Charlie Daniels turns 80 this year, but the legendary country performer sounds like he has the vigor of a man a third of his age.
While speaking to him on the phone June 17 as he was preparing for a show in New York, it became clear that the “Devil Went Down to Georgia” singer is just happy to still be performing, and shows no signs of stopping.
Daniels, along with country stalwarts Randy Travis and Fred Foster, will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame later this year. It’s a goal Daniels said he has always wanted to see realized.
“The Hall of Fame is just such a deep desire of my musical life, and I’ve only wanted to play music since I was 15,” Daniels said. “I was in my 70s before I was invited to [be a member of] the Opry, so this is a huge honor.
“The Opry, you can lobby for; but the Hall of Fame, you ain’t got a clue. Voting is a huge secret. Nashville is rife with rumors, but [voting’s] kept totally completely secret. The Opry was the icing on the cake; the Hall of Fame is just the cherry on top of the icing. I mean, where do you go from here? My heart is full, it’s hard for me to articulate.”
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Where do you go from here? You go to Nashville, that’s where. And then you throw yourself a birthday bash with all your friends.
When he does turn 80 in October, Daniels will celebrate by throwing an 80th Birthday Jam with Kid Rock and Larry the Cable Guy at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
But before all that, he’ll play Nutty Brown in Austin on July 1st.
“I’m always excited to play Austin,” Daniels said.
What can fans expect to see at the concert? A healthy mix of old and new.
“I hate to see a self-indulgent band play, where they only want to play their new album and maybe some of the old hits,” Daniels said. “I like to hear the things I hear on the radio when I see other shows, so we try to do that in our show, too. We do everything—new stuff, ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia,’ ‘In America,’ maybe some gospel.”
And speaking of “The Devil went Down to Georgia,” Daniels’ 1979 breakthrough about a Southern boy who beats Satan in a fiddle-playing contest: Does Daniels ever get tired of playing it at every show?
“It’s a challenging song- I’ve yet to play it perfectly, even in recordings,” Daniels said. “But I love it. It was a hit even in countries where they don’t speak English and it still gets a lot of play.”
No matter what, fans can expect Friday’s set to pull from a deep catalog: “The Legend of Wooley Swamp,” “Simple Man,” “Uneasy Rider.”
Daniels has released more than 30 studio albums and dozens of live, Christmas and compilation albums in his career. His latest, 2014’s “Off the Grid: Doin’ It Dylan,” is a set of Bob Dylan covers.
“Every album has had its place, like a crossword puzzle or a game of chess. There’s some pawns, some kings and queens, but they all matter,” Daniels said.
“Uneasy Rider” was Daniels’ first hit, a novelty song about hippies and rednecks and counter-culture that may seem at odds with his current politics.
Daniels isn’t shy about his political views, but anybody who’s listened to him for a few years could tell you that. “In America,” probably his best-known political song, deals with feelings of awoken American patriotism in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Iran Hostage Crisis. It enjoyed a renewed interest following the attacks on Sept. 11:
“And we may have done a little bit of fightin’ amongst ourselves, but you outside people best leave us alone/’Cause we’ll all stick together, and you can take that to the bank/That’s the cowboys and the hippies, and the rebels and and the yanks.”
Daniels said he’s just expressing his heartfelt feelings.
“When I wrote ‘In America,’ we had just been to Vietnam and dealt with the draft card burners and the anti-American sentiments, which is why I wrote that song. After Iran, there was hunger for revenge, and we didn’t really get there,” Daniels said. “I think [the situation] did awaken us to realize that we do have a strong military.”
Recently, Daniels spoke out about the Pulse shooting in Orlando, tweeting that “Terrorism has come to America and if you’re depending on Obama forget it.”
“Obama, when he went to Orlando, which was a very nice gesture, talked all about guns and refused to acknowledge Muslims, terrorists or the like. He will not acknowledge who our enemy is,” Daniels said.
“But I’m sure people will disagree with me, and I don’t mind that, this is America and everybody is entitled to their opinion, that’s what it’s all about.”
Since he’s performing at the start of the 4th of July weekend, fans will surely hear at least one of his patriotic songs.
Daniels is a man of strong convictions, whether that’s about his politics, purposefully censoring himself on “Devil” and “Long Haired Country Boy,” or what he thinks he’ll be remembered for the most.
“I still get little 5-year-olds walking up to me and saying , ‘Mr. Daniels, ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ is my favorite song,’ and so changing the big line up from ‘son of a b—-‘ to ‘son of a gun’ seemed like a no-brainer. I’ve got to answer to God, not people.”
He aims to be nothing less than himself, which is all he wants his legacy to be when he receives his Hall of Fame award.
“I don’t think anyone deserves to be remembered for anything more or less than what they were. I’m not perfect, but that’s who I am.”
Daniels plays Nutty Brown this Friday.