Sometimes, introductions simply aren't necessary. That may be due to the enormity of the subject's status as a legend, or perhaps it can be credited to the fact that the artist doesn't need anyone to handle the talking for him. Both scenarios apply to the one and only Charlie Daniels. In the decades since he forever fiddled his way into the pop culture consciousness with his trademark song, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," Daniels has become an elder statesman of Southern rock, country and gospel. He also isn't shy about expressing his opinions on topics ranging from religion to politics.
With Daniels and his band making their way to Dallas tonight for a holiday-themed show at AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House, we jumped at the chance to have a few minutes of phone time with Daniels. Thankfully, he was his typical unafraid self as we discussed the origins of Southern rock, Westboro Baptist Church and the politics behind the war in Afghanistan.
Your new single is called "Let 'Em Win or Bring 'Em Home." What's behind the message, specifically? Well, the title is just the main point, really. Right now, it's a matter of how the people we have in office aren't willing to take the heat for winning the war and the collateral damage that comes with it. My point is this: I think our military is capable of winning any war, but a war can't be run from behind a politician's desk in Washington. The people on the ground know what's happening. When you take the power away from those that are there and base all of the strategy on politics, and world perception and public relations, you're not going to win. So, if we're not going to win, why do we keep leaving the troops in harm's way? Just bring them home.
In a lot of Arab countries, it's just not in their DNA to accept a central government, because they've never had one. They've always had it to where whichever war-lord had the most guns would rule his area, and that's how it is over there. They don't give their allegiance to a central government. It would take generations of a good central government to persuade those people that it's a good thing, and they don't have anything close to that right now. I don't know where we find these bums that we prop up and put into office, but we're scraping the bottom of the barrel somewhere. It's just ridiculous. We've got the cream of American youth over there in harm's way and we're not going to let them win. It shouldn't be that way. What is victory? What are we trying to achieve? We're not going to leave Afghanistan with a central, Washington-style government. It's not going to happen. Osama bin Laden is dead. If we're spinning our wheels over there, then let's go, let's get out of there. That's what the song is about: If we're not doing any good, why are we there?
In that song, you make a point to speak out against the well-publicized actions of the Westboro Baptist Church. A good number of people think the protesters of Westboro are representative of Christians in general. Was it important to you to draw a line between your Christian beliefs and what that group seems to stand for? Well, you know what's funny to me? A lot of the people that try to persuade us that all Muslims aren't bad and that it's only a small number of Muslims that cause the trouble are the ones that want to lump all Christians together with the Westboro Baptist Church. To lump all of Christianity, or even all of the denominations of Christianity, together is misleading, because there are different beliefs among the different denominations.
First of all: The Westboro Baptist Church isn't Baptist. Second of all, it isn't a church. A church is the body of Christ, and the God I serve is a god of love, not of hate. The God I serve isn't the God they think they're serving. I mean, a group that can attack an Amish family and protest at the funeral of their daughter who has been violently killed is just the scum of the earth. I don't hate the people of Westboro, but I hate what they stand for. I hate the way that they've perverted Christianity and that they've made people think that all Christians are just like them. They're despicable people. They're out telling people that the Lord hates them. They're telling people that a homosexual can't be saved. Don't tell me that. Don't tell me that anyone can't be saved. Christ is about forgiveness. They meant to tell us that God hates us? The Bible says that God gave us his Son for whomsoever, not just for Westboro Baptist. I'm constantly ranting and railing against them.
It seems as though the majority of musicians that regularly speak out about social and political topics lean towards the liberal side of the spectrum. Do you feel pressure or an obligation to be a conservative voice in the artistic community? No, not at all. I'm just expressing my thoughts as Charlie Daniels, private citizen. I don't do this when I'm on stage, but if someone asks me about my thoughts in an interview, that's fine. I also write about my opinions on my Soapbox blog. I don't hide what I believe in and I'm not afraid to state the facts. But that's not what people buy tickets to my shows for. This is the private side of me. The things I say and the things I criticize are things I believe strongly in, but again, that's not the entertainer side of me, that's a different persona. If something comes up in a song that goes along with my beliefs or is perceived to be controversial, well, that's my music.
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You're bringing your Christmas show to town. Does that mean you're only playing Christmas songs, and skipping your non-holiday catalog? Well, it is a bit misleading to call it a Christmas show, even though we've put out three Christmas albums. If I went and played a show where we did "Silent Night" and didn't do "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," then people would very much be disappointed. Basically, we do our show with some Christmas tunes thrown in.
In the 1970s, your band, along with others like the Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd, blended country, gospel, rock and soul and brought that Southern rock sound to the entire country. What are your thoughts on that period, now that you have 40 years of perspective? Well, I don't think that quote-unquote Southern rock was as much of a sound or a musical thing as it was a geographical thing. There were a bunch of bands coming out of the South at the time - South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. They all started having hit records at the same time, and they happen to be from roughly the same place. Sure, there were a lot of similarities between the bands. We spoke similarly, and we had similar attitudes in general. There were some similarities in the music in terms of a driving, blues-based sound, but primarily, Southern rock and Southern music was a geographical thing. We were blessed to have it all happen around the same time, really.
OK, but when you listen to the current crop of country hit-makers, it's clear that a Southern rock influence on the actual music is present, regardless of where a band is from, isn't it? Yes, I agree that there is. I bet that if you talked to a lot of the current artists, you would find a lot of Skynyrd fans, or ones that really loved Duane Allman's guitar style. They were influenced by the music they listened to and enjoyed early in their lives. We're all the sum total of what we listened to early-on. I hear people today playing slide guitar and doing what Skynyrd did back then, and yes, that's a big part of country music today. I just think there's a lot of admiration from the guys who are doing it today and the guys that did it back then.
The Charlie Daniels Band performs Wednesday, December 7, at the Winspear Opera House.