Charlie Daniels Explains How an Evening Spent With Bob Dylan Changed His Life

By Terence P. Jeffrey | November 8, 2017 | 9:45 AM EST

Bob Dylan and Charlie Daniels in the studio. (Courtesy of the Charlie Daniels Band)

(CNSNews.com) - “I wanted to be a professional musician more than anything else in the world and ever since I learned three chords on a guitar that is all I cared about,” Charlie Daniels said in an interview with CNSNews.com.

In his new memoir—“Never Look at the Empty Seats”—Daniels tells the story of how he worked with unrelenting focus, starting in his teenage years in North Carolina in the 1950s, to make it in the music business.

One big break came in 1967, when he got a call from Bob Johnston, an old friend who was running the Columbia Records operation in Nashville. Another came in 1969, when Johnston arranged for him to participate in a recording session with Bob Dylan.

“I basically lived out of a suitcase from, well, you could say 1958 up until I met the love of my life [Hazel Daniels] in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and we got married in 1964. And I needed a home. I needed an address,” Daniels told CNSNews.com.

"Never Look at the Empty Seats," Charlie Daniels, 2017.

“My son was born in 1965, and it was time to—I can’t say settle down because we didn’t do that, I kept traveling—but at least have a home,” he said. “So, we lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a while, and then we moved to Kentucky, to Newport, Kentucky.”

Then came a call that was a turning point in his life.

“In 1967, a friend of mine, Bob Johnston, called me,” Daniels said. “He had just taken over Columbia Records in Nashville, and said: How would you like to move to Nashville? And it took all of about six seconds to say: Yes, we do want to move to Nashville. 

“So, in 1967, we moved to Nashville,” Daniels told CNSNews.com.

“It was a tough move for a while,” he said. “Nashville is probably, well, at least one of the most competitive music cities in the country. You’re throwing your hat into the ring. And it took a while to get your thing going. But that was probably the best move I ever made. I’d always wanted to live in Nashville. I tell people now when I leave Tennessee I want to go to heaven. It is the only other place I want to be other than Tennessee.”

In 1969, Bob Dylan came to Nashville to record an album—“Nashville Syline”—that Bob Johnston would produce. Daniels wanted to play on it.

“I was and still am a big Dylan fan and admirer, so I asked Bob Johnston if there was any way he could let me play on just one session,” Daniels writes in “Never Look at the Empty Seats.”

“Sessions in Nashville are scheduled so you can fit four into a day, 10:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m.,” writes Daniels. “As it happened, the guitar player they had scheduled for the 6:00 p.m. session couldn’t make it and wouldn’t show up until the 10:00 p.m. session, so Bob fit me in for 6:00 p.m.

“I was the hungriest musician in the studio,” writes Daniels. “I hung on every note that Bob Dylan sang and played on his guitar and did my best to interpret his music with feeling and passion.”

Dylan appreciated the contribution Daniels was making.

CNSNews.com asked Daniels: “In the book you talk about your Volunteer Jam, you talk about playing with Lynyrd Skynyrd, playing with the Allman Brothers, playing with Marshall Tucker, recording with Bob Dylan. When you look back over the years, what is your fondest memory as a musician in actually going out and performing? What is the thing, when you look back, that gives you the warmest feeling and you’re most glad that you did that?”

“Well, as far as a studio musician would be concerned, it would be the Bob Dylan session,” said Daniels.

“I was only supposed to play one session,” said Daniels. “I was filling in for somebody and it ended up that he wanted me to stay, and asked--actually said when I was leaving: ‘Where’s he going. I want him to stay’--type thing. And I stayed around for not only that album but two others. And that would have to be one of my—that was a defining moment for me when Bob Dylan kept me around. Because Bob is always putting the names of the recording musicians on the back of his albums. And being the kind of artist that he is, that everybody wants to know as much about him as they can, they actually read the liner notes and they would see my name on there. It leant some validity to me in my career.”

In 1973, the Charlie Daniels Band had a breakthrough single with “Uneasy Rider,” which was recorded on their “Honey in the Rock” album. Then, the next year, they released “Fire on the Mountain”--which included the hit songs “Long Haired Country Boy” and the “South’s Going to Do It Again.” The album sold four million copies.

“We finally had the whole package and we knew it,” Daniels writes in his memoir.

In 2016, Charlie Daniels was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech he said:

“It’s been a great ride, gang. We’re still in the saddle, and it ain’t over by a long shot. Bring it on.”

You can watch the entire CNSNews.com interview with Charlie Daniels here:


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