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Music Legend Reflects on Storied Career

Grammy award-winning musician Charlie Daniels discusses his faith, life and God’s grace. Read Transcript

NARRATOR: Charlie Daniels' career

spans 60 years, which includes selling more than 20

million albums and winning a Grammy for his signature song,

"The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

He's performed over 100 concerts in every state

and in dozens of foreign countries.

Last year, Charlie was inducted into the Country Music

Hall of Fame.

Charlie puts down the fiddle and takes up a pen.

He shares about life from the early days to his rise

to music stardom in his book "Never Look

at the Empty Seats."

Well, the living legend, Charlie Daniels, it's

an honor to have you with us.

This is just fantastic.

Thank you.

Thank you.

All right.

You've come out with a book, "Never

Look at the Empty Seats," and it's a memoir of your life.

And there are some things in here I didn't know.

You know, I didn't know that you grew up

a farmer in North Carolina.

My background-- my folks--

both sides of my family come from farmers and timber people.

My dad was a timber man.

He knew more about a pine tree than anybody I ever saw.

He could look at a pine tree and tell you

how many board feet of timber were in it, what kind of pole

or pine that it would make.

When he was as compassionate about that as I

am about my mus-- or as passionate about that

as I am about my music.

GORDON: So how did you get started?

I went up to a friend of mine's house one day.

I'd known him for years.

And he had an old guitar.

Where he got it, how long he had it--

I had no idea.

It was a terrible old, big Stella

with a neck about the size of half of a fence post.

And the string were rusty and way up off the neck.

But he knew about literally 2 and 1/2 chords.

He could play G and C. And if he stopped

and put his fingers right, he could play another chord.

Anyway, I said, you got to teach me that.

Here I have my best friend, and I

had no idea he knew anything at all about a guitar.

And I'd always wanted to learn how.

So it started that day-- right then.

I said, you got to teach me those.

And I worked on learning those three chords.

And him and me started hanging around

anybody that could play any instrument at all, especially


that's what we started with--

and just kept picking up chords and playing

and got together with some other guys that

wanted to do the same thing.

They played different instruments,

put a little band together.

It's been, gosh, 50--

well, no, it's been 70--

not 70, but 60-- about 65 years ago.


That we're doing it.

One of the things I didn't know

is that you never took a lesson on how to play the fiddle.

And yet, at the same time, you're world famous.

I'm not sure that's your song.

And that's-- you're recognized for that.

Well, I-- one of the reasons I have the sound that I have is

because I never learned to play.

I never learned-- I never had a lesson

on how to hold the fiddle, how to hold the bow.

I hold the fiddle wrong.

I hold the bow wrong.

I put too much pressure on the bow,

which creates a sound most people don't want,

but it works for me.

I have kids ask me sometimes about playing the fiddle.

I said, don't look at me, because I do it all wrong,

you know.

It works for me, but it probably won't work for you.

Look at some of these guys that do it right

and hold the violin like it's supposed to be held.

And of course, I'd be too old to change now if I wanted to.

But I really don't want to.

It works for me.

The sound works for me.

So how did you learn just playing by ear?

You just test it out.

I just wanted to bad enough, Gordon.

I am not a natural musician.

I've always had to work a little--

GORDON: Sounds like you are if you can do it by ear.

Well, there's a lot of people think that.

And I wish I was.

But when I say "natural musician," I mean,

I hear things.

But achieving any proficiency on it-- it

took me a long time to learn those first three chords.

And nowadays, I got some guys in my band that just pick things

up just like that.

If we do a new song, it takes me a little bit longer

to get my part together than it does these guys.

That's what I'm speaking of about being a natural musician.

GORDON: Well, you're a natural songwriter.

I think that's kind of a natural part.

But also, that's also like a muscle.

I think it's something that the more you--

You got to exercise.

Well, anything in life, if you've got a natural talent

for it and you don't use it and you don't develop it, then--

but what got you writing songs?

I was very fortunate that in 1959, I

made the first trip I ever made to California.

I was just a kid.

We were going out there to play.

And I stopped in Fort Worth, Texas to see a friend of mine

that I had met in North Carolina.

And he introduced me to a guy named Bob Johnston.

And he was trying to make it in the music business,

and which he finally did in a big way.

But I started writing songs with him.

And we just kind of hit it off.

But he was much more accomplished than I was.

He was much more--

GORDON: Get hooked on.

Yeah, he was much more demanding than I was.

And he just really-- when we'd write together,

he would insist that we get every word

like it's supposed to be, every note of music

like it was supposed to be.

So that gave me a work ethic and attitude toward my writing

that I would not turn loose of something

until I was happy with it.

I have kept bits and pieces of songs in my mind

for as long as 14 years.

You got to just keep it in there until it finally fits.

Just like a square peg, you got to find a square hole

to put it in.

But if you keep it long enough, it's good.

You'll finally find a place to put it.

Well, it didn't take you long if you say you

started writing songs in 1959.

In just a couple years, Elvis Presley--

the number one, the King--

is singing your song.

Well, that was a song I wrote with Bob Johnston.

Bob and myself wrote that.

And we wrote it in 1962.

And that was recorded in 1963.

And it was by far the biggest thing that had ever

happened to me at that time.

Elvis Presley was the biggest artist in the world.

And he--

GORDON: Yeah, not just--

he's still King.

I mean, what happened to you?

I mean, was there a hat big enough for your head?

I was so flabbergasted by the whole thing

that the way it did me was I wanted to go back and write

more songs, you know?

I wanted more of that.

I wanted--

GORDON: Oh, you wanted--



I've always say, things like that that

happen to me encourage me to work

a little harder, to dig a little deeper, and that sort of thing.

But at that time, doing that song--

having Elvis record it-- is one of the biggest things

that ever happened to me and gave me such a shot in the arm.

And then playing on three Bob Dylan albums in the early '60s

and early '70s.

And those are three legendary--

some consider them his best.

Well, "Nashville Skyline," to me,

is a totally different album for Bob Dylan.

I think it kind of--

you know, he was constantly reinventing himself,

it seemed like.

And that was one of the times when the invention was

just pretty doggone incredible.

But that was a big step up.

But he was always kind enough to put the studio musicians

names on his albums.

And he's a kind of artist that people wanted to know about.

So they'd literally read the liner notes.

And to have your name on a Bob Dylan album

gave you a kind of legitimacy with a lot of people.

You know, people say, well, hey, you

must play pretty good to play with Dylan.

It opened a lot of doors for me.

GORDON: Did he teach you anything about songwriting?

No, no, not really.

He just came in and he'd sing his songs.

And we'd all stand there with our mouths open

and try to learn them.

Wow, listen to him.

And you know, I've compared him with William Shakespeare.

And I mean, they're two totally different things.

But they both had a very unique way

of putting the English language together.

And I don't think anybody's been more--

in a down-to-earth sort of way--

ever put the English language together quite

like Bob Dylan did.

Now I don't know what he was talking about half the time.

I'm not sure he did.

I don't know.

But it sure did--

it sure worked out well.

Just all seemed to go together.

Yeah, it did.

For you, those are obviously big breaks.

And I think for any musician to say,

you know, I've played on a Bob Dylan

album-- you can kind of say, OK, you've achieved a pinnacle.

But you went on from that.

Well, I wanted to--

I went to Nashville thinking I would be a studio musician

and record producer and that sort of thing--

kind of behind the scenes.

But I come to find out--

I've done this a couple of times in my life--

that's not what I wanted.

My place is on stage.

There's no doubt in my mind about it.

That's where I love to be, what I'm best at.

I've devoted my life to learning how to entertain.

And there's nothing I like better

than getting on stage and entertaining people.

GORDON: I've got to ask this.

You were on stage in Jerusalem.

And one of the things I learned in the book was you

learned how to play "Hatikvah," the national anthem of Israel.

"Hatikvah," which means "the hope"--

it was the song of Zionism in the 1890s.

It was the song that sustained them in the concentration camps

in Germany and then became the national anthem.

And here you, a country player, are playing it.

What was their reaction?

Well, I went there to--

I'd gone with my church.

And it was during the Feast of Tabernacles.

And the Christian Embassy Jerusalem--

is that-- am I saying it right?

They had programs every night.

This particular night, that was a night

that the Jewish people came.

There was a night that all the local people came in Jerusalem.

And my pastor said, would you do a song with the band?

And so, yeah, we sent some music down.

And I didn't write it.

Somebody else did.

Went and rehearsed a song called "I'll Fly Away" with the band.

And I said, tonight when we come on,

I want to do something on my fiddle by myself,

and when I get through with it--

I'm just going to step up and do it--

and when I get through with it, I'll step back

and we'll do the song.

So we walked out.

Everything kind of quiet down.

I started playing "Hatikvah."

And it's like, all these people--

all these Jewish people-- are out there.

Here's this hillbilly from Tennessee, standing on stage,

playing their national anthem.

It was a really nice moment, Gordon.

It was well worth the effort it took me to learn to play it.

And it did touch the people.

I could tell.

GORDON: I think it touched you, too.

They have a very, very strong feeling

about that song and about anything Jewish.

I love the Jewish people.

That one and "Jerusalem of Gold"--

you play those, and they start crying.


Well, we're out of time.

I wanted to talk about you mentoring people.

I think that's another untold story--

We'll just have to do it again.

--of Charlie Daniels.

We're going to have to have you back.

But if you want to find out more,

I encourage you to get the book, "Never Look

at the Empty Seats."

You can find it beginning October 24th wherever

books are sold.

And Charlie, honor-- honor to have you.

My pleasure, my friend.

Thank you, brother.



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