Back in the early 60s or thereabouts, country music star and Western movie icon Tex Ritter had a hit single entitled “Hillbilly Heaven”, in which the singer relayed a dream that he had had about dying and going to the Hereafter, where he met such deceased country legends as Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, and others.
Well, on Monday of this week, the Good Lord welcomed through those Pearly Gates another country music legend.
I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of a longtime friend of mine, fiddle-playing country music icon Charlie Daniels.
The Grand Ole Opry star, member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Musicians Hall of Fame, passed away July 6, 2020, at Summit Medical Center, in Hermitage, from a massive hemorrhagic stroke.
At the age of 83, Charlie had shown no signs of slowing down, and was eagerly planning his 2020 Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam for February, 2021.
He had just recently completed a brand-new recording project — “Gee-chi, Gee-chi, Ya, Ya Blues” — with a band of friends he had put together during the COVID shutdown called the Beaux Weevils, which featured, in the video, a plethora of country stars such as ALABAMA’s Randy Owen, The Oak Ridge Boys, Ray Stevens, Larry Gatlin, Crystal Gayle, Rhonda Vincent, Lorrie Morgan, Collin Raye, T.G. Sheppard and T. Graham Brown.
If you haven’t seen the video, go on YouTube and look it up. Its awesome!
But suffice it to say that Charlie will forever be known for his multi-million selling classic, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”.
I asked Charlie once how much money he thought he had earned over the years from that one song, and with one of his famous grins and in typical CD style, said, “Well, son, let’s just say that it has put several plates of biscuits and fried chicken on my table.”
I first met Charlie backstage at the 1977 Grand Ole Opry Birthday Celebration and Disc Jockey Convention when I was a DJ for WPRN Radio, in Butler, Alabama, and did promotional work for a number of the Grand Ole Opry stars of that time.
He had performed on the CMA show the night before, and hung around for much of the next day, after his record label showcase concert, to visit with all of us record-spinning DJs from hither and yon. I still have that interview with Charlie on a cassette tape that I have saved all of these years.
In later years, we stayed in touch, and I had opportunities to visit with Charlie several times before his shows in various parts of the country when our paths would cross.
A conservative and patriotic American, Charlie was deeply disturbed and concerned over the far-left wing, liberal, atheistic, socialist direction that America has drifted in recent years, and often wrote about those concerns in his “Soap Box” blogs, which he had graciously given us permission to reprint here in the Review and the Eagle.
A few years back, when Charlie and the CDB performed at Silver Star Casino, in Philadelphia, MS, he invited the entire staff of my Alabama newspaper to come over and visit with him backstage before his sold-out show.
Not only was he a multi-talented singer, songwriter, and fiddle player, he was also an author and had written several books, including, “It Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag”, and his autobiography, “Never Look at the Empty Seats”.
And, while he was one of the best-selling, best-loved musicians of all time, at heart he was just a good ol’ turnip-greens and cornbread-eatin’ country boy who loved to drive old trucks and wet a hook, line and sinker in a Tennessee mountain stream in search of a fine rainbow trout.
He was also a man with character and convictions who loved deeply his God, his Country, the American Flag, and coming home off the road after a long tour to his ranch at Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
It would be impossible to list here all of the accolades and awards that were bestowed upon the North Carolina native during his 60+ year career in the music business, but suffice it to say that he had, literally, won them all and then some.
His albums sold in the tens of millions, with such hit singles as, “Uneasy Rider”, “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”, “Long Haired Country Boy”, “Birmingham Blues”, “Heaven Can be Anywhere (Twin Pines Theme)”, “Billy the Kid”, “Still in Saigon”, “Maria Teresa”, “In America”, “The Legend of Wooley Swamp”, “Simple Man”, “Mister DJ”, “What This World Needs is A Few More Rednecks”, and “The Summer of ‘68”, just to mention the few that I can think of.
He also won a Dove Award for his gospel albums.
Funeral arrangements had not been announced at the time I wrote this on Monday.
Charlie Daniels’ passing, in my view, is just as significant to the music world as were the deaths of icons like Elvis, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Mother Maybelle Carter, Carl Perkins, Kenny Rogers, Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline, and so many others.
The old fiddle player is gone from us now, but thank goodness we have dozens of his unforgettable songs to listen to whenever we want to go down memory lane.
Rest in peace, my friend!
You and your music will never, ever be forgotten.