It was a nice evening, in 1979 I believe, when some friends called at the last moment and asked if I wanted to go to a concert. I had never heard of the Charlie Daniels Band, but my friends had an extra ticket and I had nothing else planned, so I said sure.
I had no idea what to expect from the music, but figured an evening listening to live music with a couple good-looking girls and one of my good buddies couldn’t be bad. In a matter of minutes I was climbing in their car headed to what was then Riverfront Coliseum.
Memories of that evening came back last week when I learned that Charlie died suddenly at the age of 83.
That first night I saw him in concert was one of first times I learned you should not judge things with preconceived notions.
At the time, I guess Charlie’s music was considered a mix of something between country and southern rock. I had heard some southern rock, but being mostly a hard rocker in those days, I was pretty sure the music would not impress me much. I was wrong.
From the time he took the stage and started sawin’ on that fiddle and playin’ it hot — at one time behind his head — I was mesmerized. Charlie’s music had a rebellious tone in those days, and I suppose that was part of the attraction. But really, I just plain liked the music.
I can’t remember if it was that night at the concert or a couple days later that I purchased a Charlie Daniels “Million Mile Reflections” album. But whenever it was, I played the heck out that thing.
In those days I had an upstairs bedroom with large windows that looked out over our backyard. I spent a lot of time in the backyard back then playing ball, and often I set the big speakers from my stereo system in those windows and blasted Charlie Daniels across the neighborhood.
We listened to a lot of rock music in those days (probably why I have trouble hearing nowadays) and my dad didn’t like it much. But when he heard I was playing something somewhat similar to the country music he liked, I believe he thought there might be hope for me after all. He never complained much if I was jammin’ to Charlie Daniels.
I listened to Charlie a lot in the next few years. In fact, one of his songs, “Long Haired Country Boy,” was pretty much the national anthem of a local watering hole I frequented back in the day.
As the years passed I listened to Charlie less and less, but every time one of his songs came on the radio, I’d crank it up a bit and sing along.
In the 1990s, when I was working at the Greenfield Daily Times, we covered the Ross County Fair each year. The fair booked some really good country acts in those days, I usually covered those concerts for the Times, and one year they booked Charlie Daniels. In those days the press was allowed to mingle with the band members backstage before the concert. I did not talk to Charlie much, but I got to step inside his tour bus and shake his hand. He was as gracious as he seemed if you ever saw him interviewed, and for a time that rekindled my interest in his music.
In his later decades Charlie mellowed greatly. He removed the curse words and certain phrases from his old songs, dedicated a large portion of his life’s work to our country’s veterans, and recorded several classic hymns. He also was not afraid to state his opinion politically and was quite active on Twitter.
In fact, in the days leading up to his death, his tweets included these:
July 2 – “Hey dumb politicians how much more do you think the police are going to take before they just say to hell with it and leave you for the mob to devour. Do you really think this bunch of thugs respect you for giving in? They’re laughing at you and they’ll soon be back for more.”
July 3 – “Webster’s definition of a fascist tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control. Remind you of anybody that thinks “ if we don’t agree with us we’ll burn down your town”
July 4 – “We’re sitting on the upstairs porch looking at the northern horizon and watching America light up, fireworks going off all over the place. You may tear down statues and burn buildings but you can’t kill the spirit of patriots and when they’ve had enough this madness will end.”
July 5, the day before he died – “Pray for the blue” and “125,000 innocent unborn babies will be murdered by abortionists around the world today.”
Those are his words, not mine.
When I read that Charlie had died, I had an urge to sit back in a chair, relax, and listen to some of his music. But I got busy and it didn’t happen.
So tonight, if things work out as planned and my wife and I are able to sit around a fire for a bit, I’ll break out a little Charlie Daniels and maybe we’ll both sing along, while nature provides the background sounds.
I think he’d like that.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.