That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 35: Songs From The Longleaf Pines
In 2005, Charlie went back to his early roots in both Gospel and bluegrass by releasing ‘Songs From the Longleaf Pines: A Gospel Bluegrass Collection” on Blue Hat Records, but he wasn’t alone, he brought along a few bluegrass greats, including a few he had a long history with and even ended up with another Grammy nomination.
The album came about in a roundabout and unconventional way.
Scott was working on a project called ‘The Rocky Top Album’ which was built around the University of Tennessee football program. It included a new recording of “Rocky Top” by the Osborne Brothers and a few songs by a band called The GrooveGrass Boyz, but it also included a song called “Volun-Tears.”
Scott’s camp reached out to see if dad would want to be involved, and he was. The song was very popular when the Vols football team was competitive, then in the years following the Lane Kiffin debacle, it kind of died off. Now that Tennessee is on the upswing, hopefully, it will become popular again.
But that single song on a Tennessee Vols-themed album then led to an all-star album of Bluegrass greats including Earl Scruggs, Mac Wiseman, Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, Cyndi Wheeler and The GrooveGrass Boyz which consisted of members of The Del McCoury Band, but without Del himself.
Dad and Earl went all the way back to the 1960s when after Flatt & Scruggs broke up, Earl founded The Earl Scruggs Revue and dad became a part of that group which also consisted of Earl’s songs, Gary and Randy.
It’s worth noting that dad’s first appearance on The Grand Ole Opry Stage was as a member of the Scruggs Revue, and on Nov. 16, 1969, Earl felt compelled to perform at a Vietnam War protest in Washington DC, and dad was there with him, so they went way back together.
Enough backstory, let’s get on with the music.
The album begins with “Walking in Jerusalem (Just Like John)” a song that goes all the way back to African-American spirituals. Recorded versions go back to 1917 and the version recorded for this album is credited to an arrangement by Bill Monroe.
It begins with dad reciting John 3:16, then the music kicks in and dad and Mac Wiseman trade lyrics in the upbeat and fast-paced song.
The lyrics speak of wanting to be ready to walk in Jerusalem, just like John the Apostle, however, as with many songs that began as spirituals the freedom of heaven was a prevalent theme.
But the song speaks of those coming to Jerusalem, some coming lame, some coming cripple, some coming in Jesus’ name.
The Whites provide delightful backup vocals for the track.
Next up is “Preachin’, Prayin’, Singin',” which was made famous by Flatt & Scruggs, thankfully, dad had half of that duo performing with him on this track and album!
The song details a lost sinner who happens upon a revival in a small town square, he feels compelled to stay and with all of the shouts of praise, and singing, he opens his heart and lets the Holy Spirit in which makes him want to shout with joy, and sing His praises, along with the others.
It’s less than two minutes long, but it’s one that grabs you and leaves you wanting more, and dad trades vocals with none other than Ricky Skaggs on the song.
That Ricky is a good guy, he may go places someday.
“I’ve Found a Hiding Place” is another one that Bill Monroe made famous.
It’s not hard to figure out what the “hiding place” is, it’s the love of Jesus, who keeps him night and day, answers prayers and helps him fight the knock of temptation.
These songs all move so quickly – because they’re bluegrass – they seem to be done not long after they start, and this one is no different.
“I’m Working on a Building” is one of the slower songs on the album, but still just as uplifting. It’s another song that likely had spiritual origins, but became a Gospel standard with The Carter Family popularizing it, as well as Bill Monroe later on.
It seems straightforward, “I’m working on a building” a church for my Lord, in fact, dad’s manager, David Corlew did a mission trip where he participated in building a church, and recorded it for a music video from the collection, but I think it goes deeper than that.
The lyrics speak about being a liar, a drunkard, and a gambler, but now he’s “working on a building too.” Once we accept Christ into our hearts, we become inhabited by the Holy Spirit, therefore, the building he’s working on is his body, for his Lord.
The next is a recitation of the 91st Psalm, dad’s favorite Psalm, in fact, verses 1-8 – from The Living Bible - adorn dad’s bronze grave marker.
“He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God and I am trusting Him.”
“Thou a thousand fall at my side, though ten thousand are dying around me, the evil will not touch me.”
The imagery is powerful, put our faith in Him, no matter how bad the circumstances.
“Keep on the Sunny Side” is another optimistic message in this upbeat collection, once again, The Carter Family helped make this song popular, though its roots run back to a woman named Ada Blenkhorn who was trying to inspire her wheelchair-bound nephew.
After discussing keys and hymns briefly with Mac and Earl, they launch into the song, with Mac taking the lead vocal role, I mean it’s Mac Wiseman after all.
But the message is beautiful, there’s a dark side of life, but also a sunny side, you’ll meet both, but always try to stay on the sunny side.
It’s easy to get bogged down with our problems, but knowing that God is in control and has our backs is a comforting feeling.
“Softy and Tenderly” is probably the slowest song on the album, and one that dad knows well. He performed it a few years before on the “How Sweet The Sound” collection.
The message is simple, Jesus is calling for us, softly and tenderly, and wants to be with us for all eternity.
The song is frequently played at funerals, and dad did a beautiful rendition at George Jones’ memorial service in 2013, I believe Cyndi Wheeler sang along with dad on this version.
“The Old Account” is about our sin account. The tally that has built up over the years of all the sins we committed. And as Romans 6:23 famously says, “the wages of sin is death.”
Pretty bleak stuff…
However… by turning to Jesus, our account is settled, our debt of sin forgiven, and life everlasting.
The instrumental of “I’ll Fly Away” was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Country Instrumental Performance.
It’s a song dad has performed many times in his career, but this was the only time I know of that he did it strictly as an instrumental, aside from a brief quote of Psalm 33 at the beginning.
“How Great Thou Art” is next. It starts out with the chorus instead of the Elvis version which starts with three verses then the chorus.
I was actually able to get through this version without crying. I haven’t had great luck with this song since dad passed. So far, dad, Vince Gill and Michael W. Smith with Cece Winans have all brought me to tears with live performances.
This one I seemed to tolerate. It also seems that they left out the final verse, which is usually what gets me.
But it’s a beautiful song, one of dad’s favorites and this is a nice version.
“The 23rd Psalm – Recitation” This was the first scripture I learned when I was a child, and dad reads the King James Version.
It starts with Mac talking about not understanding when bad things happen to young people, and deadly storms and such, but he thinks it’s all part of God’s master plan, and He will help us understand by and by.
After dad reads the Psalm, Mac reminds us of a scripture in 2 Corinthians, that the Lord will not burden us with too much to carry.
“What Would You Give (In Exchange For Your Soul)” begins with Mac in the first verse and just an acoustic guitar, then everyone comes in on the second verse which dad takes lead on, with Mac singing harmony.
Our soul is precious, we shouldn’t risk it. Plus, if we are in Christ, we belong to Him, our soul belongs to Him.
“The Old Crossroads” closes out the album with a swampy bluegrass sound that would sound at home on the soundtrack for “O, Brother, Where Art Thou.”
It’s about the crossroads we face, heaven and life, or death, destruction and hell.
Jesus will guide us to the correct path.
The last words on the album are John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him,” the companion verse to John 3:16 which led off the album.
The album is dedicated to Russel Palmer, a childhood friend of dad’s who had a profound effect on dad’s career trajectory.
“Dedicated to Russell Palmer, the man who taught me the first guitar chord I ever knew.
Oh, the hours we spent in that little white house behind your family’s home listening to Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs on an old wind-up record player and trying our young and innocent best to emulate what we heard.
I couldn’t have done it without you, buddy.
Charlie Daniels 2005”
If it weren’t for Russell, there may not have been a Charlie Daniels Band. Russell was there when dad was inducted into the Opry, and he and his wife, Kaye, still live in Gulf, NC.
The longleaf pines in the title were a reference to his daddy, my grandfather Carlton who worked in the timber business accessing longleaf pine trees for telephone poles.
And one quick note about the cover, the image of dad is from a painting that still hangs at mom and dad’s house to this day.
It was dad’s favorite painting of him. He thought the artist got him down perfectly, wrinkles and all.
He was right.
Next time, another CDB live album! From Iraq...?
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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