October 28, 1936
July 6, 2020
Wilmington, North Carolina
Charlie Daniels pioneered the blending of southern rock sounds with mainstream country music, mingling musical traditions ranging from folk and bluegrass to gospel, country, and rock.
The son of a lumberman, Charles Edward Daniels learned how to play fiddle and guitar in high school. Soon after he was playing in rock & roll bands. By the time Daniels was eighteen, Elvis Presley had cut “It Hurts Me,” a song co-written by Daniels and record producer Bob Johnston. At the urging of Johnston, Daniels moved to Nashville in 1967 to be a session musician.
Daniels gained work quickly, playing on recordings by a range of artists including Leonard Cohen, Flatt & Scruggs, Claude King, Al Kooper, Marty Robbins, Pete Seeger, Ringo Starr, and, most famously, Bob Dylan. In addition to playing on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, Daniels can be heard on Dylan’s Self Portrait and New Morning albums.
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“The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and Other Hits
Daniels began his career as a recording artist on the Kama Sutra Records label in 1970 and soon formed the Charlie Daniels Band, forging a southern rock sound. He broke through with a Top Ten pop single in 1973 with “Uneasy Rider,” and the next year began to define his sound with the album Fire on the Mountain, featuring the Top Forty pop hit “The South’s Gonna Do It Again.”
Moving to Epic Records, Daniels scored an even bigger hit in 1979 with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a rousing story song about a fiddle contest with Lucifer.
The record went #3 pop, #1 country, and sold more than a million copies. It earned the Country Music Association’s Single of the Year award for 1979 and a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. In addition, the Charlie Daniels Band was named the CMA’s Instrumental Group of the Year for 1979 and 1980. The cherry on the cake was the Charlie Daniels Band being featured singing the hit song in the blockbuster Hollywood movie Urban Cowboy (1980), which helped ignite a boom in country music’s popularity.
The success of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and its accompanying platinum-selling album, Million Mile Reflections, marked a turning point for the Charlie Daniels Band toward country music. From 1979 to 2011, the band placed twenty-nine hits on the country charts. Charlie Daniels became a member of the Grand Ole Opry cast in 2008.
The Charlie Daniels Influence
Among Daniels’s accomplishments was the launch of his annual Volunteer Jam concerts in 1974. These multi-artist extravaganzas, sometimes stretching past ten hours in length, became must-see musical spectacles for thousands. During the jams, legends of country music such as Roy Acuff, Alabama, Bill Monroe, Ray Price, and Tammy Wynette shared bills with acts as diverse as James Brown, Don Henley, Billy Joel, B.B. King, Little Richard, Steppenwolf, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. A Volunteer Jam Tour including the Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, and the Outlaws crisscrossed the United States in 2007. Subsequently, tours kept the tradition alive.
In recognition of his “unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers,” Daniels was honored as a BMI Icon in 2005.
“When Charlie Daniels was asked how he does what he does, he answered, ‘I just try to play like me, and to sing like I talk,’” Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO Kyle Young said during the 2016 Medallion Ceremony welcoming Daniels to the Country Music Hall of Fame, pointing toward Daniels’s rejection of musical labels.
Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press
The success of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and its accompanying platinum-selling album, Million Mile Reflections, marked a turning point for the Charlie Daniels Band toward country music.