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Author: Subject: Interview with Charlie Daniels about CDB's Heyday in 70s, Taz, Toy, Dickey, Earl & more

Zen Peach

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  posted on 5/15/2012 at 04:26 PM
I had a good talk with Charlie who is actually a very nice guy. I was determined to discuss what I think was the band's best days, the pre-"Devil Went Down To Georgia" 70s, and to damn sure give Paul Hornsby some props as well as well as Taz, Toy, both Tommys, Earl and more.

quote: lusives-for-Tuesday-May-15

Charlie Daniels Brings His Legendary Southern Rock To The Paramount

By Derek Halsey
For The Herald Dispatch

May 15, 2012

When the Charlie Daniels Band performs at the Paramount Arts Center this Saturday, you can bet that they will play their hit song, “Devil Went Down To Georgia.” That song first appeared on the Million Mile Reflections album which was Daniels’ biggest selling recording ever, reaching the impressive Triple Platinum status. It is the song that, along with his total body of work, probably won him a coveted membership on the Grand Ole Opry in 2008.

However, long before “Devil Went Down To Georgia” gained popularity in 1979, the Charlie Daniels Band (CDB) cut a swath through the Tri-state area beginning in the early 1970s. Sometimes touring with the fellow southern rock legends the Marshall Tucker Band (MTB), the CDB performed many concerts in Huntington, Charleston and Cincinnati in the pre-Million Dollar Reflections days of the mid-1970s, a time that many fans view as the band’s Golden Age.

Daniels first gained radio airplay with his song “Uneasy Rider” in 1972. That was followed by the successful 1974 album Fire On The Mountain, which featured future CDB standards like “South’s Going To Do It Again,” “Long Haired Country Boy,” “Trudy” and “Caballo Diablo” as well as one of the best live southern rock performances ever recorded, “No Place Left To Go.” Fire On The Mountain was the first of a series of classic CDB albums produced by ace musician and Alabama Music Hall of Famer Paul Hornsby that helped to define an era.

The Hornsby-produced recordings by the CDB include; Fire On The Mountain, Saddle Tramp, Nightrider, High Lonesome and Midnight Wind. These projects are filled with some of Daniels’ best story songs, numbers that could only be written by someone well-traveled.

Daniels has added some of those old school gems to his concert set lists in recent years including “Saddle Tramp” and “Billy The Kid,” a few of which will be played at the upcoming concert in Ashland this weekend.

The Charlie Daniels Band will perform at the Paramount Arts Center this Saturday night, May 19th. The venue is located at 1300 Winchester Ave., Ashland, Ky. The show begins at 8pm and tickets are $40, $45 and $50. More information can be found at and 606-324-3175.

“Let’s take ‘Billy The Kid,’ first of all,” said Daniels, in an exclusive interview with the Herald Dispatch. “I was in El Paso, Texas, back in my wild, misspent youth and I was sitting on a city bus and Pancho Villa (Mexican revolutionary in the early1900s) used to hang out in that part of the country. I got to thinking about a song about Pancho Villa. It just came into my mind; ‘the southern part of Texas, east and west of El Paso, where the mighty Franklin Mountains, guard the trail to Mexico,’ and I was sitting there looking at the Franklin Mountains. And, I kept thinking and thinking but I never did get it wrote. Fourteen years later, I sat down and took that idea and wrote ‘Billy The Kid.’”

“Saddle Tramp” is one of Daniels’ many songs based on his appreciation of the history of the Old West. His love of horses and time spent west of the Mississippi River as a young man helped to bring his cowboy songs to life. The cowboy theme was one he shared with Toy Caldwell, guitarist, songwriter and leader of the aforementioned Marshall Tucker Band.

“I don’t remember having a conversation per se with Toy about cowboyin’, but Toy was into horses and I was, too,” said Daniels. “I was very much into it. In fact, I used to go out west to ranches. I’ve been a couple of times to the O6 Ranch out near Big Bend (TX) and do what they call ‘going out with the wagon’ where you’d go and stay out and sleep on bed rolls and brand calves and that sort of thing. I know that Toy got into team roping for a while. I’ve never heard anybody play like Toy did. To this day, people may copy what he does or something, but nobody could grab what Toy did. Toy paid no attention to convention. Toy didn’t copy anybody. Toy just grabbed a guitar and whatever came into his mind, he just did it. It was great to listen to and it was so inventive. And when he sang, he sang wide open, man. He didn’t hide that South Carolina accent or nothing. ‘Here I am. I’m Toy Caldwell. I play this guitar this way. I sing this way. I hope you all like it. If you don’t, I can’t help it. Here it is.’ He was a very unique character.”

Three members of the original MTB are no longer with us as Toy, his brother Tommy, who played bass, and guitarist George McCorkle have all died. Still, Daniels has fond memories of the days when the MTB was hitting on all cylinders.

“That was one of the hottest bands that I ever heard,” said Daniels. “When Tommy was alive and when they used to go balls to the walls onstage, it was so unorthodox. It was so unconventional. One of the big parts of that band, and I don’t think he ever got enough credit for it, George McCorkle and that electric rhythm guitar that he played was bang-slamming, just taking a straight pick and playing all six strings. He played the electric guitar in the same style a lot of people would play an acoustical guitar. Wide open. He was such a big part of that sound. And Toy and Tommy picking with their thumbs and Paul (Riddle) playing the drums and throwing in licks he thought of to throw in there whether anybody else would or not. And while the saxophone was not an anomaly, the flute (played by Jerry Eubanks) was almost an anomaly in a band like that. I mean, you go along with a real country sound and all of a sudden a flute comes out of nowhere. It was so unconventional and so much fun to listen to, and when they played, the energy just poured off the stage.”

Back in the height of the southern rock era, Daniels would often host an all-star concert in Nashville called The Volunteer Jam. The shows were released as live record albums and a movie was filmed of the concert as well. However, many of Daniels’ most memorable jams back in the day took place off stage.

“I used to go down to Dickey Betts’ place sometimes when we were recording in Macon and he’d have us out to his house and we do a BBQ or something on Sunday afternoon,” said Daniels. “We’d have some pretty good little jams while sitting on some bales of hay out in his barn. Just some acoustic stuff, singing songs and messing and having a good time. Some of the favorite jams that I’ve ever had with my band and myself was when we’d have time to sit in the dressing room and we’d have amplifiers back there and we’d sit back there and jam. We got into some great jams. And, I used to go over to Toy and Tommy’s dressing room when we’d play together and I’d bring my fiddle over and Toy would get on the steel or the guitar and Tommy would get on the bass and we’d sit there and play off the cuff.”

When you have been around as long as Daniels has, you end up losing friends and band mates as the years go by. Along with his deceased MTB friends, Tommy Crain, Daniels’ right hand man on guitar throughout most of the 1970s Golden Age, died last year in January of 2011. Crain wrote and sung one of the CDB’s most beloved songs, “Cumberland Mountain Number 9.” And then, boom. Taz DiGregorio, Daniels’ keyboardist for over 40 years, died in a car wreck while on the way to a CDB gig this past October.

“I wouldn’t replace him for a while,” says Daniels, about DiGregorio. “When I got word about Taz, I was playing down close to Atlanta that night and my bus was already there and the band bus was on the way. They were running a couple of hours behind us. About 5:15 Atlanta time, my driver called me on my intercom and said my manager David, ‘wants you to call him.’ I knew immediately that something was wrong. He called me and he just came out and said, ’Charlie, Taz got killed this morning out on Interstate 40.’ If you ever have to tell anybody anything like that, it is better if you don’t try and soft-soak it, just come out with it because the worst is said. I didn’t know what to say. But I waited until the band bus got in and I got on and got all of the guys up and told them and we all headed back to Nashville.

“During the time before we replaced him, something would come up in a song, his signature part that he had done like that piece on ‘Saddle Tramp’ or a part that he had originated and played, and it was during a drum solo when I was sitting behind stage and one of the guys started walking across and for a mille-second I thought it was Taz going across the stage. It didn’t last that long and I knew he wasn’t there, but there are little moments like that. We were together for 40 years. He was my buddy, my friend, for a long, long time. We saw each other through a lot of things.”

Daniels lost another friend this past March with the passing of legendary bluegrass musician and banjo innovator Earl Scruggs. Daniels recorded and played in Scruggs’ band in the late 1960s.

“Earl was special to my life when I first came to Nashville,” said Daniels. “The first time I ever walked onto the Grand Ole Opry stage was with Earl. I played with Earl’s band after him and Lester split up. I played with Earl in the studio. A friend of mine produced him and I was on the sessions with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and then with Lester, and then with Earl after they split up. Earl asked me to play with him in the Earl Scruggs Review and the first time I ever saw the Ryman Auditorium from the stage was walking on with Earl Scruggs and the boys. And, good gosh, I was flabbergasted. All my life, I had heard the Opry. I’d been to the Opry and had sat out front and watched it. But I had never, ever been back in there where you walk out onstage and see the crowd from the front instead of the back. I was just a neat experience. It still is. I can’t go to the Opry without it being special. When they announce me sometimes (Opry host) Eddie Stubbs will say, ‘Member of the Grand Ole Opry,’ and I’ll go, ‘Wow. I am. I am a member of the Grand Ole Opry.’ And it is something that I wanted so desperately bad and I was beginning to think that it wouldn’t happen. And it did, and I’m just so thankful for it.”

But, life rolls on and recently Daniels finally replaced DiGregorio when he hired veteran keyboardist Shannon Wickline. The rest of the CBD includes 40-year veteran Charlie Hayward, Pat McDonald, Chris Wormer and Bruce Brown.

“I love touring,” said Daniels. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I didn’t like it, I’d quit it. I love it. I love what I do. I love the people I do it with. I love the people I do it for. In so far as to being nice to fans is concerned, my life is a dream. Nothing aggravates me more than to see some artist mistreat a fan. These people have made my life a dream, and they are still making my life a dream. If people didn’t enjoy what I was doing, I wouldn’t be doing it any longer. I’d be sitting in my house playing scales or something. I have the greatest respect for anybody that spends their money to come and see us.”

[Edited on 5/15/2012 by DerekFromCincinnati]



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A Peach Supreme

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  posted on 5/15/2012 at 05:41 PM
Love hearing stories like this, what fond memories for the man. Cool article.




Peach Extraordinaire

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  posted on 5/15/2012 at 07:06 PM
Good read!

I've also thought his early material was his best. "No Place Left To Go" from the early days just smokes!

Saw Charlie open for the Allmans mid '70's before he'd made a big name for himself. He electrified the crowd with his fiddle.

[Edited on 5/16/2012 by MartinD28]


A Peach Supreme

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  posted on 5/15/2012 at 07:51 PM
Yes, a good read. And those were the golden years, and CDB put on some smoking shows with the ABB and the MTB. I still keep Nightrider in my active play well as the first volunteer jam. The good ole daze for sure.


"Leave the Ego at Home, Play the Music, Love the People "-Luther Allison.

"Troops be awful quiet tonight, is it early or what? Too high. Me too." Duane Allman

Life Aint what it seems, its a Boulevard of Broken Dreams


World Class Peach

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  posted on 5/15/2012 at 09:49 PM
good read.
Fire on the Mountain was my first CDB album and still my favorite.
Never saw CDB with ABB or MTB, but caught the Outlaws open for CDB in 75. Great double bill that night.


Zen Peach

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  posted on 5/15/2012 at 09:56 PM
Great read. Thanks for posting. I still have some of those old CDB albums on vinyl and a few on cd.


Front feet doin' the shuffle, back feet too, love them good ol' Georgia blues


Zen Peach

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  posted on 5/16/2012 at 05:19 AM
Good stuff! I see CDB every year for decades now. It was a hard hit to lose Taz last year. Charlie still has it going on I tell you. Fine vocals and the guitar/fiddle pickin' is some of the tightest around!!




Extreme Peach

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  posted on 5/16/2012 at 07:03 AM
Thanks for the interview, Derek! I've always been a Charlie Daniels fan and have always hoped that one day, he'd walk out out on that stage @ the Beacon and sit with the Brothers and they'd do No PLace Left to go. Always felt that that song was him paying tribute to the style and music of the ABB. He & Tommy Crain & the CDB could play a mean Liz Reed too!

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