Birth: 1936-10-28 | Birthplace: Wilmington, North Carolina
Born 1936 in Wilmington, North Carolina, steeped in musical traditions ranging from folk and bluegrass to gospel, country, and rock, Charlie Daniels was a pioneer in introducing southern rock sounds into mainstream country music. In the process, he widened country’s popularity by bringing 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 Bob Dylan albums 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 widened its audience across the nation.
According to the RIAA, Daniels’s lifetime record sales have exceeded 13.5 million units. This puts him on a par with Paul Simon, John Lennon, Natalie Cole, Yes, the Temptations, and Jefferson Airplane/Starship. When Daniels 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. Super Hits is Double Platinum. Million Mile Reflection is Triple Platinum. A Decade of Hits is Quadruple Platinum. His longform video Homefolks and Highways is Gold. “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” is that country music rarity, a Platinum single. It was the 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. It 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 seventy-one.
Daniels has placed thirty-three 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 chartmaking singles, was also a Top Ten pop hit in 1973. Besides “The Devil Want Down To Georgia,” which went #1 country and #3 pop in 1979, other pop successes were his 1975 singles “The South’s Gonna Do It Again” and “Long Haired Country Boy,” both of which became staples of his live shows. He also charted in the pop Top Thirty 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 Thirty 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, Ringo Starr, and, most famously, Bob Dylan. Daniels can be heard on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait, and New Morning albums of 1969–70. (In 2014 he released Off the Grid– Doin’ It Dylan, a collection of Dylan songs rendered Daniels style.)
Among Daniels’s most impressive accomplishments was the 1974 launch of his Volunteer Jam. These annual, multi-artist, multi-genre extravaganzas, sometimes stretching past ten hours in length, became must-see musical spectacles for thousands. Typically, country legends such as Ray Price, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Alabama, Vince Gill, and Tammy Wynette have shared bills with acts as diverse as Ted Nugent, B.B. King, James Brown, Billy Joel, Eugene Fodor, Little Richard, Steppenwolf, and Don Henley.
A "Volunteer Jam Tour" including the Charlie Daniels Band, the Outlaws, and the Marshall Tucker Band toured the United States in 2007. (The Nashville show scheduled for May 19, 2007, was cancelled, due to the closing of Nashville's Starwood Amphitheater.) Subsequently, tours kept the tradition alive. A 2015 Volunteer Jam show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena captured the flavor of the 1970s events.
Daniels’s charity work is extensive. Cancer research, muscular dystrophy research, physically and mentally challenged individuals, children, farmers, and the armed forces have benefited from his efforts. His charity Christmas concert benefiting children has become a Nashville holiday institution. In recognition of his “unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers,” Daniels was honored as a BMI Icon in 2005.