeing the Gateway to the West. I love seeing the Rocky Mountains. I love it all; I love every bit of it. But like I say, I have one home, and itís in Tennessee.
I love Tennessee. You cut my arm in football season, and blood would come out orange. My son went to the University of Tennessee.
I obviously love the mountains. I never go across the Mississippi River that Iím awake (I cross it sometimes in the back of the bus when Iím asleep) that I donít want to look around and look at it.
There is something thatís just a big part of the part of American history that Iím so interested in has taken place up and down that Mississippi River. Thereís just something romantic about it in the fuller sense of the word. Iíve read so much about it and heard so much about it and seen so many movies about it. I love Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. So many things took place on the Mississippi River.
And of course Memphis has its own musical heritage, the home of the blues. Itís a great place.
I love the state. When I say Middle Tennessee, the area where I live, Iím not disparaging the rest of the state of Tennessee, because I dearly love it all. That just happens to be where I live.
Another thing, just even being practical about it, if we lived somewhere in New Mexico weíd never be home. Because if we went to New York state it would take forever to get there and forever to get back. This is centrally located, weíre real close, within a 1000 miles of most of the really big population concentrations, like New YorkÖand up and down the east coast. Weíre 1800-1900 miles from Los Angeles. So itís a great place just even being practical about it. It makes sense to be here, but thatís not the reason Iím here. If Tennessee was an island out in the ocean somewhere Iíd still be here.
Where are some of your favorite places to eat in Tennessee?
I eat so much at home in Tennessee; thatís when Hazel cooks. I go onto my place and sometimes I donít go off for two or three days. I donít go outside the gate. I stay there. Iíve got a little shooting range, my horses are there, Iíve got a place to hit golf balls out in the pasture. Iíve got the stuff I really enjoy doing. Iíve got a little fishing dock on the lake. The stuff I really enjoy doing and I like to spend my off time doing Iíve got most of it right there at the house.
So we donít go out a lot. We go out once in a while. Thereís some good restaurants in Nashville. I donít go out as much as a lot of people do, so it wouldnít be fair for me to just name the couple or three that we go to. We go out so little that most of the time we go to the same couple of places.
Thereís some great ribs in Memphis, great BBQ in Memphis. I love barbeque. Of course everybody is familiar with the Rendezvous over there.
Something that started in right here is this part of the country is the Cracker Barrel stores. The original store is probably something like 12 miles from where we sit right now and I remember it. It was like an old service station. Itís gone crazy now, itís all over the place.
Tennessee food traditions are pretty strong. There are very few things I donít like, I like about anything. I can go to a home-cooking restaurant, I can go to a gourmet restaurant, I can go to a French restaurant; I canít read the wine list half the time, but at least I can go.
I donít have trouble finding something I can eat. Sometimes the quantity is not all that great, not knowing where you are or whatever. But I can ride through Tennessee and pick out places that Iíd have lunch there in a New York minute. I can settle for a can of pork and beans.
How do you approach your writing?
I start a song a lot of times with a guitar riff. I keep guitars around where I can get to them, and fiddles too, for that matter, but basically guitars. I write mostly on guitar and I start with a riff. Iíve got one nowÖ Iím try to figure out a melody or something to go with it and, all of a sudden, something fits into that, meter-wise, and bar-wise, and everything right into this line, this guitar riff Iíve got, this set of chords Iíve got. So then you sit down and start writing the song. Then you get with the band and come into the studio, and then you start putting six peopleís ideas together.
Somebodyís going to say, hey, look, letís try this. Letís try the bass and drum doing this rather than doing that. Letís try twin guitars on that; letís try acoustic guitar on this; letís put organ instead of piano. Letís do this; letís do that; letís do the other thing. Why donít you try your fiddle on it? Or maybe I was aiming on doing fiddle on it and it didnít work and you put guitar on it.
Thatís when youíre getting it done, when you have six minds working together, thatís the difference between a band concept and somebody going in there with studio musicians. Now, donít get me wrong, I have the utmost admiration for studio musicians; theyíre some of the finest musicians in the world. But it donít work for me. What works for me is getting something started, written, going in and sitting down with my other five musicians and saying, ďGuys this is it; hereís the chords; this is what Iíve got in mind.Ē Then ideas start popping around the room like little bursts of electricity, little bursts of energy. And the first thing you know youíre sitting in here listening to a playback.
Youíre sitting in the control room and, all of sudden, this thingís playing back and somebody says, wait a minute! Wait a minute! What if we did THIS, and everybody goes, YEAH! Letís go back out there and do THIS. And you go back out there and do that, and you keep doing that, and you come up with something youíre very happy with, and you keep putting things in, you keep putting guitars in. Letís put acoustic guitar on it, letís put two acoustic guitars, or a 12-string; letís put percussion, or a cowbell or a tambourine, or whatever, and youíre sitting here creating music as you go along, from a basic idea. Thatís how we do it.
A lot of people donít do it that way, they take a song, they get it demoíd, and they take the demo, and the musicians sit down listen to it and play the song. Weíre different from that. We donít do it that way most of the time. Once in a while, if I find a song somebody has written and made a demo I want to do, I may bring it in and play it for the band and we do it. But most of the time, itís just us with an idea, sitting out there, knowing each other well enough, having spent hundreds of hours on stage together, in some cases thousands of hours on stage together, playing together, and in studios together, knowing each otherís capabilities, and knowing what part he ought to play.
My two other guitar players are completely different from each other; one plays one style, one plays another style, and when you put them together, theyíre great. So you know, this guy ought to play rhythm on this part, and this guy ought to play lead or vice versa. Itís just six people creating music as they go along and, to me, itís a wonderful way to do it.
Why do you think people call Tennessee a stage?
Tennessee is a stage for a lot of things. Tennessee is a stage for professional sports, which I happen to love, and college sports, which I happen to love. The sports thing. And itís a stage for commerce. A lot of businesses have moved into the state. A stage for good food. itís a stage for music. Itís a stage for good, good living, absolutely.
Clint Black enjoys:
Elvis Presley's Graceland
Location: Memphis, TN
Kix Brooks enjoys:
Location: Arrington, TN
Martina McBride enjoys:
Location: Nashville, TN
Robert Hicks enjoys:
Historic Downtown Franklin
Location: Franklin, TN