Versatile musician Charlie Daniels, who was officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame earlier this month, also celebrates another milestone with his 80th birthday today. The North Carolina native, whose early session work in Music City included playing bass and guitar on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album in 1969, released his self-titled solo debut two years later. But it would take another two years and two albums, before Daniels’ blend of traditional country and Southern rock would pay off. Honey in the Rock featured “Uneasy Rider,” a counter-culture tale of a weed-smoking hippie driving his peace-sign-bearing Chevy from the South to L.A., rustling up trouble with some combative rednecks along the way. The spoken-word tale was a Top Ten pop hit but country radio wasn’t exactly ready for it in 1972. It failed to even reach the Top Fifty.
Daniels’ major crossover breakthrough would take place seven years later, with the 1979 fiddle-heavy smash, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and the Million Mile Reflections LP, which sold more than three million copies. In between studio albums, however, Daniels would follow “Devil” by re-releasing the rebellious, anthemic “Long Haired Country Boy” as a single. First included on his 1974 live LP Fire on the Mountain and issued as a single, the song failed to crack the pop Top Forty and missed the country chart altogether, in spite of the presence of the legendary Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers on Dobro. With Daniels’ popularity on the rise, the tune fared better in 1980, reaching country’s Top Thirty this time.
In October 1975, the popular syndicated music series Pop! Goes the Country welcomed Daniels for an appearance on an episode which also featured rising star (and now fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member) Ronnie Milsap. In the episode, Daniels was introduced by yet another future Hall of Famer, series host Ralph Emery, the famed WSM DJ who would go on to host TNN’s hugely popular Nashville Now less than a decade later. Emery alluded to Daniels’ popularity with country and rock audiences saying he was “at home with the Rolling Stones in Memphis, or maybe Willie Nelson in Texas.” For unknown reasons, Emery laughs as he introduces the musician as “funky Charlie Daniels.” Seated on a stool and playing acoustic guitar, the cowboy-hat-wearing, bushy-bearded Daniels is accompanied by unseen players as he performs “Long Haired Country Boy,” the second of two songs he sang in the episode. The first, “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” preceded “Country Boy” as a single, making the pop Top Thirty and also inspiring the Ku Klux Klan to use it at a 1975 rally. Daniels responded by telling Billboard magazine that the song was not written to “promote hate groups.”
In spite of his current status as an outspoken critic of President Obama and the Democratic Party, Daniels would support Jimmy Carter’s successful 1976 run for the White House and perform at his inauguration in January 1977.
On November 30th, Daniels will host his 41st annual Volunteer Jam at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, with appearances from Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Kid Rock, Travis Tritt and Larry the Cable Guy.