Charlie Daniels knows the competition of being a Nashville session musician. Sick days and cancellations can lead to groundbreaking work and that was certainly the case when Daniels got the call to play on Bob Dylan’s 1969 album, Nashville Skyline.
Daniels was still relatively new to Music City and made a living as a go-to studio picker. At the time, producer Bob Johnston originally had another guitar player booked for the 25-session gig.
“The only problem was by the time they got to him, he was already booked for that very first session,” Daniels recalls. “So, Johnston asked me to come fill in for him. And I did. And, of course, I played with all my heart and soul as much as I possibly could.”
By the end of the first session it was evident Daniels had to stay.
“I was packing my gear up to leave,” Daniels says. “Dylan asked Johnston, ‘Where’s he going?’ He said, ‘He’s leaving. I got another guitar player coming in.’ And Dylan said, ‘I don’t want another guitar player. I want him.’ It’s just unbelievable, I don’t know, almost surreal.”
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Daniels adds. “But I found him to be totally and completely different from what I read in the press. He was friendly. He was conversational. He had a sense of humor. He was having fun in the studio. And that album went like clockwork. Everybody was so into it. All the players and Dylan, it just happened. It was so relaxed. … Dylan’s doesn’t like to spend a whole lot of time on a song. If the first take is good, it’s the first take.”
Daniels has credits on three Dylan albums including Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning. But to Daniels, Skyline marked a sonic milestone in Dylan’s career.
“If you listen to every other album he made before then,” Daniels says, “and then go back and listen to Nashville Skyline, it is a totally different album. His vocal sounds, the material he did, the way he approached it, all of the arrangements – everything – the total thing was kind of a departure for him.”
Daniels also believes his work with Dylan helped him realize he was born to entertain.
“I came to Nashville to be a session player and producer,” Daniels says. “I tried it all. But I had I realized pretty early in the game that basically I’m an entertainer. I enjoy the studio. I still enjoy working in it. I do quite a bit of it. But when it comes down to what I want to put my energy into it’s being a musician, being a performing musician. … It was just across the board good things. It was just across the board a shot in the arm.”
Daniels will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame later this year with fellow industry greats Fred Foster and Randy Travis. Pre-“The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Daniels worked as a studio musician for several acts including Marty Robbins, Flatt & Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Ringo Starr and Leonard Cohen.