Charlie Daniels performs on “Fox & Friends” at FOX Studios on June 16, 2017 in New York City. (Photo credit: Taylor Hill/WireImage)
Keeping with last week’s “Growing Up with…” soapbox theme, this week I thought I’d fill folks in on some things that most people didn’t know about dad and The CDB. The “Rrrr-est of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say. Little tidbits that even the most obsessive fans may not know.
Here’s one that gets asked from time to time. Before the pandemic hit, CDB and The Marshall Tucker Band were supposed to launch the Fire on the Mountain Tour, because that name has significance for both bands.
Every year when we post the anniversary of The CDB’s “Fire on the Mountain” album on social media, you can almost put money on it that someone will say “I love that song.” We then had to explain that the song is by Tucker and that The CDB didn’t have a song called “Fire on the Mountain.”
The CDB and MTB toured together a lot in the ’70s, especially in the early-mid ’70s. The guys in both bands and crews were pretty close. One day dad and George McCorkle – one of Tucker’s guitar pickers – were talking and dad told him that they were going to call The CDB’s next album “Fire on the Mountain.” He asked dad if they had a song with that title, and dad told him that they did not.
So, George was inspired to go up to his hotel room and write a song that he hoped to pitch to dad as a title song for the project. He later met dad and played the song for him. Dad loved the song, but from what I understand, the FOTM album was already in the process of being mixed, or pressed. The bottom line was that the project was too far along for the band to go back in and do another song, so dad passed on it.
But it worked out pretty well for George because Tucker cut it, and it was a hit. It did extremely well on the AOR – album rock radio – stations that both The CDB and Tucker were being played on, but it also was the MTB’s highest-charting single on the pop charts.
Not too shabby.
In a similar fashion, The CDB’s signature song, the one that shot dad’s career to new heights and became a staple of The CDB set for over 40 years was an afterthought.
Dad has told the tale many times, but a lot of people still don’t know that the “Million Mile Reflections” album was already finished and about to mixed and mastered when dad was hit with a startling reality.
They had somehow neglected to include a fiddle song on the album.
So, a rehearsal studio was booked and dad started working out a framework of a song with the band. Every band member contributed to the song, so dad split the publishing with the bandmembers by giving them credit for the music, with dad being the sole writer on the lyrics.
Dad said that the title “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” just popped into his head, and as best as he can recall, he was inspired by a poem he had to read in high school called “The Mountain Whippoorwill” about a fiddle contest in a small mountain community, but then took the contest to a new level by making it a battle for a young man’s soul.
Dad finished writing the lyrics and he and the band went back into the studio, and the rest – as they say – is history.
One other misconception I wanted to address. Despite popular opinion, dad wasn’t forced to go back in the studio to change the lyrics near the end of the song because of pressure from the record label or anyone else. In fact, the “Son of a Gun” and “SOB” versions were recorded on the same day.
He and his producer realized that there would be some stations that wouldn’t play the “SOB” version, so both were recorded, and while “SOB” was on the album which has now sold close to 4 million copies and was the version that was played on the rock stations of the day, the “Son of a Gun” version was a hit on pop and country radio.
It went #1 on the Billboard Country Chart and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was beaten out of the #1 spot by Earth, Wind, and Fire and The Knack.
Lastly, people know dad played the fiddle, but he first learned guitar, and later picked up the mandolin, because he and his friends formed a bluegrass band called The Misty Mountain Boys.” The fiddle was an outgrowth of learning the mandolin because it has the same number of strings and the finger placement is the same. Makes me wonder if Ricky Skaggs ever tried to pick up a bow over the years.
But despite being known for the fiddle, he mostly played guitar through his career. Even during CDB shows, the fiddle set and encores would most likely make up less than 1/4 of the show.
One thing about his fiddle playing that most people didn’t know — it started getting more difficult for him to perform because of arthritis.
Don’t get me wrong, he could shred a fiddle bow better than anyone, but it got harder to hold the fiddle in place for him. He already didn’t hold it “correctly,” at least as far as proper fiddle players and violinists do, but stiffness in his hands and fingers started requiring modifications to his fiddles because he was having to adjust his grip even more to compensate.
His road crew started putting foam under the fiddle itself to make it where he could hold it against his shoulder a little better, and we started experimenting with chin rests. Because of his beard, it was harder to grip, so I finally took a chin rest and put SteelStik on it, which has the consistency of modeling clay until it dries and I tried to build a higher lip on the chin rest, so he could wedge it under his chin a little better. It wasn’t pretty to look at, but it seemed to work.
We were starting to look at a few more options for the future, including the possibility of 3D printing a brace that might hold onto the back of his shoulder, giving him a little more freedom to hold the fiddles the way he needed to, but sadly he passed before we could get any prototypes for him to try out. But he doesn’t need any of that anymore. He’s got all of his dexterity back now, and I bet his fiddle playing is better than ever.
That’s just a little insider information I wanted to pass along, and there may be more to come.
Now you know…The Rrrr-est of the story. Good Day!
Apologies to the late Paul Harvey.
What do you think?
Pray for our troops, our police, our country, and the peace of Jerusalem.
God Bless America
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
Charlie Daniels, Jr. is the son of legendary American singer, song writer, guitarist, and fiddler Charlie Daniels.