Charlie Daniels’ last Super Bowl performance took place in 1994 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Getting ready to perform during the pre-game show, Daniels seized the opportunity to have his photo taken with one of America’s most beloved sports superstars.
“Of course, shortly after that, you didn’t want to show the picture,” Daniels says with a laugh. “You didn’t want to be traveling in those circles.”
Five months after the photo was taken, O.J. Simpson was arrested for murder.
It’s hard to predict who Daniels will encounter this weekend in Jacksonville, Fla., where he’s performing on two separate TV shows connected to Super Bowl XXXIX. His schedule includes a special guest appearance on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Super Bowl Saturday Night Special, premiering live Saturday (Feb. 5) at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CMT. The show will also feature Jo Dee Messina, 3 Doors Down and .38 Special’s Donnie Van Zant. On Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 6), Daniels will join Gretchen Wilson during the Fox network’s pre-game show that also features Black Eyed Peas, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, John Fogerty and Earth, Wind and Fire.
Daniels is undaunted when faced with the possibility of technical glitches during live TV performances.
“Every night when I get onstage, I have technical problems,” he tells CMT.com. “I miss notes, and usually nobody knows it but me and the guys in the band. People ask me if I get tired of playing ’The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’ I say, ’No, I get a chance to play it better tonight than I did last night — and better tomorrow night than I did tonight.'” Daniels chuckles, adding, “You know, I’ve never played it perfect yet.”
When Wilson wrote and recorded her debut single, she mentioned knowing the words to every Charlie Daniels song. After “Redneck Woman” became a hit, Daniels and Wilson finally met while appearing at a country music festival in downtown Detroit. “She’s just a good little ol’ country sort of gal,” Daniels said, adding that country music was ready for someone like Wilson.
“Everything’s been going in such a pop-ish direction for the last good little while with the strings and the big voices and overproduction,” he said. “Gretchen just came in there and started at the ground level and laid it on the line. People hadn’t heard any music like that in a long time. Once a couple of stations played it, it was all over with. It just had mass appeal, but it sounded different.
“When country radio really cut their format down [reducing the size of playlists], it was the best thing that ever happened to G. Gordon Liddy and Rush Limbaugh. A lot of those listeners went to talk radio. This kind of thing is what brings them back — Gretchen Wilson with some music that hits them in the heart.”
If Daniels and Wilson haven’t shared many stages together, that’s certainly not the case with Daniels and Lynyrd Skynyrd. As best Daniels can remember, the first show they played together was at a college in Ohio.
“Just a little tiny, small place that we both worked,” he said. “I couldn’t even tell you the year. But suffice it to say, it was many, many years ago.”
But Daniels was impressed with what he heard.
“I thought they were great,” he said. “That was a time when there was a lot of jamming going on. Bands would get onstage and play and just really roll on with it. I thought they were just a wide-open, balls-to-the-wall type of a band. They’ve always been that way.”
Daniels volunteers, “I don’t know what Southern rock is. I know who the people are who did it. I know there’s similarity. There’s a blues strain and a country strain that runs through all the music. But when you look at it, all the bands that were purported to have been a part of that moment — if you can call it that — the Allman Brothers band are a blues band. The Marshall Tucker Band are a country band. The Wet Willie band was an R&B band. The CDB is somewhere in the middle with all of them.
“The Lynyrd Skynyrd band is as pure a rock band as you’ll ever find. I’m talking like a Rolling Stones category where they’re nothing but rock. They may venture one way or the other, and it still doesn’t take the rock sound away from it. I’ve never known of a more beloved band than Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s amazing, the generations they keep appealing to as they go through the years.”
Daniels established his reputation in country and rock, but he recently finished work on a bluegrass-gospel album, Songs From the Longleaf Pine, to be released March 22 on Koch Records. The project includes guest appearances by Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, the Whites, Mac Wiseman and Rob and Ronnie McCoury.
“I’ve seen a lot of people whose concept of making records is, ’How many names can I put on the liner notes — and how many records will that sell?'” Daniels said. “We did ask people to come in, and I’m very happy to have their names on the liner notes. But the record was not done from that point of view. I cut my teeth on bluegrass. The first band I played in was a bluegrass band. In fact, when I first came to Nashville, I worked for Earl Scruggs for a while. I’ve always wanted to do a bluegrass album, but I just never had the auspices to do it.”
For the time being, though, Daniels will be concentrating on the weekend performances in Jacksonville and trusting that nothing will be as controversial as last year’s Super Bowl moment with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake.
“Between me and you and the gatepost, I think the reason they chose the talent they chose this year is to get over this malfunctioning wardrobe thing,” Daniels said.
This year’s halftime show will feature 62-year-old Paul McCartney. And at least you can expect the former Beatle to keep his pants on.
“Paul’s probably about like me,” Daniels said. “I don’t think anybody would be interested in seeing him with his pants off. I don’t think it would be a pretty sight.”