NASHVILLE — Charlie Daniels, the singer, songwriter and bandleader known for his brash down-home persona and his blazing fiddle work on hits like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” died on Monday in Nashville. He was 83. His publicist announced the death, at Summit Medical Center in the Hermitage section of the city, saying the cause was a hemorrhagic stroke.
A force in country and rock for more than five decades, Mr. Daniels first made his mark as a session musician. In the late 1960s and early ‘1970s he played guitar, bass, fiddle and banjo on Nashville recordings by Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr and Leonard Cohen. He also produced albums for the Youngbloods, including the group’s 1969 folk-rock touchstone, “Elephant Mountain,” during this period.
But his greatest acclaim came as the leader of the Charlie Daniels Band, a country-rock ensemble that hosted the Volunteer Jam, the freewheeling Southern music festival established in 1974 that featured Roy Acuff, Stevie Ray Vaughn, James Brown and the Marshall Tucker Band.
Modeled after the Allman Brothers, who also were regular performers at the Jam, Mr. Daniels’s band employed dual lead guitarists and drummers in the service of an expansive improvisational sound that included elements of country, blues, bluegrass, rock and Western swing.
Formed in 1971, the group earned a reputation early on for recording material of an outspoken countercultural bent, much of it written by Mr. Daniels. “The South’s Gonna Do It,” a Top 40 pop hit in 1975, sang the praises of his fellow Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top, among others. “Uneasy Rider,” a talking bluegrass number that reached the pop Top 10 in 1973, and “Long Haired Country Boy,” from 1975, unabashedly extolled the virtues of free speech and marijuana.
“I ain’t askin’ nobody for nothin’/If I can’t get it on my own,” Mr. Daniels asserted in a gruff drawl on the chorus of “Long Haired Country Boy.” “If you don’t like the way I’m livin’/You just leave this long haired country boy alone.”
His plucky attitude assumed mythical proportions with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a No. 1 country single and Top 10 pop hit from 1979 in which Mr. Daniels’s protagonist goes head-to-head with Satan in a fiddle contest and prevails. The recording appeared on the multiplatinum-selling album “Million Mile Reflections” and won a Grammy Award for best country vocal.
Mr. Daniels’s penchant for championing the underdog, coupled with his band’s constant touring, won him a devoted following, including the admiration of President Jimmy Carter, who invited the Charlie Daniels Band to perform at his 1977 Inaugural Ball.
Mr. Daniels’s persona and politics grew more patriotic and strident as the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, beginning with “In America,” a Top 20 pop hit written in response to the Iran hostage crisis of 1980. “Simple Man,” a No. 2 country single in 1990, called for the lynching of drug dealers and sex offenders, while “(What the World Needs Is) A Few More Rednecks,” also from 1990, ran counter to the hippie nonconformity of his early hits.
“If I come across an issue, or something I feel strongly about, and I happen to think of a
song that would go in that direction, then I do it,” Mr. Daniels said, discussing how he came to write “Simple Man,” in an online interview. “But that’s not what I start out, necessarily, to do.”
Charlie Daniels became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2008 and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.
It goes without saying that 2020 has already been a tough year for the Grand Ole Opry with Jan Howard, Joe Diffie, Jimmy Capps, and now Charlie Daniels passing away. And we are just past the half way point of the year.
Our prayers and thoughts go to Charlie's family.