NASHVILLE (Billboard) - At 71 years old, Charlie Daniels still sets a blistering pace few can match. Whether touring, authoring a book or recording an album, he approaches each project with a sense of creative vision and passion that remains undimmed after 50 years in the industry.
One of the most versatile and prolific artists in American music, Daniels has released 50 albums, 17 of those just since launching his own Blue Hat label a decade ago. Reflecting the broad scope of his artistry, those projects have encompassed a variety of genres, from the blues of 1997’s “Blues Hat” to the bluegrass gospel of 2005’s “Songs of the Longleaf Pines” to the rockin’ country represented on two 2007 releases, “Live From Iraq” and the duet project “Deuces.”
Daniels has always had a gift for forging a sense of community and bringing together artists from all musical styles. Whether welcoming an eclectic lineup to the stage during one of his famed Volunteer Jam concerts or mentoring some of today’s young country acts during the making of “Deuces,” Daniels has always encouraged others to defy boundaries and just create great music.
Q: When you started, did you think you’d still love playing music this much 50 years later?
Charlie Daniels: “I had no idea. You do one day at a time. People ask me what would I have done if I had not been a musician. I’m not a ‘What if?’ thinker. It’s been a long road and a good road and a tough road. I’ve learned a lot of lessons in the many years that I’ve been doing this that I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else.
“I’ve learned about adversity. When everyone else gets tired and disgusted, that’s when you have to go for it. If you don’t have it in your heart to do it that way, you should have never taken the first step.”
Q: What did your parents think of your decision to be a musician?
Daniels: “My dad wanted me to go to college and get a degree in forestry because he was a timber man. But I didn’t carry that gene or whatever it is to have the same love for it that he had.
“I can see my parents being very frustrated when I first started trying to play music because music was thought of very much as a hobby. There were horror stories about people trying to make a living playing music and how their families would suffer. My parents had apprehensions about me getting into this business, but once I started, it was all I wanted to do. I had no desire to do anything else.”
Q: Your first radio hit was “Uneasy Rider” in 1973. It could easily have been pegged as a novelty hit, and that tag could have tainted your career. How did you overcome that?
Daniels: “I just refused to be pushed into that category. I did other records and did what needed to be done to overcome it. It’s like, ‘Gosh, here we are. We’ve got a hit record!’ It’s a blessing, but you’ve got to break out of that mold. By no means was that close to what (the Charlie Daniels Band) was all about when you hear ‘Uneasy Rider.’ You’ve just got to stay with it until the world realizes, ‘Hey, they are serious. They are capable of doing more than that.”‘
Q: What was it like recording with Bob Dylan on “Nashville Skyline?”
Daniels: “I am not a great session player. I don’t play other people’s music as well. What goes into being a good session player is doing somebody else’s idea of what a song should be. I’m so much better off doing my stuff and doing what I do other than trying to interpret other people’s music, unless it’s the kind of thing like Dylan did.
“Dylan was like, ‘Hey, let’s go in and make a record. I want you to play like you do and we’ll be the Bob Dylan Band and do a Bob Dylan record.’ That gives you a certain amount of freedom that you don’t experience in a lot of places. That’s why I did so well on the Dylan stuff.”
Q: When you held the first Volunteer Jam in 1974, did you have any idea it would become such a long-running and successful event?
Daniels: “I had no idea. It was supposed to be a one-time thing. It was a live recording session. Sometimes things take (on) a life of their own. The name Volunteer Jam was a natural. All the elements fell together.
“The first year was an incredible musical event. It sold out. Lots of people didn’t get to come to it and lots of people heard about it. People wondered: ‘What’s a Volunteer Jam? What’s this thing everybody’s talking about?’ It became very obvious that this was something that we should do again, and we did. That first night was like magic. Here we are talking about it 30 years or so after.”
Q: Some people, including Wyclef Jean, credit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” with being one of the pioneering rap songs. Do you think of it that way?
Daniels: “That goes way back to an old form of music called ‘talking blues’ that had been around forever. Instead of singing the lyrics, people talk them. I’ve been hearing it all my life. There was a guy, Robert Lunn, on the Grand Ole Opry that used to do that. He would be using some comedy sort of thing, something he’d sing, and there was a little punch line involved. It’s an old form of music.’
Q: In recording your new duets album, “Deuces,” how did you determine who would record each song?
Daniels: “It was a mutual consent. It was a song that we both liked. Darius Rucker is a big Bob Dylan fan and (‘Like a Rolling Stone’) was a good tune for us to do, and Vince (Gill) loved the one we did (‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’). I could not 100 percent read what somebody likes to do by any means, but I’m pretty good at picking a song that would be compatible for both people and most of the time it worked out.
“Dolly (Parton) wanted to do something she wrote, which is a standard policy with her. She’s constantly being asked to do something, but like she says, if she took everything that came down the pike, she’d be going all the time. So what she does is she wants to sing a song that she wrote, which I have no problem with. She’s a great writer. We did ‘Daddy’s Old Fiddle.’ You just kind of go along and find something that works for everybody.”
Q: What keeps you out there still making music?
Daniels: “I love what I do. People say, ‘Why don’t you retire?’ For what? I’m doing what I want to do. You’re supposed to retire to do something you want to do and I’m doing what I want to do. So it would be kind of silly for me to retire.
“I love my fellow musicians. I love being able to get up in the morning and think, ‘I’m going to do something today that I thoroughly enjoy.’ I’m thankful to God (for) all of these years that I have been able to make a living at something that I enjoy so very much.”
Q: What goals do you have left?
Daniels: “There’s always something to do. There’s always another record to cut. There’s constantly something. You never run out of things to do or things to accomplish. You’re just never going to do that. There’s always another cluster of notes to put together to make a song out of it.”