There are living legends and some of them are national treasures. To his fans at a performance at Arlington Music Hall this weekend, Charlie Daniels embodied them both.
Daniels, who turned fourscore last month, led the packed house on a revered, musical journey from the Wooley swamps of Lucius Clay toward a crescendo of "How Great Thou Art" before winding things up with a fiery round of fiddling in "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."
Before the show, Daniels, who was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last month, visited with some of those who helped put him there.
A pool of fans had gathered by a snack bar before making their way upstairs to meet the white-bearded Southern rocker. Among them was local musician Shane Bell, who also sported a full beard and wore a wide, blue bandana.
“I saw him in 1990 when I was [stationed] in Germany,” said Bell, a U.S. Army veteran.
Nearby, a young fan wearing a western hat rosined up his bow. Minutes later, the boy would play the fiddle briefly before Daniels, who was seated at a round table with his hat pulled low signing fiddles, black and white handout photos, and an assortment of other tangible items while sandwiching in small talk.
Waiting their turn in a hallway stood Bob and Shari Meadows who said they had come up from Beaumont listening to Charlie Daniels' music the whole way.
“We are finally getting to meet him,” said Shari Meadows. “It has been on our bucket list forever.”
The couple, who were lifelong The Charlie Daniels Band fans, said they planned to ask Daniels to sign a photography book that their 24-year-old daughter, Courtni, had created for a college project. Courtni, who has taken numerous photos of famous musicians, had captured close ups of Daniels’ fiddle as well as his colossal “Jesus is Lord” belt buckle.
Bob Meadows talked about one of Daniels’ songs “Reflections” whose lyrics look back at the lives of Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin and Ronnie Van Zant.
Along with his country, bluegrass and Southern rock music over the years, Daniels has also released gospel and Christmas albums.
His gospel album, Songs from the Longleaf Pines, is a bluegrass gospel and Southern gospel mix of the old camp meeting tradition, said Robert Darden, a former Billboard gospel music editor turned Baylor professor. Darden also said the songs on Daniels’ Christmas albums are rather generic but performed with a country, rock and bluegrass flair. His voice carries a nice, rough-hewn edge that separates his versions from the elevator music approach that most artists prefer, Darden said.
“He doesn't sound like Perry Como,” Darden added. “Nor does he want to.”
Along with his fiddle sawing, Daniels built his musical reputation on stubborn lyrics like “if you don’t like the way I’m living, you can just leave this long-haired, country boy alone” and “I ain't asking nobody for nothing if I can’t get it on my own.”
According to songfacts.com, some of Daniels’ original lyrics later conflicted with his Christian beliefs. “I changed 'I get stoned in the morning, I get drunk in the afternoon' to 'I get up in the morning, I get down in the afternoon,' which means the same thing,” reads the website.
However Daniels chose to arrange his songs, they clearly resonated with his fans this weekend drawing applause and an occasional “We love you, Charlie!”
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During the concert, Daniels took time to give his band members their due, as well as Bob Dylan for giving him his big break as a guitarist. He also honored fellow legends Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash.
“For all you folks who called me a redneck and a hillbilly, I’ve got two words,” Daniels said. “Thank you."
Before heading on to the next show in Goliad, Daniels told fans that he loves the gypsy, road band’s nomadic lifestyle and has no plans to slow down. However, he does plan to be home on his ranch in time for a Tennessee Christmas. “Twin Pines,” he said. “It’s always the Twin Pines.” Daniels and his wife, Hazel, have owned the ranch since the 1970s.
At the end, though, he responded to the fans who obviously still treat him with reverence. “Thanks for helping me live my dream,” he said.