That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 19: Renegade
Before I begin talking about ‘Renegade,’ I have to say that I jumped into doing these CDB album breakdowns a little too late in the year in order to keep up an every two weeks schedule, so I’m going to have to crank them out at least every week, or possibly double up a few times in order to -hopefully – finish by the end of the year. Wish me luck!
After the success of “Homesick Heroes” and “Simple Man,” the CDB went back into the studio for their third album with producer, James Stroud, 1991’s ‘Renegade.’
The only real change was the artist's name on the cover. For the first time since 1973, “The” and “Band” were missing from the cover art, which almost implied that this was a solo outing for dad with different musicians, but that was not the case. It was still the same CDB lineup from ‘Simple Man.’
I’m not sure why it was released that way. If I had to guess, I’d say it was some market person’s “brilliant” idea. I heard one time that the band’s name was confusing to some people – although I can’t imagine who – that they thought maybe that It was dad’s band without him, which I don’t really think was the case. But for whatever reason, it was released as just Charlie Daniels.
But it is still a great album, and one of the best in the Stroud-produced era.
On with the music!
The album leads off with the title track, “Renegade,” and it’s basically dad telling his story, from being told his hair was too long and that he plays his guitar too loud, and that he loves the USA and Southern pride… along with pointing out he’s not the “bashful type.”
“Renegade” is a fitting description, because despite some people lumping him in with Waylon and Willie’s “outlaws,” he said he was more of an “outcast” because he was never part of that movement of country music, having backed into it from the southern rock side.
But the song is pure CDB all the way.
“Talk to Me Fiddle” is probably one of my favorite CDB songs of all time, and – in my opinion – a real missed opportunity for Epic Records.
It’s a unique song in that there’s no actual chorus and music in-between the verses changes with each verse, highlighting a different style of music each time.
It tells the story of a fiddle that had made its way from Europe in the hands of a Jewish Immigrant who played “Hava Nagila” for his family in his New York tenement apartment, from there, the Jewish man’s family must have pawned it at some point and a Cajun bought it and took it down to Louisiana where he played it at the Fais Do Do, then it changes hands several more times, and the fiddle plays the blues, bluegrass, and even Western Swing in Texas, but the kicker is the final verse, “You been bouncing around America, from sea to shining sea, but your traveling days are over fiddle because you belong to me.” From that point, the song ends with the outro to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” implying that the fiddle’s journey ends with him.
It’s the kind of thing that would have made a great music video and would have wowed a CMA or ACM awards show audience as the background changed for each musical style.
But, it’s still a genius idea to trace a fictional fiddle from Europe to eventually being used to play TDWDTG.
I talked about the next song, “Little Folks,” last time when I talked about the ‘Christmas Time Down South’ album.
I think dad really believed in “Little Folks” as a potential single, so they recorded a more commercial radio-friendly version.
As I mentioned last time, not only is the song inspired by me, but when it came time to do a music video, I got to play a part in it, and it was a real stretch… I played myself.
It’s a heartwarming video of a son going away and driving to the airport together. One of these days, I may write a soapbox about the video itself.
The video got lots of airplay on CMT, but the single didn’t perform well on radio, peaking at #47, which is a shame. It’s one of dad’s best slow/ballad-type songs.
As I mentioned last time, it’s about kids growing up, and “Best enjoy ‘em while you can, so soon they fly away.”
The next song, “Honky Tonk Life” ended up being the first single and video from the album, but it only made it to #65. Since the song is basically about how honky tonk living is going to take its toll on your life if you aren’t careful. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be a single – even though it’s a great song – but when you have a song about hanging out in bars followed by a song warning against that, it probably shouldn’t have been a single, but hindsight is 20/20 as they say.
“Layla” is a unique cover of Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominos timeless classic but with a screaming fiddle instead of screaming guitars. I always wondered if Eric Clapton has heard dad’s version. Clapton would also play around with the song when he debuted his acoustic shuffle version of the song on MTV Unplugged.
For those that don’t know, Clapton wrote the entire Layla album as he was pining over Patty Harrison, George Harrison’s wife. Things were further complicated by the fact that George was one of Clapton’s closest friends. It’s a rock and roll love triangle.
Dad either mistakenly - or purposely - “darlin’ won’t you ease my breaking heart” instead of “darlin won’t you ease my worried mind” of the original. I always meant to ask dad about why he changed it, but I never did.
Note to self – and others – don’t put things off, someday it will be too late.
But dad’s cover shines on this album and would have been my choice for a single if I had any input at the time.
Unfortunately, what they went with after “Honky Tonk Life” was the next song, “Twang Factor,” which isn’t a bad song, per se, but it just didn’t have radio power, in fact, the song didn’t even chart, which had to be disappointing to dad.
It was also a song he didn’t write. If John Anderson had cut the song, he might have had a big hit with it, but for dad, it would have been better left as an album cut, in my opinion.
“Fathers and Sons” is another song he didn’t write, but was originally cut by Waylon Jennings in 1987.
It’s about the complicated relationships between fathers and sons seen from the point of view of a younger man who was given advice by his father, but as is often the case, had to learn things the hard way, and recognizing how it’s going to be with his own son now that’s he’s a father.
It’s another rare slow CDB slow song, and was co-written by Gary Nicholson, one of Nashville’s top songwriters.
“What My Baby Sees in Me” is a fun little song, it’s another song dad didn’t write - that’s three in a row, if you’re counting, plus “Layla.” It’s about a “rough and rowdy boy” who marries a very upbeat and loving woman who thinks he hung the moon, despite him thinking he’s “kinda plain.”
But it’s about seeing the best in everything, especially the one you love.
Next up, dad covers himself with “Willie Jones” originally from 1975’s ‘Nightrider.’
The story is the same, a man from Alabama who found himself rotting in prison in Baltimore, but became friends with one of the guards and told him about his home and how beautiful it was.
He later escapes, but the guard can’t bring himself to shoot him and shoots over his head. Eventually, the guard got a postcard with “no return address and no reply” telling him that if he ever gets to Alabama, “won’t you please drop by.”
Most of the arrangement is the same, although it feels slightly slower than the original, and dad replaced a “damn near made me think that I was there” with “durn near” as he was trying to be more family-friendly later in his career.
The final song is “Let Freedom Ring” which is was inspired – at least in part – by the Berlin Wall coming down.
The first verse is about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and describes his “I have a dream” speech.
The next one was about the fall of the Berlin Wall, something that dad got to see first-hand as he was there doing a European tour at the time. He was even filmed chiseling pieces off the wall by the camera crew filming the “Homefolks and Highways” longform VHS.
I’ve even got a couple of pieces of the wall that he brought back to me.
The next verse is about the massacre in China’s Tiananmen Square which was very fresh on people’s minds which happened just two years earlier in 1989.
We still don’t know how many died, the Chinese Communist Party officially acknowledged two-hundred civilians and several dozen security officers died, but documents released by the UK in 2017 that the number was likely closer to ten thousand.
The final verse acknowledges that true freedom is bestowed to God, and how blessed we are as Americans to have the “home of the brave, and the land of the free.”
The choruses sing about letting freedom ring from all nations around the world, and dad once again shows how talented he was at rhyming cities and states, and even other countries.
The album was dedicated to longtime CDB keyboard player extraordinaire, William Joel “Taz” DiGregorio.
To Taz DiGregorio on the occasion of our twentieth year together. “A thousand shows, a million miles and you were always there just across the stage, I love you, old friend” – Charlie Daniels
This would be the last consecutive CDB album released by what was now Sony/Epic Records. There would be a boxed set and a kids album years later, but the Epic Records run that begin in 1976 would end in 1991.
I think several missteps and questionable single choices, compounded with a surge in new country artists in the late 80s and early 90s – in my opinion – pushed dad back in the pack, and made him less of a priority for Epic.
There were some great songs on this album, ones that could have been huge singles, but it didn’t work out that way.
I would have loved to lead off with “Renegade,” Then maybe “Layla” then “Little Folks” and top it all off with “Talk to Me Fiddle,” but I had no say in anything.
Dad was ready to make a change. It would pay off, but not in the ways he expected, and not immediately.
Next time, the EMI years - Liberty/Capitol Nashville/Sparrow – begin.
What do you think?
Let’s all make the day count!
Pray for our troops, our police, the Peace of Jerusalem and our nation.
God Bless America!
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
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