Charlie Daniels: Still Going Strong At 80

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Music legend talks vets, biography, milestones.

By RICK CURL

Of The Record Staff

Few entertainers can claim the status of legendary or iconic. Few can claim they are patriotic then prove it. Well, Wilmington native Charlie Daniels can claim all of those and back it up.

This year Mr. Daniels celebrated his 80th birthday and proved once again he is one of the most resilient and loved performers in country and country rock music.

His original schedule was to include a stop in Fayetteville in March, but due to illness he was forced to change the date and reschedule it for June 1.

“I had a bout with a bug,” he said. “There’s nasty stuff going around. I had to cancel two Grand Ole Opry appearances and reschedule four concerts. Thank God, here I am and ready to rock.”

Supporting The Vets

When you speak to the Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry member, you get a true sense of how proud he is to be an American. And more importantly, how appreciative he is of the men and women who stand everyday in its service.

His love goes back to the impressions he formed about the country during the second world war. It was there he saw the love of country expressed by all Americans, something that has stuck with him throughout his life.

“I’ve seen this country as close to 100 percent patriotic as it will ever be, and it’s a wonderful sight,” Mr. Daniels said. “I say on stage every night that the only two things that protect America is the grace of God and the United States military. I believe that with all my heart.”

The Journey Home Foundation is Mr. Daniels’ latest program to support veterans. The mission is to provide assistance to veterans making the transition to civilian life, vets that are struggling for one reason or another.

“To the uninitiated, someone that’s never been in the service, it seems coming home from the military, especially a combat zone, that adjusting to civilian life would be a simple thing,” he said. “Come to find out it’s not. Sometimes there are a lot of needs that are not met by the different government entities you think would.”

Using those circumstances as the basis, Mr. Daniels set out to do his part to prevent veterans from being left to their own devices in transitioning.

“We do it in all different kinds of ways,” he said. “We’ve helped people get educations, we’ve helped people get transportation, go to school. We bought furniture for a guy, anything we can do to help out.”

Respect for the military runs deeply in Mr. Daniels’ veins. During a world tour in the 1980s he spent Thanksgiving day at a mess hall in what was then West Germany.

He and his bus rolled into the back of the mess hall at Merrell Barracks in Nuremberg, stepped off the bus and he was the first one in the serving line.

“We were glad to do that,” he said. “We were away from home on Thanksgiving too and it was good to be around some fellow Americans who you could understand and talk to, it was a two-way street.”

He said the concert that ensued Thanksgiving night in a nearby village was one of those things giving him a rush of patriotic pride and comfort at the same time.

“I tell you if you fill up a hall with GI’s, there’s no better audience,” he said. “Especially one that’s out of the country.”

The holiday celebration was just one of the many ways he has found to show his respect for the military. In addition to penning several military-based songs, such as “Still In Saigon” and “In America,” he is quick to offer praise.

“I have always believed in our military, I’ve always valued our military,” he said. “I realize what the military does.”

Mr. Daniels has been a part of entertaining troops in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, which have all left indelible marks on him.

“To actually go to a place like Iraq or Afghanistan, that’s a horrible place to be over there, think about spending a year over there,” he said. “Some people think the military have an extra gene or something that it doesn’t bother them being away from their families.”

Among his recollections of meeting and performing for troops around the globe include seeing the personal side of service members. His mind is full of memories seeing the strongest and bravest of troops lose their facade and share bits of their lives with him.

“I’ve literally had battle-hardened guys, I’ve seen reduced to tears,” he said. “I’ve had people show me pictures of their children back home and they get tears in their eyes.

“It’s just as hard on the military guys as it is on us and people don’t realize it,” he said. “There’s so much about the military that people don’t realize. They don’t realize the sacrifices they make.”

‘Never Look At The Empty Seats’ Among his accomplishments, Mr. Daniels has written a memoir of his lifetime in music.

The book is titled “Never Look At The Empty Seats,” and he says it’s more of a compilation of the past events in his life than it is a biography.

To the best of his recollection, the book goes back anywhere from 20 to 25 years and compares writing the book to writing songs, something he does when he feels like it.

“I’m not a writer, I don’t have a style of writing and it’s not something I try to do every day,” he admits. “I did it like I do songs, I did it when I felt like it.”

One thing you will notice that’s not in the book is the trivial words and stories that many authors of autobiographies include.

“Over the years I got to realizing that nobody’s interested in who my second cousin’s third wife was,” he said. “Some of that stuff just needs to come out of there, nobody cares.”

During the time he was writing the book many things were going on in his life. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry.

All of those, along with the other pieces he feels are relevant — and more importantly interesting — are at the heart of the book.

“It’s my earliest memories of growing up in Carolina until the night I was inducted into the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I literally went, got my medallion, got up the next morning and wrote my impressions of being inducted, then back wrote to where I was.”

Still Amazed

Mr. Daniels admits the last few years have been as close to surreal as any other part of his life. He admits to being in amazement of what he’s accomplished going from a youngster in Wilmington to a legend in music.

One of the best accolades a country performer can receive, aside from being inducted into the Hall of Fame, is being asked to join the Grand Ole Opry.

The Opry is the longest running radio show of its kind and membership is dreamed of by many and achieved by just a handful.

Up until the night he was asked to become a member, Mr. Daniels and his cohorts on stage, had been guests almost at will.

“The night they inducted me, my acceptance was my Bible tells me God will give you the desires of the heart,” he said. “You’ve just seen that come true on this stage tonight and that’s how I feel about it.”

Among the other accomplishments he revels in as he speaks is the marriage to his wife of 54 years, his son, his grandchildren, the travels he’s made throughout the years and the experiences he’s been blessed to be a part of during those travels.

“Sometimes it catches up to me,” he said. “I stop and marvel at just how good God has been to me and how many desires of my heart he’s given me.”

The Charlie Daniels Band and The Marshal Tucker Band are set to appear at Fayetteville’s Crown Coliseum on Friday, June 1, at 7:30 p.m.

Charlie Daniels has returned to the stage after a brief illness

and he's ready to rock again. The Charlie Daniels Band will be joined by The Marshal Tucker Band on the stage of the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville June 1. The concert is set to get underway at 7:30 p.m.

Contributed Photo

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