Charlie Daniels, American Icon

How do you define a man that is the epitome of everything you hold dear about the culture you were raised in? Perhaps the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture said it best when they wrote, “Few individuals have symbolized the South in popular culture as directly and indelibly as Charlie Daniels.”

Charlie is a man that is unmistakable, whether you are looking at his larger than life Western persona in his signature, bull rider cowboy hat and king size rodeo belt buckle or listening to one of his musical exploits that crosses multiple genres, no doubt Charlie is one of a kind.

For decades, yes decades, this 78-year-old phenom has refused to be confined or defined by a single musical genre. When asked how he would describe his music he simply states its “CDB music”.

With a musical catalog that spans more than 50 years and over 20 million units sold Charlie has dumbfounded many reviewers and label execs in the industry simply because he can’t be labeled. With songs like, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “In America,” “Uneasy Rider,” “The South’s Gonna Do It,” “Long Haired Country Boy,” “Still in Saigon,” “The Legend of Wooley
Swamp,” and the rest of his catalog, no one can say if he is Southern Rock, Country, Bluegrass, Gospel or any other single genre, he simply is a mixture of them all, and that my friend is CDB music.

Charlie’s resume is not limited to his own recordings as an artist. He has worked with some of the greatest and most diverse artists of our time as a musician, engineer and/or producer such as Bob Dylan, Flatt & Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Mark O’Connor, Leonard Cohen and Ringo Starr. Not to mention the fact that superstars like Elvis Presley and Tammy Wynette have recorded songs he has penned.

Perhaps his most cherished accomplishment to date came on Saturday night, January 19th, 2008, when his life long dream became a reality. Charlie was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry as a full-fledged member. Charlie shared, “It is an honor that I can’t begin to articulate, there is no way I can express what it means to me”. He continued, “And to make it special, I was joined on stage by Russell Palmer, the man who taught me my first guitar chords all those years ago. I pursued my dream in music and by the goodness of God have been able to have a wonderful career, which has spanned
fifty years.”

“I have been blessed with Gold, Platinum and Multi-platinum albums, I have appeared many times on network television, even in moving pictures. I have won multiple awards from The Country Music Association, The Academy of Country Music, The Gospel
 Music Association and even a Grammy. I have even played on the Grand Ole Opry many times. But I was always on the outside looking in. I was always a guest, never a member. Ain’t God good!”

Charlie’s humility is legendary. His talents and gifts have certainly opened many doors for him and garnered him recognition in the world of music, but even heads of state have recognized and honored Charlie for his music.

“In his time he’s played everything from rock to jazz, folk to western swing, and honkytonk to award-winning gospel”, former President Jimmy Carter once said. “In Charlie’s own words, ‘Let there be harmony, let there be fun and 12 notes of music to make us all one.’”

Another former president, President Gerald Ford once said, “Charlie’s love of music is only surpassed by his love of people, especially the American people. He’s traveled this land from coast to coast singing about the things that concern the American people.”

Possibly no single event more expresses Charlie’s compassion and love for “American people” than his annual Volunteer Jam. It is a world famous event that showcases a host of musical guests, from multiple genres, all coming together to support Charlie’s efforts in assisting various charities through the years.

The list too diverse and long to itemize has included, to name a few, Roy Acuff, Don Henley, Tanya Tucker, Amy Grant, Leon Russell, Billy Ray Cyrus, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, James Brown, Duane Eddy, Pat Boone, The Outlaws, Dwight Yoakam, Steppenwolf, Bill Monroe, Exile, The Judds, Orleans, Willie Nelson, the Allman Brothers, Link Wray, Ted
Nugent, Billy Joel, the Marshall Tucker Band, Solomon Burke, Little Richard, B. B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eugene Fodor, Woody Herman, and Bobby Jones and the New Life Singers, again just to name a few.

Charlie Daniels founded the Journey Home Project in 2014 with the help of David Corlew and Joe & Mercedez Longever. The not-for-profit organization, assists in securing funds to help causes that benefit veterans of the United States Armed Forces. Understanding the need to assist our nation’s veterans, the organization has set out to establish strategic partnerships with organizations that do the most good, with the least amount of overhead. The Journey Home Project is making a difference in the lives of American patriots.

Charlie says, “I have a very unique opportunity because of being in the music community, you try to give back to some extent. I do feel like people should. We should all do as much as we can.”

On August 12th, 2015, the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam celebrated its 40th show at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

 John Shearer/Getty Images
John Shearer/Getty Images

The night was full of legendary guests and performances including The Charlie Daniels Band, Trace Adkins, Alabama, Ted Nugent, Terri Clark, Billy Ray Cyrus, Colt Ford, The Grascals, Lee Greenwood, The Kentucky Headhunters, Tracy Lawrence The Oak Ridge Boys, Ryan Weaver, Wynonna, Craig Morgan, Lee Roy Parnell, Michael W. Smith, Travis Tritt, Phil Vassar Montgomery Gentry, Blackberry Smoke, and a couple of “Surprise Guests”, but we will get to them later.

With a lineup this immense, it would be impossible to adequately write about each performance so we will just touch on a few. You could feel the anticipation throughout the arena as Lee Greenwood kicked the night off singing “God Bless The USA”. As you would imagine, the entire arena was charged with excitement and patriotism as everyone stood and sang along. You have to ask yourself if that is the show opener, what’s the closer going to be? I mean how do you top one of the most iconic songs of all time? Stay tuned, we will get there and you won’t be disappointed, I promise.

The evening’s hosts then took the stage, first Storme Warren was a crowd favorite and a familiar face to country music fans everywhere, but when he introduced Sean Hannity to the crowd, the place erupted in applause. It was obvious the FOX News TV personality was right at home and very welcome in Music City USA! The two kept the audience entertained all night long in between the many set changes for each artist. If you’ve ever watched Hannity on FOX you know he is constantly throwing a red and white football to people in his audience or to a cameraman, well this night was no different, he brought bags full of those signature red and white footballs and every chance he got, he and Storme were launching them into the crowd as souvenirs for attendees.

After a few minutes of dialog, Hannity & Storme threw us right back into the music with the Kentucky Headhunters singing their hit “Dumas Walker”.

For the next hour it was one artist and one hit after another. You had Phil Vassar singing “For a little While”, and then Craig Morgan singing “What I Love about Sunday” to Wynonna belting out her smash hit “No One Else on Earth”, which the crowd came unglued on. The crowd absolutely loved Wynonna and for many it was a rare chance to see her perform live! Tracy Lawrence followed with “You Find Out Who Your Friends Are” and the Opry legend, Jeannie Seely sang the classic “Who Needs You”.

There are songs that we all listen to and love, then there are those songs that transcend time, generations, trends and fads, songs that become a part of your soul and stay with you forever which was obvious when the mighty Oak Ridge Boys took the stage and sang “Elvira”. I don’t care if you were a man, woman, boy or girl, when it came time for Richard Sterban’s famous bass line, every person in the arena was singing it with him.

 John Shearer/Getty Images
John Shearer/Getty Images

The night was rolling along with hit after hit, it was as if you had signed in to Pandora and got the best country music playlist of all time, but this wasn’t just another Volunteer Jam, it was the 40th Anniversary, so Charlie had a few tricks up his sleeve. His first surprise guest was, the Chief, Eric Church. Eric joined Charlie on stage for a version “In America”. The crowd, as you’d expect, went crazy with this classic Charlie Daniels Band anthem.

To contrast the energy of that moment, Charlie picked up his acoustic guitar, set on a stool and started strumming and singing “How great Thou Art” in an arena where you could have screamed at the person next to you and never been heard a few moments before, now you could literally hear a pin drop. The reverence that fell on that place was, well there is no other word for it, spiritual. It was obvious Charlie wasn’t just singing, he was worshipping the God he so often speaks of. Suddenly the concert seemed more like church, and everyone was fine with it.

You might think a moment like that would occur towards the end of the night, and with most artists you’d be right, but Charlie Daniels is not like any other artist. So how do you follow a deeply spiritual, reverent moment like the one I’ve just described? With Ted Nugent, of course!

 John Shearer/Getty Images
John Shearer/Getty Images

The wild man, rocker of Cat Scratch Fever fame took to the stage, alone with his guitar, and played an instrumental version of the “Star Spangled Banner”. You could feel the energy pumping throughout the arena, it built with every screaming note of our national anthem as Nugent played and by the end of the song the only thing louder was the crowd screaming, “USA, USA, USA,” to the top of their lungs.

 John Shearer/Getty Images
John Shearer/Getty Images

Following Ted Nugent was a parade of stars, Michael W. Smith singing “Gospel Ship” then mega group Alabama singing their smash hit “Mountain Music” and the list kept going with Billy Ray Cyrus, Terri Clark, Montgomery Gentry, Jamey Johnson, Colt Ford, Trace Adkins all singing their mega hits.

How any one man could assemble that many artists, in one place, for one night, for one cause, is mind blowing, only Charlie Daniels could pull something like this off, but there was still one more surprise in store for the fans.

 John Shearer/Getty Images
John Shearer/Getty Images

The final act of the night was Charlie’s second “Surprise Guest”, and they were a big one, Lynyrd Skynyrd. As you can imagine people in the arena were on their feet, with just the mention of their name, but when they started playing “The Breeze”, the party was on! To see that much energy on stage and in the crowd after hours of performances was a testament to just how incredible of a night this had been. Remember when I asked if Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless the USA” was the opener, what was going to be the closer? Well by now you’ve probably guessed it, “Sweet Home Alabama”. There could not have been a more perfect ending to a night of celebration and giving. All in all Charlie Daniels and his friends raised over $300,000 that night to benefit the Journey Home Project and countless numbers of lives.

 John Shearer/Getty Images
John Shearer/Getty Images

To get more information about or to contribute to The Journey Home Project visit:

To learn more about Charlie Daniels Band: