That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 29: Live! a.k.a. The Live Record
It seems almost inconceivable that the CDB never had a full live album until 2001, but it’s true. Several live CDB recordings were part of the three Volunteer Jam albums – and the two live tracks from the first Volunteer Jam on ‘Fire on the Mountain’ - that were released by Epic in the 70s and 80s, but it wasn’t until October of 2001 that ‘Live!’ (a.k.a. ‘The Live Record’) was released that a proper CDB live album became available.
Fifteen live recordings from the band would make up this historic collection, and then, later on, one studio recording would be added to the collection, but we’ll get to that later.
It would also be the first album on Blue Hat Record’s new distributor, Audium, a division of Koch Entertainment, a partnership that would last for several years before Audium and Koch were bought by eOne.
One quick note about the cover. It was taken in Florida while playing an outdoor show early in the year, and it was shall we say colder than expected, so someone got dad a sweater to wear on stage, something that probably didn’t happen very often, but the sweater will forever be remembered on the cover of ‘Live!’
One other thing to point out is that there was a personnel change throughout the recording of the album. Wormey – Chris Wormer – reluctantly decided he needed to leave the band for personal reasons. We all hated to see him go.
Dad had gotten used to having another guitar player, so they found another talented guitar picker named Mark Matejka, affectionately known as ‘Sparky,’ and remained with the band until early in 2005.
Now, on to the performances.
The album kicks off with “Road Dogs,” the title song of the previous album. The band sounds very tight on this song, on the whole album for that matter. As I mentioned in the ‘Road Dogs’ breakdown, it’s about life on the road and ups and downs of being a “road dog.”
Next, the band goes right into the classic “Caballo Diablo” from ‘Fire on the Mountain’ without addressing the crowd. It’s the story of a legendary “devil horse” and the hot-blooded young cowboy who is determined to ride him because as he says, “I may be half man, but the other half’s devil, so you’re just exactly like me.
It ends tragically for both of the half-devils, but it’s always one of my favorite of dad’s story songs.
After the first two songs, dad addresses the crowd, albeit more generically than usual. He would always say “Good Evening….” And whatever town he was in, but on this occasion, he just said “Good evening, y’all,” before going into “The Legend of Wooley Swamp.”
It’s another fantastic story song by the master of story songs, an old miser hordes his money away in the swamp while a bunch of local hooligan brothers known as the Cagle boys decide to take his money and throw him to the gators, but in a supernatural twist of fate, his ghost quickly returns to laugh loudly at the brothers as they are sucked down into the swamp’s quicksand, and he’s rumored to still be seen in the swamp, and on “certain nights if the moon is right” the screams of the Cagle boys can be heard, as can the laughs of Lucius Clay.
Next us is “Simple Man,” dad briefly touches on the song’s controversial nature when it was released back in 1989 and says that he got called some names because of it, before saying “I don’t care.”
The song is about how our country has strayed so far from our founding principles of right or wrong and the rise of violent crime which has gotten even worse in the thirty years since the song was originally written.
While some might criticize the song as being too harsh on criminals, an even stronger argument can be made that today’s world has gone overly soft on violent criminals who get slapped on the wrist and turned back out on the streets only to commit the same crimes over and over.
Many times there is little to deter criminals, and dad offers a few solutions which might help them think twice.
Next, dad acknowledges that the song “Sidewinder” is the first guitar instrumental to appear on a CDB album in a long time. In fact, as I’m going back through the albums, I think “Orange Blossom Special” might have been the only time that I can find that an instrumental appeared on a CDB album, and that was a live track, and certainly not guitar-driven.
But “Sidewinder” is definitely guitar-driven, and at seven minutes and 40 seconds, it’s the longest song on the album but it may even be better than the studio version. It’s got lots of great guitar work and a highly infectious bass line.
Back to the story songs with “Trudy,” the classic tale of a Cajun fella who ends up in a poker game in a Dallas bar with John Lee Walker, a professional gambler and potential card cheat.
After he loses his money to Walker, he accuses him of playing dirty to which Walker pulls a gun on the Cajun who wallops him in the head with a chair before he takes off running, only to be caught by Dallas’ finest. While in jail, he’s trying to get in touch with Trudy, his girlfriend. It’s one of dad’s best story songs ever.
Next up is “Still in Saigon.” Dad introduces the song by saying that we’ve always welcomed back our soldiers after a war, except Vietnam, but dedicates the song to its veterans.
The song written by Dan Daley really put the plight of the Vietnam veterans in perspective when it was released in 1982, and it cemented dad as an advocate for veterans of all wars, which eventually led to the creation of The Charlie Daniels Journey Home Project.
One note about this performance, dad’s voice sounds more hoarse than the other tracks on the album which sounded much smoother than this one. Maybe he had been fighting some sort of bug, I don’t know. I wish I could ask him.
The American theme continues with 1980’s “In America” which was written in a much similar period as we’ve been in today, inflation, rising gas prices and a lack of respect from our enemies, especially the Russians.
If he was still alive, he might have tweaked the song for the current times, but the song itself is timeless. It’s about American pride, and though some will look down on it, it never goes out of style.
Dad introduces the next song by talking about the guitar he’s going to be using to perform The Marshall Tucker Band’s classic, “Take the Highway.” He uses a guitar that belonged to Toy Caldwell, and introduces a trilogy of songs in a tribute to Tucker, The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Dad’s voice is much lower than Doug Gray’s was when he originally sang “Take the Highway” back in 1973, but he makes it work in a lower key.
The song was the lead-off to Tucker’s self-titled debut, and dad does the boys from Spartanburg, SC proud, and Taz’s B3 does its best to fill in for the mellotron which the Tucker version ends with.
While George McCorkle and I were both working for the same music publishing company, I asked him if that’s what the instrument was, and he confirmed it. It’s also featured in the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” It predates the modern synthesizer and was basically tones on recording tape that would play when the keys were pressed and it was a standard keyboard, but a very unique sound.
Next up is “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” which would be the second guitar-driven instrumental on the album, paying tribute to the pride of Macon, GA, The Allman Brothers Band.
It’s a great homage to one of the greatest of the southern rock bands, and the one that started it all.
The CDB had just a few years before recorded “Free Bird” for the ‘Tailgate Party’ album, but had done it with a highly distorted fiddle instead of the traditional guitar melody, but this time we go all guitar, at least until about a one minute and twenty seconds before the end of the instrumental section when the brings it into the mix, which makes sense because the fiddle comes in handy for the next song.
After paying tribute to three of the southern rock’s finest bands, he then goes into “The South’s Gonna Do It (Again)” which encompasses not only Tucker, Skynyrd and the Allmans, but also ZZ Top, Wet Willie – whose frontman, Jimmy Hall, plays harmonica on the performance and lends some vocals as well - Grinderswitch, Elvin Bishop, Barefoot Jerry and – of course – the CDB.
It’s worth mentioning in this version, Elvin Bishop “ain’t good lookin’” but dad and Jimmy are trading off vocals in the last verse, so Jimmy was just singing it the way he knew it.
It’s a great performance, and always a pleasure to hear Jimmy Hall sing. Jimmy is someone who could sing the phonebook and have it sound amazing.
“Long Haired Country Boy” is up next, and the arrangement isn’t too far from the one on ‘Blues Hat’ but without Hal Ketchum and John Berry, but it does have the lyric tweaks he made in that version, including “But I will tell another joke” which dad would modify even more – showing his sense of humor – to “But I will rope another goat.”
Next is “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye” which I will forever maintain is the rowdiest breakup song of all time, as a man whose woman just left him deals with it the only way he feels he can, and that’s by getting hammered at a bar, “actin’ like a durn fool.”
And after a song about drinking, dad encourages people to be careful going home and to not try and drive if they’ve been partying at the show.
The original ‘Live!’ ends – appropriately – with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” recorded at one of the Volunteer Jam Tour shows. What else can I say about the song. It was the only way to cap off a CDB show, it was his signature song, and the theatrical nature of the song made it the perfect climax to a CDB show.
So that’s all the songs that were on the ‘Live!’ album, at least originally… then something terrible happened, the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil on 9/11/2001.
As many of us were, dad was mad as hell at what happened at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
Dad was inspired to pour out his feelings into another song that would prove to be controversial, “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag.”
Having a recording studio right down the driveway from his house, he and the band went in and recorded the song, readied it for radio, and for the first time in over a decade, had a song that charted on the Billboard country chart.
The song was moving up well, and I remember dad’s excitement at being back on the radio again with new music.
But the song’s angry tone put it at odds with some in radio, and dad had to defend his choice of words. His point was that unless you were responsible for running planes into buildings in September, it was not about you. Some groups who wore turbans, particularly the Sikhs, took offense.
But overall, the song was proving to be an unlikely hit and was capturing what a lot of people were feeling, until November when Alan Jackson first performed “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” at the CMA Awards. The sorrowful tone of that song seemed to be what radio embraced as the preferred 9/11 memorial song, and soon “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag” peaked at #33.
Because ‘Live!’ was already in production when the attacks happened, the song was not included on the original release, but shortly after, CD singles of the song were shrink-wrapped with the ‘Live!’ album and later pressings included the song on the actual CD and on the packaging as a Bonus Track.
Naturally, the CDB’s first live album is dedicated to “our precious friends – our fans.”
He truly loved his fans and gave it his all every time he took the stage because he wanted to give them the best show he possibly could, and this album is a great representation of what that sounded like year after year.
Next time, the CDB goes for a double dose of that good old Gospel music!
Check out ‘CDB Live!’ here: https://smarturl.it/CDB_Live
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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