At an age when most musicans take it easy, Charlie Daniels is working harder than ever. 

Road Dog

At 64, with more than 30 years of recording and touring under his belt, Charlie Daniels is nearing the age when most people might think about easing up.

But if anything Daniels seems to be pushing as hard as ever. This summer, he headlines a month-long traveling version of his Volunteer Jam festival. After that tour wraps up in early June, he'll remain on the road into November, playing festivals, casinos, resorts and a few club gigs.

His recording schedule is busy. This summer Daniels will release his first-ever live CD, and he also has a Christian record nearing completion and plans to return to the studio after the current tour to begin work on the follow-up to his most recent studio CD, "Road Dogs."

On the business side of his career, Daniels now owns his own record company, Blue Hat, and that means he not only releases his own records, he is involved in a wide range of business tasks including arranging for distribution and promotion of his CDs.

That's more work and responsibility than most artists are willing to tackle at any stage in their career, much less at a time it would be easy for someone like Daniels to coast along and live off of past glories. So what keeps driving him?

"I just love it. You know, I love this business," Daniels said. "It's not an avocation or a hobby or a get-rich-quick scheme or anything like that. It's something I love. I truly, truly love this business. I truly love playing music for people. I love entertaining people. I love writing a good song. I enjoy being with the band in a recording studio. There's just so much of it. In fact, all of it really, when you get right down to it, is just my life. Outside of Jesus Christ and my family and my country, music is it for me."

The love of music, the inescapable, undeniable urge to hit the road and the sheer joy of playing in front of an audience are central themes to "Road Dogs," the studio CD Daniels released in 2000.

Although Daniels' music has cut a fairly wide stylistic path — from the country edge of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," to the Southern rock of "The South's Gonna Do It" to the moody rock of "Still I Saigon" — "Road Dogs" found Daniels and his band focusing mainly on the hard-edged, bluesy side of their music with tunes like "Ain't No Law In California," "Across the Line," and the title track.

"It just happened to be where the band and myself were at the time," Daniels said of the CD's musical direction. "That's always been what the Charlie Daniels Band did. We always cut [what we wanted] until we started having interference from record labels."

The breaking point occurred during Daniels' brief stint on Liberty Records in the early 1990s. After his record sales had dipped during the mid-1980s, he tried to reverse his fortunes by aiming at the country market. For a brief time, it worked, as his 1989 album on Epic/Nashville Records, "Simple Man," became a platinum-selling hit. But after one more studio record, "Renegades," Daniels moved to Liberty Records. It was a deal that started with promise and then turned sour.

"I went to Liberty Records because of [label president] Jimmy Bowen," Daniels said. "Had Jimmy stayed there it probably would have been a whole different situation. But Jimmy got sick after our first record" — the 1993 release "America, I Believe In You" — "and had to leave. It was not a good place for us to be after he left, so we started getting a lot of interference and dictatorial statements and this sort of thing."

Daniels' reaction to that experience was to start his own Blue Hat Records so he would never again have to follow anything but his musical instincts. "That's the way I work," he says. "I have no desire being under somebody's thumb. Now, I don't mean to say I don't take direction because I do. I'll take direction from somebody if it's something that's valid. But as far as somebody telling me what I'm going to put on a record, I don't intend for that to happen again. It's never worked for me. It's not that I think I know what I'm doing so much, it's just that I just can't seem to make any headway when I don't follow my heart."

Over the course of his career, Daniels knows a little about making headway. He's had million-selling albums like "Fire On The Mountain" (1974), "Million Mile Reflections" (1970) and "Full Moon" (1980) and recorded songs that have become Southern rock and country signatures ("The South's Gonna Do It Again," "Long Haired Country Boy" and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia").

Such music and the impact it made played a key role in earning Daniels two recent career-spanning honors: the Music City News Living Legend Award in 1999 and the Academy of Country Music Pioneer Award in 1997.

To Daniels, those awards hold a special place in his life.

"It means a lot, and particularly those two awards would be a good case in point because one of the awards was voted on by my peers and one was voted on by our audience," Daniels said. "So it was wonderful. It meant a lot, it meant an awful lot. It was quite an honor."


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