Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie Daniels passed away earlier today. He was 83. Daniels was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.
“Charlie Daniels was a reverential innovator. He was a fiddle-playing bandleader, like King of Country Music Roy Acuff. His music fused the immediacy of Southern Rock with the classic country storytelling that he heard as a child in Wilmington, North Carolina,” said Kyle Young, CEO, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “He brought new audiences to country music, pointing people to the sources even as he explored the edges. He was also a delight to be around, always with wife Hazel at his side. Just as fiddler Johnny did in the famous song, Charlie Daniels beat the Devil.”
Steeped in musical traditions ranging from folk and bluegrass, to gospel, country and rock, Daniels was a pioneer in introducing southern rock sounds to 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 $3 million 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 71.
Daniels has placed 33 singles on the Billboard country charts. In addition to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” his other Top Ten hits are “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye” (1986) and “Boogie Woogie Fiddle Country Blues” (1988). “Uneasy Rider,” one of his country chart-making singles, was also a Top Ten pop hit in 1973. Besides “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” other pop successes were his 1975 singles “The South’s Gonna Do It” and “Long Haired Country Boy,” both of which became staples of his live shows. He also charted in the pop Top 30 with “In America” (1980) and “Still in Saigon” (1982). His earliest songwriting success came in 1964 when his co-written “It Hurts Me” became a Top 30 pop hit for Elvis Presley.
Prior to gaining solo stardom, Daniels was a session musician (mostly in Nashville) for artists including Marty Robbins, Claude King, Flatt & Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, Al Kooper, Starr, and, most famously, Dylan. In addition to Nashville Skyline, Daniels can be heard on Dylan’s Self Portrait, and New Morning albums of 1969–70. (In 2014 he released the tribute album Off the Grid–Doin’ It Dylan.)
Among Daniels’s most impressive accomplishments was the launch of his Volunteer Jam in 1974. These annual, multi-artist, multi-genre extravaganzas, sometimes stretching past 10 hours in length, became must-see musical spectacles for thousands.
A “Volunteer Jam Tour” including the Charlie Daniels Band, the Outlaws, and the Marshall Tucker Band toured the United States in 2007. Subsequently, tours kept the tradition alive. A 2015 Volunteer Jam show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena captured the flavor of the 1970s events. The tradition was later revived, and Volunteer Jam XX, a benefit concert that raised money for The Journey Home, a nonprofit Daniels co-founded to help veterans, was held in 2018.
In recognition of his “unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers,” Daniels was honored as a BMI Icon in 2005, and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.