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Charlie Daniels on Election ‘Circus’ and Honky-Tonk Culture

Country legend talks Trump, Fiorina and why the making of his ‘Live at Billy Bob’s Texas’ album was a walk in the park

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Charlie Daniels Band's latest release is 'Live at Billy Bob's Texas.'

John Shearer/Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum

Country music legend Charlie Daniels has a section on his website called “Soap Box,” where he waxes poetic in his notoriously uncensored voice on topics ranging from gun control to foreign affairs to the “media circus and a personality pageant” that is the 2016 presidential election. “If I didn’t say what I feel, I’d be less than honest,” he tells Rolling Stone Country. “Of course, I offend some people. . . but some people offend me.”

Still, when we sat down with the outspoken, unwavering patriot in Nashville and asked him to weigh in on the country’s political climate, he was surprisingly neutral. Well, as neutral as Charlie Daniels can possibly be. He didn’t pick apart any of the candidates — nor did he really back any of them either.

“I’m not supporting anybody right now,” laments the iconic musician. “I would like to take about five of the people that are running and take a trait from each one of them and put into [one candidate]. There are several of them that could use Dr. Ben Carson’s humility. There are several of them that could use the fire that [Donald] Trump is bringing into it. There are several of them that could use the common sense that Mike Huckabee has. We’ve just got to pick the one we like the best.

“I like this [Carly] Fiorina lady. She’s got a lot of good ideas,” he continues. “We need somebody who is going to be able to holler louder than everybody else right now, because they are going to have a lot to do. And whatever they do, [people] are going to try to shoot it down. We need somebody who has enough guts, enough cojones to go in and stand up and say, ‘This is what I promised people that I was going to do. This is what we’re going to do.'”

Just two weeks shy of his 79th birthday and more than 60 years into his career, Daniels still has just as hot of a fire under his feet about work as he does about politics. The North Carolina native has the kind of onstage energy few entertainers can match, and that sizzling live show is captured on the Charlie Daniels Band’s new release, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas.

“Billy Bob’s is such a big old honky-tonk. There’s just so many people there, and they come out to have a good time,” Daniels says of the Fort Worth venue, which is the largest honky tonk in the Lone Star state. “They come out, sit down and enjoy themselves. It’s conducive to really putting yourself into it.”

Produced and released by Smith Music Group, the project is the latest in the Live at Billy Bob’s series that launched in 1998 and includes more than 40 concert recordings. Daniels’ collection is a 14-song set that features such classics as “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye,” “The Legend of Wooley Swamp,” “In America,” “The South’s Gonna Do It Again” and of course, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

The country legend has recorded a few live albums during his lengthy career, most recently in 2007 with Live in Iraq. Recording a live show can present challenges for some acts, but Daniels chooses to focus on the audience and not the technical aspects of doing such a record. “With a band like ours, we just go in and try to forget we are recording live,” says the musician. “If we’re doing TV, I try to ignore the cameras because I always play to the crowd. . . and you got a good honky tonk-type crowd at Billy Bob’s. We were just playing for them; it’s not really that much of a challenge. We just did our standard set that we’re doing right now. This is basically a live CDB show.”

In addition to his many hits, Daniels’ live show also includes a powerful rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” “I’ve got to do a hymn,” he says with a smile. On the flipside, there’s his take on Johnny Cash’s classic “Folsom Prison Blues,” which has become a recent staple of his live shows.

Daniels is no stranger to performing in Texas honky tonks; he’s even done it on the big screen, in 1980’s Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta. “I’ll tell you who was a shining diamond in that whole thing was Debbie Winger,” he reminisces. “That was her coming out party. I’d been hanging out in clubs for a long time and she played a club-type gal. . . She talked that way, acted that way and did a great job.

“And, of course, John Travolta pulled it off. He evidently studied what was going on, and he was also a nice kid,” Daniels continues. “After I saw the movie I figured it was going to have an impact because it kind of legitimized country music to a lot of people. People looked at country music as hokey. The kids in Houston and Fort Worth didn’t, but the kids in New York did and then they started buying cowboy hats and boots and stuff.”

Thirty-five years later, he’s still seeing “kids” at his concerts, whether they’re above or below the Mason-Dixon line. And his live shows are certainly keeping Daniels young at heart.

“I travel around one hundred thousand miles a year, play a little north of one hundred concerts and ten Grand Ole Opry appearances a year,” he writes on his “Soap Box.” “I would not trade jobs or lives with anybody on this earth.

“I’ve had a few health bumps along the road but for the most part I’m pretty healthy for a ‘hard rode, put up wet’ 78, soon to be 79-year-old semi-cowboy.”

In This Article: Charlie Daniels, Donald Trump


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