Thoughts From a Proud Son on In America’s 40th Anniversary - Soapbox, Jr.
“We’ll all stick together, and you can take that to the bank.
That’s the cowboys and the hippies and the rebels and the yanks!” - Charlie Daniels 1980
It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since one of the most impactful CDB songs was first introduced to the public, “In America.”
The timing of the song could not have been better. The country as a whole was still in the midst of the malaise of the Carter administration with its Misery Index, the Cold War, gas shortages, and a general feeling of disappointment in the United States of America.
In November of 1979, hostages were taken at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, outraging Americans who watched their fellow countrymen and women being blindfolded and used as props in Iran’s Islamic Revolution after the fleeing of Iran’s Shah and the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Americans were furious, and the seeds of America’s resurgence of patriotism had been planted, and dad was inspired to write what would become “In America.”
Then in February of 1980, a miracle happened, a “Miracle on Ice,” when the USA Hockey Team beat the Soviet Union - truly the best hockey team in the world for 15 years or more. The mighty Russians were taken down by some scrappy determined college students and a focused hard-nosed coach who worked his team unbelievably hard, and it paid off in a big way. It is largely considered the biggest upset in sports history.
People started feeling a little prouder of our nation, and dad had coincidentally put his finger on the pulse of that patriotism and had crafted a perfect song for the times.
I remember the circumstances of the song’s recording well. I was on spring break and accompanied dad to California for several events, one of which was the recording of “In America” at LA’s Record Plant studio, and It just also happened to be my 15th birthday on the trip and dad and I were going to take a day and go to Universal Studios, which I was really pumped about.
So, we spent the first couple of days at the studio, and I remember playing a lot of Asteroids and a pinball machine that was there. Being an only child, I’ve always been pretty good about keeping myself entertained, but I did pop in and out of the control room to check out what was going on with the recording, which is a long process when you get into overdubs and vocals.
April 29th, the day after my birthday, we were scheduled to go to Universal, but on my birthday, tragedy struck. Dad’s dear friend and Marshall Tucker Band founding member, Tommy Caldwell, was killed in a car wreck which added to the tragedy in the Caldwell family who lost the youngest brother, Tim exactly one month earlier, also in a traffic accident.
Plans changed. Instead of Universal, I had to run out and get a suit, and we boarded a plane to fly across the country to Spartanburg, SC to attend Tommy’s funeral. Tommy and the other members of Tucker and the CDB were very close, and it hit both bands extremely hard, but there was still a schedule to keep back in California, so we flew back across the country to complete the CDB’s obligations which included the performance of an old song called “Little Boy Blue” and the new song, “In America” on the TV Special, “The Cheryl Ladd Special: Souvenirs.,” and an appearance on the 15th Annual ACM Awards on May 1st.
We spent a bit part of the day of the ACM Awards performance at Knott’s Berry Farm for soundcheck which was very cool. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were on the show, and I got my picture made with them, and got to meet Susan Anton, being a 15-year-old boy at the time, it goes without saying that I had a great time.
So, the show went on and the band won Touring Band of the Year, and the first live performance of the song went over pretty well, to say the least. No telling how many minutes the show went over schedule due to the enthusiastic standing ovation that the song received. If they could have played it a second time, I think it would have been just as powerful.
The song resonated with the audience from all walks of life, from the movie, TV and music industry people on the floor to the fans in the upper sections. It crossed all demographics.
This was a great indication that the CDB had another big hit on their hands, but unfortunately, there was a technological problem.
The song had not been mixed, mastered or pressed to a vinyl single - like things used to be done in the Dark Ages of 1980 - long before the ability to drop a song via iTunes, Spotify or any such digital format in the blink of an eye, and would take a while to get manufactured for public consumption.
From the first performance on the ACM Awards to the single’s official release was 24 days. Radio stations were clamoring for the song due to demand from fans who were calling those stations requesting to hear it again. Due to the production limitations, almost a month of momentum was unfortunately lost. Even so, the song was still a big hit, but it peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #13 on Billboard’s Country Singles Chart and was in the top 100 in Billboard’s Year End Singles.
To this day, I firmly believe that if the song could have made it to radio and fans quicker than 24 days, this would have been a number one song.
But, the song has still had an amazing run, and has had resurgences, especially after the tragic events of 9/11. The song is still a staple of the CDB setlist 40 years later, and still resonates to this day.
“We’re walkin’ real proud and we’re talkin’ real loud again!”
God Bless America, again!
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
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