How Russell, Bob and Bob Changed Dad’s Life - Soapbox Jr.
“Opportunity knocks but once, softly, and then moves on swiftly, attune your heart to her call, your ear to her knock, open the door and be blessed. Let’s all make the day count.” – Charlie Daniels
Sage advice from a wise man.
And he knew what he was talking about because it had happened to him on multiple occasions in his lifetime, but I’m going to focus on three pivotal individuals who opened the door for opportunities.
They are Russell Palmer, Bob Johnston and Bob Dylan, and without any one of these three individuals, dad’s life would have looked much, much differently.
Dad and Russell were childhood friends having grown up together in North Carolina - that is - when dad wasn’t living in Georgia.
My grandfather was one of the best in the longleaf pine timber business, but circumstances would occasionally require that he change jobs and move around from time to time.
My grandfather had hopes that dad would get a good job in the timber business as he did, and had it not been for dad’s friendship with Russell, that might have been exactly what happened.
Even with the moving around, dad and my grandparents spent many years in Gulf, NC, and he and Russell graduated one year apart from Goldston High School classes of 1955 and 1956 respectively.
While in their teens, Russell got a beat-up old Stella guitar, and dad was fascinated by it. Russell taught him a few chords, “about two and a half chords” as dad would put it, and Russell let him borrow the guitar and dad became obsessed with it.
He later learned other stringed instruments, including the mandolin which would be a stepping stone to what he would be best known for, the fiddle because the fingering was the same for both instruments.
Dad and Russell and some other friends formed The Misty Mountain Boys, a name derived from their heroes Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt who left Bill Monroe to form The Foggy Mountain Boys.
Years later, dad was playing regularly around town, but also working in a creosote plant in a job that my grandfather, Carlton, had helped him get.
In 1958, the plant he was working at was forced to start laying workers off, but his job wasn’t on the line, instead, a black co-worker named Louis Frost’s job was on the chopping block, in a move that dad said was strictly about race, because Louis was much more knowledgeable about the job than he was, and dad’s heart was in his music and not in creosote.
He argued to be laid off instead of Louis because he was making a living making music, and that’s what he wanted to pursue.
My grandfather lobbied that Louis should be paid the same way that dad was – which wasn’t customary at the plant in that day – but Grandpa Carlton staked his job on Louis’ performance, and it paid off to the point that Louis worked there until he retired, and dad and my grandfather were pleased that the company did the right thing for him.
But had Russell not shown dad that guitar, dad might have been the one to retire from that creosote plant, and not Louis.
Just about a year later, dad had been touring in Texas with a band he called The Rockets when he met Don, later Bob, Johnston. Bob was a struggling producer and songwriter whose mother was a songwriter who had songs recorded by Bob Wills and Gene Autry.
Don/Bob was extremely enthusiastic, and his enthusiasm was infectious. He asked if dad’s and his band wanted to record something in the studio, but dad explained they didn’t have anything. Undeterred, Johnston suggested they write something for dad’s band to record, so they wrote an instrumental which had echoes of a sped-up “Peter Gunn Theme” with a really nasty-sounding saxophone part throughout and called it “Jaguar.”
While it didn’t make the band huge stars, it did do well on jukeboxes and had some regional radio success, but it was the beginning of a friendship that would pay dividends.
First, when a song that Bob and dad wrote called “It Hurts Me” which had been recorded in 1963, then a year later, the biggest star in the world, Elvis Presley, recorded it. Due to some contract complications, Bob put the song in his wife’s name, Joy Byers.
Dad said that Bob’s work ethic and approach to songwriting would become ingrained into him. Bob wouldn’t just let something mediocre fly, he wanted greatness, and would demand nothing less from anyone he co-wrote with.
And secondly, when just a few years later, Johnston – he was going by Bob full time now - was one of the hottest producers in the music business and was producing everyone from Johnny Cash, to Marty Robbins, Simon & Garfunkel, Burl Ives and one other act that would have another huge impact on his life.
In 1967, dad was still playing the club circuits working his butt off to provide for little ole me and my mom, and Bob had been promoted to head of A&R in Nashville’s Columbia Records office.
We were living in Newport, KY, just across the river from Cincinnati, OH when dad got a call from him asking him if he wanted to move to Nashville to give it a shot instead of clubbing it indefinitely.
With a two-year-old child, a $20 bill and a car with the clutch out on it, dad moved us to Nashville.
Had it not been for that meeting in Ft. Worth in 1959, that door to Nashville would not have been even slightly cracked open, and any attempt to enter the tight-knit Nashville music community would have been done the old-fashioned way, by going door-to-door and asking for someone to give him a shot, and many a talented individual has played that game before, and lost.
So, just as I said with regard to Russell Palmer, had it not been for an enthusiastic and eccentric recording genius, dad’s path would have looked quite different.
He might have made it to Nashville - eventually - but there’s no guarantee that anyone would have opened a door for him.
Bob’s friendship opened the door to potential work in Nashville and that would in turn open the door to some much-needed validation which would come in the form of another act that Bob had produced with much success and acclaim, Bob Dylan.
Johnston had produced most of the tracks on ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, ‘Blonde on Blonde,’ and ‘John Wesley Harding,’ and was gearing up for Dylan’s next album - his second to be recorded in Nashville – called ‘Nashville Skyline.’
All was not rosy for dad in Music City, his many years of playing rock & roll covers in nightclubs resulted in a style that didn’t really "gel" with what was happening in country music, the smooth, non-twangy “Nashville Sound” that had dominated most of the sixties and would extend on into the seventies as well.
Dad’s style was louder than what most producers and artists were looking for, and therefore, session work was slim.
Dad was still having to work nightclubs just to pay the bills, and to provide a decent Christmas for mom and me, he did jam sessions on the side in order to buy a bowling ball for mom and an electric train set for me.
Dad’s frustration was growing. He knew he had something to offer, but it was like beating his head against a wall.
Near our house that we rented from Bob Johnston in Donelson was a hill that provided a clear view of Nashville’s skyline, and dad would go up there and shake his fist in the air at Music City saying “You will not beat me!” But the lack of work was wearing on him, and it had to be a very uncertain time for him, he must have questioned many of his moves. Should he have stayed in North Carolina, should he have up and moved his family to Nashville?
There had to be doubts in his mind, lots of them.
Back to Dylan, when he came on the music scene, his powerful lyrics, delivered by an obviously limited, but honest vocal style brought much admiration from fans both in and out of the music business, and that went for dad as well.
He had been captivated by the lyrical genius that is Bob Dylan. In more recent interviews, even Dylan will tell you he’s not sure where some of his most poignant lyrics came from.
But dad was a huge fan, and when he heard that Dylan was coming back to do another album, dad begged Bob Johnston to put him on one of the sessions, just one. He just wanted to be there among one of the greatest living songwriters, and one whose music had a huge impact on popular culture in the sixties.
As it turned out, there was an opportunity for dad after all. Wayne Moss – who had played guitar on ‘John Wesley Harding’ – couldn’t make the very first scheduled session for ‘Nashville Skyline,’ which began at 6 PM, so dad was put on the session with the total understanding that after a single three-hour session, Wayne – who would later form the band Barefoot Jerry – would be in for all subsequent sessions.
Dad jumped at the opportunity.
As the session began, he was mesmerized being in the presence of a true wordsmith, and he hung on every word that came out of Dylan’s mouth for three hours.
All good things must come to an end, and so did the first session of ‘Nashville Skyline.’ Dad was packing up his guitar and gear because he had a gig across town later that evening at a nightclub called The Houndstooth.
As he was packing up, Dylan asked Johnston, “Where’s Charlie going?” Johnston replied, he’s leaving, and we have another guitar player coming in for the next session.
As dad would repeat many times over his career, Bob Dylan would say nine words that would affect his life from that moment on, “I don’t want another guitar player, I want him.”
It was a much-needed shot of encouragement and confidence because – as dad put it – “the poet of his generation liked his guitar playing.”
So, dad finished recording the entire album with Dylan and went on to play both bass and guitar on the next two albums, ‘Self Portrait’ and ‘New Morning,’ then played with the Earl Scruggs Revue, had a few more cuts as a songwriter, and then decided to go out on his own as an artist, releasing an overlooked album on Capitol Records in 1970, then formed the CDB in 1972, had a top ten single in 1973 and by 1974, ‘Fire on the Mountain’ burst the band firmly onto the American rock music scene which was falling in love with bands from the south which would be lumped into a subgenre called southern rock.
If any one of those three individuals, Russell Palmer, Bob Johnston or Bob Dylan had not been there at pivotal points in dad’s life, we may have been deprived of a lot of great music.
Thank you, Russell, Bob and Bob, all three of you were in the right place at the right time for dad, and I’m forever grateful for the impact you made on his life and career, and I’d say there are a few of dad’s fans that will feel the same way.
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.
PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU POST
Feel free to comment on soapboxes, but please refrain from profanity and anonymous posts are not allowed, we need a name and you MUST provide a valid email address. If you provide an email address, but leave the name as "Anonymous" we will pick a name for you based on your email address. No one other than website administrators will see your email address, not other posters. If you post without a valid email address, your comment (whether positive or negative) will be deleted. — TeamCDB
Check Out The Charlie Daniels Podcast!
Check out "Geechi Geechi Ya Ya Blues" from Beau Weevils - 'Songs in the Key of E'