“The first radio show I consciously remember listening to is the Grand Ole Opry,” says Charlie Daniels. When he was growing up in North Carolina, Charlie remembers his entire neighborhood tuned into the show. “We could tell you what Minnie Pearl said or what song Webb Pierce sang. It was a rite of passage on a Saturday night.”
For a fiddling man who became a leading force in both Southern rock and country music, the ultimate rite of passage came in January 2008, when Charlie finally joined the Opry cast, at age 71.
“Tonight will be frozen in my mind as one of the most special nights in my life, absolutely,” he said shortly after his performance that night.
But Charlie’s path to the Opry was a long one. He first visited the show, sitting in Ryman Auditorium’s Confederate Balcony with a group of teenagers from North Carolina, staying for two shows, then going to the Midnite Jamboree across Broadway at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. “We had one of the greatest times of our lives,” he says.
Several years later, Charlie moved to Nashville and became a session player, appearing on records by Opry stars including Marty Robbins and Flatt & Scruggs, as well as pop greats including Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Ringo Starr. He ultimately made his Opry debut as a member of the Earl Scruggs Revue.
“Going out on those airwaves that I’d listened to so many times was such a legendary thing,” he says. “It was like a Cinderella moment.”
Not long after, with his own Charlie Daniels Band, Charlie became a leader of the burgeoning Southern rock movement with his songs “Uneasy Rider,” “Long Haired Country Boy” and the genre’s unofficial anthem, “The South’s Gonna Do It Again.” His records were hits on rock radio stations (“The Legend of Wooley Swamp,” “Still in Saigon”), country radio stations (“Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye,” “Simple Man”), and often on both (“In America,” “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”).
Charlie also garnered acclaim for his series of Volunteer Jam concerts, which featured musicians from all genres. The first of those was held in 1974 at one of the Opry’s early homes, Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium.
Visitors to Charlie’s official website are familiar with his plain-spoken political opinions in the site’s “Soap Box” section. In 2009, TV viewers got a glimpse of him in a commercial for Geico insurance (“Does Charlie Daniels play a mean fiddle?” — any Opry fan knows the answer to that question.) But if you want to see Charlie Daniels in his true element, go see him on the Opry stage.
“To be able to be a member and to have my name linked with my heroes is some pretty heady stuff for a guy that loves music and loves the Grand Ole Opry as much as I do,” he says.