Keeping Charlie's Legacy Alive - Soapbox, Jr.
I’ve been working on something pretty special that I’m just about finished with, and it’s all about dad’s legacy.
“Keeping Charlie’s Legacy Alive” is a daily mantra around here. His legacy is obviously his music, but it’s also about his patriotism and his faith, so I had some thoughts to share regarding that legacy.
First of all, nothing gets under my skin more than when some ridiculous list pops up about one-hit wonders, and the CDB is on that list with songs like “Tubthumping” and “Mambo No. 5.”
Dad had a top ten pop single as a solo artist, and the CDB had a gold record years before “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” That song catapulted the band to the next level, but dad’s success was not just on the Billboard Hot 100. The band was riding the wave of southern rock bands on AOR stations which didn’t have much crossover to pop radio at the time.
Most likely, it was written by some millennial copywriter who was handed an idea from an editor and wrote the list with the help of Google.
The CDB had songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Country Singles chart throughout the 80s, including a top ten single with “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye” in 1986 and one that could have gone top ten, “Simple Man,” if its controversial nature hadn’t frightened a handful of country program directors. Instead, it topped out at #13, but it produced a gold record. At the time, a gold record for an album without a top 5 single in country was a rarity.
This “one-hit wonder” has sold over twenty-five million albums including three platinum albums, one double platinum, one triple platinum, and even a quadruple platinum album which might be close to five times platinum now. Not to mention the soundtrack for Urban Cowboy which sold over three million copies and “Coyote Ugly” which sold over four million, and his music has been streamed over one BILLION times.
One hit wonder, indeed…
“Still in Saigon” only got as high as #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 but topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart at #2.
But “Still in Saigon” ended up being a landmark song for dad in a much more significant way.
I wrote about this in the ‘Windows’ breakdown; the song resonated so strongly with Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans. Veterans groups embraced the song and its powerful depiction of a Vietnam vet struggling with PTSD.
But what I didn’t write about earlier is where this connection with vets would take him, inside the walls of Attica Correctional Facility in New York, a maximum security prison.
The prison commissioner invited dad and the CDB to perform there on the strength of “Still in Saigon” as almost three-hundred Vietnam and Vietnam-era vets were incarcerated there.
Because it was in the summer of 1982, I was out of school and on tour with dad, so I went along with the band and crew inside the facility. It was an uneasy feeling being there. Almost eleven years had passed since the infamous riot in 1971, which resulted in forty-three deaths of prisoners, civilian employees and correctional officers. Our guides pointed out where some of the major incidents took place and where bullets scarred the inside walls which were never repaired, possibly as a reminder for those who might have notions of repeating history.
The performance occurred outdoors in the yard as opposed to Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison and San Quentin shows which were indoors.
The band brought their guitars, but I’m not sure if Freddie and Jim Marshall brought drum kits, but I remember the prison brought out an old upright piano for Taz to play, and if my memory serves, several keys were missing.
I’m sure Taz improvised as best he could.
It was a sobering moment overall, being in the middle of a bunch of hardened criminals, and I was glad to be out of there. Still, it was a moment that I would never forget, and I hope that at least some of the audience was able to get on a better path when – or if – they were released.
But over the years, dad was given metal M.I.A. bracelets -several of which I know he wore for many years – when veterans came to CDB meet and greets after the shows.
Dad always felt a debt of gratitude for our men and women who served or were still serving, and over the years, he performed at military bases at Guantanamo Bay, South Korea, and others in the 1980s and 1990s.
Then after the 9/11 attacks, he did several tours to bases in the Middle East, including Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, and several other “stan” countries.
I believe his age, his 2010 stroke and some heart-related issues kept him from going back to perform for the troops again, but he started to focus on needs stateside for veterans, including a scholarship at Lipscomb University for their Yellow Ribbon Campaign and partnered with Gibson Guitars and some other musical instrument companies for Operation: Heartstrings to provide instruments for those musically-inclined military forces who were serving in the Middle East.
Those initiatives gave birth to The Journey Home Project, which was rebranded The Charlie Daniels Journey Home Project after his passing in 2020 and is still going strong - as of this writing - with no signs of slowing down.
The veterans work came from an understanding of dad’s that I have shared previously, “I learned at an early age that only two things protect America, the grace of Almighty God and the United States Military.”
He paid gratitude to those who served, are still serving, and those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and to the Gold Star families. That compassion was born out of the faith in the second part of his quote, “Almighty God.”
Dad wrote about his faith in “Never Look at the Empty Seats,” and he said it was the hardest chapter for him to write because he wanted to lay out his faith to someone who might be struggling with belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and he wanted to put it as plainly and easy to understand as possible but still trying to be as persuasive as it is crucial for all of us to think long and hard about where they will eventually spend eternity.
Dad grew up in church, so he was always a believer, but his schedule didn’t always allow him to attend regularly, and when I was growing up, we went to a few different churches here and there but never really found a church home.
While I was attending the University of Tennessee Knoxville in the 1980s, dad rededicated his life to Christ and made several changes in his life that reflected that.
Some longtime fans jeered when dad changed the words to “Long Haired Country Boy” in the late 80s, but most fans recognized that it was dad’s song and he could do whatever he wanted to with it.
He’s not the only one to do this; The Rolling Stones stopped performing “Brown Sugar” because they no longer felt comfortable with some of the lyrics, and Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” has had the word “faggot” muted out of the song on a version heard on at least some radio stations.
What’s funny is that the Nashville rock station which plays the edited version of “Money For Nothing,” also plays an unedited version of “Uneasy Rider,” which includes the line, “He’s a friend of them long haired hippie type pinko fags,” which is a bit of a head-scratcher.
But dad’s faith continued to be strong, and he was able to share that faith musically with the Sparrow Records releases, ‘The Door,’ ‘Steel Witness’ and ‘How Sweet the Sound’ as well as the Blue Hat Bluegrass Gospel album, ‘Songs From the Longleaf Pines. He also spoke about his faith on The 700 Club and almost always included a Gospel song in his stage set.
His renewed faith eventually trickled down to me. I was brought up to believe in Jesus, but I hadn’t read The Bible from cover to cover and didn’t really know what I believed for a long time, or rather I didn’t have a solid core of belief. I had questions, many of which won’t be answered until I join dad in the hereafter, but I’m more content in my not knowing.
One of the best things I ever did for my faith was reading “The Case for Christ” by former atheist Lee Strobel. Lee approached the questions of Jesus and His life, teachings, death and resurrection with the same techniques that he used when he was an investigative reporter and later legal affairs editor for The Chicago Tribune.
In his book, Lee retraces his own spiritual journey ten years after his original conversion when his formerly-agnostic wife unexpectedly announced she had become a Christian.
Through Lee’s original investigation, in light of all the evidence he collected, he concluded that it would take more faith for him to remain an atheist than it would for him to become a Christian.
Lee became one of my spiritual heroes, along with my spiritual big brother Bill Wolfenbarger - whom I have quoted multiple times over the years, and – of course – my dad.
I remember telling dad about all the remarkable evidence in Lee’s book. And yes, I’m aware that we’re supposed to have unwavering faith without seeing proof, but as under attack as Christianity is from popular culture, government officials, and such, it’s comforting to know that our faith is built on a solid foundation of evidence.
I met Lee at our church, World Outreach Church in Murfreesboro, and dad met him at a Christian men’s conference in Birmingham, AL in 2018.
It made me happy that Lee and dad got to meet.
Carrying dad’s legacy hasn’t been easy. It’s time-consuming, and I’m busier than I’ve ever been, but it’s essential to keep his causes and his message alive in addition to his music.
His prayers will still get posted and tweeted every Sunday, his daily tweets will still be tweeted out every day, and we’re working on some exciting new prospects that have presented themselves recently.
I can’t wait to share these opportunities once they come to fruition, and I have faith that they will.
Sadly, he isn’t here to see some of his unrealized dreams come to life, but I know he’s watching from the best seat in the house.
I love you, dad, and It’s an honor to keep your legacy alive.
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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