Charlie Daniels has a rich discography of Southern-themed, outlaw country, gospel, and patriotic albums. His latest, Night Hawk, fulfills a long-held goal of producing a record of cowboy songs. The release of his 32nd album is just the beginning. This fall, Daniels will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, celebrate his 80th birthday with his 42nd annual Volunteer Jam, and continue his tour, including a show during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Here, editor Bob Welch chats with Daniels about the new record, his career, and his hopes for this nation.
Tell us about Night Hawk. The cowboy is the inspiration, but why now?
This has been in the works for a long time. I have all these things I intend to do—I’ll have to live to be 150 to get them all done—but I really wanted to make a cowboy album. I didn’t want to just pick out songs that everybody else had done 100 times, so when I found a song that would fit what I had in mind, I would lay it aside and just keep it. This is the culmination of 15 or 20 years of finding songs, putting them aside, and finally coming back them.
The tracks span from old, traditional cattle trail songs to Bob Wills Western swing. What were you looking for in the songs you chose?
Not every song is exclusively a working cowboy song, but it’s an album for the working cowboy. I wanted do an album about the working cowboy’s life. The song “Night Hawk” was that type of song. There’s a gunfighter song or two on there, but really I just wanted to talk about the guy who literally still goes out and makes his living punching cows. I never made my living doing it, but when I was younger and could sit a horse good, I used to go out with some guys in West Texas and Nevada during spring works. It’s a life that I have a great, great admiration for.
In your career, You’ve worked with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Kid Rock, and Darius Rucker. What Makes you so attractive as a collaborator for all these different types of performers?
I was raised at a time when radio stations weren’t formatted to play one type of music. They literally had to meet the FCC mandate of playing something for everybody. They’d start with country music early in the morning. Then they might play something geared toward ladies staying home, keeping house. About the time kids starting coming home, they’d play popular music. When I was a kid, it was big bands. Being from the South, I would listen to gospel and blues. My musical tastes run pretty wide. To me, it’s not amazing at all to have worked with so many people making so many different kinds of music. It seems natural to me.
I suppose that sort of career is a big reason why you were selected for the Country Music Association’s Hall of Fame this year as part of the 50th Anniversary of its awards show. What’s that honor mean to you?
It’s hard to even articulate what it means. It’s just an incredible honor. It’s something you don’t have any control over at all. You just hope one day a bunch of people walk in a room, someone puts their hand in the air to nominate you, and enough people vote to make it happen. It’s a blessing of God and another desire of my heart that He has granted me. I am completely enthralled by it. I’ve spoken in front of people enough that I can usually come up with something to say. But this one .... What do you say? It’s hard to put into words.
Despite being at a loss for words on the induction, throughout your career, you’ve never hesitated to stand up for the flag, the military, and the country, or to put your time and money where your mouth is, so to speak. Tell us more about your 80th Birthday Volunteer Jam.
First of all, it’s going to be a whale of show: Larry the Cable Guy, Chris Stapleton, Kid Rock, Travis Tritt, Luke Bryan, and there will be other people involved. It’s our 42nd anniversary and it’s going to be a dynamite show. To me, it’s going to be special—though my birthday is in October—we’ll be celebrating my 80th birthday that last night in November. You only turn 80 one time, so it’s okay to celebrate it as much as you want. A part of the profits go the Journey Home Foundation—an outfit of which I’m chairman of the board. We try to soften the landing for our vets who are coming home from service. When you walk off the battlefield, the rest of the world can’t understand what you’re going through. We try to help them find their way back. Whether it’s an education, a car, furniture—or whatever a vet needs that is within our ability to supply, to help him or her get back into civilian life—that’s what we provide.
You also don’t pull any punches when it comes to your politics. What are your hopes for America? I want to see someone come into office that will prioritize what needs to be done in this country by what really needs to be done.
What’s been happening to our veterans is absolutely asinine. You can’t expect people to go off and fight a war for you, and then die in the parking lot of a VA hospital. I also want to see somebody use some sense on our fiscal condition. This country owes almost $20 trillion. That’s unbelievable and unsustainable. The day is going to come when it takes every cent of GDP we make just to pay the interest on this loan. It needs to be addressed immediately. I want to see somebody with some cowboy logic come in and start addressing these problems before they swallow us whole. I don’t publicly endorse political candidates, but I do advocate getting out and voting. Elections are decided by a few votes. Don’t let somebody steal your vote.
You’ve released many gospel albums during your career. How big a role does your faith play in how you go about your life?
I hope it plays a role in everything I do. I want it to. I’m not always successful at it, but I want trying to follow Jesus Christ to be the number one thing in my life.