Volunteer Jam V: Devils & Free Birds on a Night to Remember - Soapbox Jr.
January 13, 1979.
Of all of the Municipal Auditorium VolJams, this one stands out the most. It was an unbelievable night and all for only $6 a ticket.
The artist guest list continued to grow, Toy Caldwell from The Marshall Tucker Band was back, along with Papa John Creach but fellow fiddle players, Vassar Clements and Doug Kershaw made their Jam debuts. Jam V had no shortage of fiddle players in the house, that’s for sure.
Grinderswitch was back along with John Prine, The Winters Brothers Band and the “real” Stillwater.
Henry Paul had a new band, The Henry Paul Band, featuring Billy Crain, Tommy Crain’s brother, and a fantastic guitar player in his own right.
The incomparable Dobie Gray of “Drift Away,” and “The ‘In’ Crowd,” fame made his Jam debut, but it would not be his last. Dobie performed at eight straight VolJams. Aside from Toy Caldwell who performed at eleven Jams, Dobie came in second but to my knowledge is the only non-CDB performer who played eight consecutive Jams.
There were others, Janie Fricke who was making a name for herself on the country charts at the time made her debut, along with Nashville studio guitarist, Fred Carter – father of Deana Carter – also made his Jam debut along with several others, including Carl Perkins and his “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Before we go any further, I need to give a little backstory on the night.
On October 20th 1977, a plane carrying the Lynyrd Skynyrd band and crew crashed in Gillsburg, MS, killing both pilots, roadie Dean Kilpatrick, guitar player, Steve Gaines, and his sister Cassie - who was one of the Honkettes backup singers – and Charlie’s friend, Skynyrd frontman Ronnie Van Zant.
The memories of Ronnie and Skynyrd fueled many of the evening’s performances, including The Henry Paul Band who performed their song, “Grey Ghost,” which contained the chilling lyric,
“As the autumn wind whispers through the tall and lonely pines
And the hour of fate is drawing close at hand
Free Bird falling from the sky
brings a bitter end to another southern man.”
And it continued through the CDB set as well.
Several of the songs from the ‘Million Mile Reflections’ album made their debut at Jam V, including “Reflections.” The song is in three parts, each verse about a performer who died before their time, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin and Ronnie Van Zant. I was in tears myself as I saw dad try to get through that final verse as best he could while getting choked up and fighting back the tears for his lost road brother.
“And Ronnie, my buddy, above all the rest
I miss you the most and I loved you the best
Now that you’re gone, I thank God I was blessed
Just to know you.”
The performance is on YouTube, tears and all.
But one other little song from ‘Million Mile Reflections’ also got its public debut, although it wasn’t as smooth as it would once he started performing it at basically every concert which followed, it was called, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” You might have heard it before, once or twice…
Dad had a little trouble with the lyrics, but the song went over extremely well in its live debut, it seemed as if they were onto something.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
But before the evening was over, another surprise was waiting.
The VolJam V crowd was treated to the return of - for the first time since the 1977 plane crash - Leon Wilkerson, Allen Collins, Artimus Pyle, Billy Powell and Gary Rossington, the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and dad also introduced Judy Van Zant and Teresa Gaines, Ronnie and Steve’s widows, respectively.
The atmosphere was electric, the crowd was on their feet.
The Skynyrd survivors shared the stage with members of the CDB two perform two songs. Charlie Hayward played bass since Leon Wilkerson’s arm was in a cast.
Taz DiGregorio stepped in on vocals for a unique arrangement of “Call Me the Breeze,” which was quite different from previous Skynyrd performances.
Then came the moment that everyone had been waiting for, Billy Powell played a familiar piano intro and the fused Skynyrd/CDB performed an instrumental of the anthem, “Free Bird,” and the crowd went wild.
I have to correct dad on something he got wrong in his book, “Never Look at the Empty Seats.” He mentioned that Ronnie’s hat, or one just like it, hung on the microphone stand where he would have been singing, but dad confused the 1987 Jam with the 1979 Jam. At VolJam V, there was no hat, but the spotlight operator shined his light at the empty microphone stand, as someone played the melody on guitar, however, at Jam XIII at Starwood, the hat did hang there for the “Free Bird.”
It was an emotionally powerful night, and the spirit of those that were lost was felt throughout the evening.
I have so many good Jam memories, but V probably tops them all.
Very soon we will be facing a similar prospect, and I have no doubt that dad’s presence will be felt as well at Volunteer Jam: A Musical Salute to Charlie Daniels on August 18, 2021 at Bridgestone Arena. Get tickets HERE
“Ain’t it good to be alive and be in Tennessee!”
Let’s all make the day count!
What do you think?
Pray for our troops, our police, the Peace of Jerusalem and our nation.
God Bless America!
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
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