Charlie Daniels Celebrates the Road Life: ‘Road Dogs’ Revisits His Southern Rock Roots; Volunteer Jam Going Strong

'Road Dogs' Revisits His Southern Rock Roots; Volunteer Jam Going Strong

For those who wonder about the glamorous road life led by entertainers, Charlie Daniels offers up the first song on his new CD:

“Show starts in an hour, no time for a shower/We’ll have to eat when we get back/But we don’t care because the place is packed/We’re road dogs/burning up the interstate.”

“Road Dogs,” the title cut to Daniels’ 35th album, paints the picture the way it really is, not the way everyone imagines it. It’s a world where “we’ve got 500 miles to go and another show to play.” But even after four decades of eating in late-night diners and logging millions of miles on a tour bus, it’s still the world that the 63-year-old North Carolina native loves.

“I couldn’t imagine my life without it really,” Daniels explains in a recent interview from his office in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. “I thank God everyday that I’m able to make a living at something I love doing so much.”

His touring habits are a bit different now than they were in the early days. He got his musical start in rock bands of the late ’50s before moving on to country in the early ’60s. Happily married for 36 years, Daniels no longer has to kiss his wife, Hazel, goodbye when he hits the road.

“She stayed home until we got our son in college, then she started going with me,” he says. “We take our golf clubs with us, watch TV, read, walk, exercise. We have lunch, and first thing you know, it’s time to go do it again.”

Since releasing his first record in 1971, Daniels has jumped from rock to country to blues to gospel with an ease many artists would envy. For Road Dogs, he revisits his Southern rock roots, the ones which gave birth to signature songs such as “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “The Legend of Wooley Swamp.”

“I guess you could say that’s the kind of mood I was in when I started writing for the new album,” he says. “I had kinda gotten away from [my country-rock roots] over the last little while. In fact, I’ve been a little bit self-indulgent on the last three records I made ’cause I had records that I wanted to make.”

His recent releases include a collection of fiddle tunes, Fiddle Fire: 25 Years of the CDB; a rock tribute album, Tailgate Party; and the self-explanatory Blues Hat. All three were released on Blue Hat Records, a label Daniels started in 1997 so he could make the kind of “CDB” music he wanted without any outside pressure.

“It never was a problem until the last few years, and then I got kinda blindsided by a couple of record companies that wanted me to do what they thought they could sell, which I don’t blame them for at all,” he explains. “I made a couple of records that I’m not particularly proud of. I’ve had to work with studio musicians, some of the finest studio musicians in the world, but they weren’t my musicians. I’m not interested in doing that anymore. I’m interested in spending the rest of my career doing what I feel I do best. I’ve just been at it too long, and I’m getting too old to do it any other way.”

Although all three were labors of love, the Blue Hat releases have sold only moderately. Soundscan figures show combined sales of 186,000. During his stay at other record labels, Daniels had two multi-platinum, four platinum and four gold records, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (a platinum album represents sales of one million copies, gold 500,000 copies). But while the units aren’t selling as briskly as they once did, the Charlie Daniels Band still pulls in crowds with the Volunteer Jam, now in its 18th incarnation and in its second year as a national tour. Since the first Jam, a one-day event in 1974, everyone from Roy Acuff and Willie Nelson to Billy Joel and Ted Nugent has joined the party. Through the years, the all-star show has been taped for both TV and radio specials.

“The spirit of the Jam is what made it different,” Daniels says. “We came and jammed and didn’t even get paid for it, just came and did it. So that made it a pretty unique show.”

The 2000 Jam Tour kicked off last month in Indianapolis and will run through the end of June with guests Hank Williams Jr. and Little Feat. After June 4, Edgar Winter will replace Little Feat for the remaining dates.

While the Charlie Daniels Band is taking its music into the new century, its teddy-bear frontman has a gamut of past accolades to survey. Daniels has won two Grammys, two Dove Awards, five Country Music Association awards and three Academy of Country Music awards. Still, the man has more windmills to tilt at, and he has no intention of retiring to his Tennessee farm just yet.

“I’m still trying to reach my original goal, which was every album platinum and every show sold out, and I haven’t gotten to that point yet,” Daniels explains of his drive to continue making music. “I just love what I do. I haven’t been down every street. There’s always a street or road where I haven’t been, and music is just infinite.”

Volunteer Jam Tour Dates

June 3 — Nashville, Tenn.
June 4 — Detroit, Mich.
June 8 — Cincinnati, Ohio
June 9 — Washington, D.C.
June 10 — Virginia Beach, Va.
June 22 — West Palm Beach, Fla.
June 24 — Raleigh, N.C.
June 25 — Charlotte, N.C.