Forty years ago, the band and I were engaged in intense writing and rehearsal mode, creating and preparing material for the first project we would be doing with our new producer John Boylan.
We were excited about working with John. It would be a new direction for us, working with a producer who had a much broader and current overlook at the music business and what kind of records it would take to get the major market radio play that could raise the profile of the band and push albums into serious sales.
We had already had major success with “Fire on The Mountain,” which had set the foundation and the paths we wanted to take, but our next album, “Nightrider,” and subsequent projects had only moderate success and had fallen far short of garnering the attention we needed to take another career step up the ladder.
I met with John when we were doing a concert in Los Angeles. We talked, and I’ll never forget what he said about thinking that he knew how to help us cut the kind of albums that could get the kind of mass air play across the country we were looking for.
John Boylan’s motto is, “I’m an obstetric producer. I deliver your brainchild,” which is exactly what I was looking for.
I had no desire to work with some heavy-handed, egotistical type of know it all who would try to change the style and sound of The CDB. I have always felt that we needed someone who could come in and be another member of the band, respecting our opinions, our music and the approach to how we played it.
And of course, someone whose opinion we respected.
John fit the bill perfectly, immediately making friends with the band and crew and just being one of the guys.
He would also be bringing an engineer from Los Angeles, who had worked at the state-of-the-art studios out there and would know how to make whatever we recorded competitive for the day’s market but still maintaining the basic sound of the band.
His name was Paul Grupp, and we had never seen anything like him, as he meticulously started getting sounds and balances on the instruments in preparation for recording.
We set about our task with the energy and the knowledge that we had the right team in the control room to bring it all home, and the tracks were sounding great.
But after a few days in the studio, it seemed that we all kinda looked at each other and thought “Something is missing.”
As the album progressed, it became obvious that we needed a fiddle tune, which had always been a standard part of our other albums, but had been left out of the writing process for some reason or another.
We shut down the sessions, moved our equipment out of Woodland Sound Studios into S.I.R (Studio Instrument Rental) Rehearsal Studio and started bouncing ideas around.
I had one line in my head, a line I think was inspired by the Stephen Vincent Benét poem, "The Mountain Whippoorwill," which I had read my senior year in high school, a poem about a mountain boy and his fiddle entering a fiddling contest and, being a young fiddle player – it had made a pretty profound impression on me.
The line was “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
Even though the line that inspired me is not even in the poem – although it is set in Georgia – for some reason the thought and the poem’s content, dealing with a backwoods fiddle contest, brought to my mind a line I couldn’t forget, and “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” began to take shape. The drummers found a rhythm, Charlie Hayward came up with a cooking bass part, Taz created that ominous line that sets up the fiddle solo, and Tommy Crain played a boiling rhythm part on his guitar.
I got the lyrics written in short order, and we moved back into Woodland Studios to do something we had not an inkling we would be talking about forty years later.
It was a record that was right down Paul Grupp’s alley as he worked with me to combine seven fiddle parts to make the wild sound on the devil’s solo.
And John Boylan was as good as his word. He truly did deliver our brainchild, and he truly did produce an album that would get the kind of air play we needed and went on to push ‘Million Mile Reflections’ to multiplatinum status. And the song would go on to become an international hit.
It’s hard to believe that’s been forty years ago, but what a great forty years it’s been.
Ain’t no telling what’s going to happen in the next forty.
What do you think?
Pray for our troops, our police and the peace of Jerusalem.
God Bless America
— Charlie Daniels
Charlie Daniels is a legendary American singer, song writer, guitarist, and fiddler famous for his contributions to country and southern rock music. Daniels has been active as a singer since the early 1950s. He was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry on January 24, 2008.