The Controversial Charlie Daniels Part I - Soapbox, Jr.
This will be a bit of a departure for me; I thought I’d take a different approach for this particular series of soapboxes.
Dad was beloved by many, but not everyone. His in-your-face patriotism, his political views, and the fact that he became much more conservative from the 1980s onward tended to rub some folks the wrong way, especially a few people who love to hide anonymously behind their computer screens or phones and attack him because he made the unpardonable sin of having an opinion that they disagreed with.
But even before Dad started writing his political “Soapboxes” - as he called them, and I am continuing to follow his lead – and taking to Twitter to express his opinions, his career was still fraught with controversy at times.
If you get right down to it, Dad’s entrance full-time into the music business was because of a controversial situation. He left a good-paying job at a creosote plant so that a black man named Louis Frost could keep his job. Louis did his job much better than Dad and knew much more about the business than Dad ever would, so my grandfather – who had gotten Dad the job - backed his decision to step down and let Mr. Frost keep his job, which he would retire from many years later, and Dad went on to play music for a living.
Dad’s beginnings in the Nashville music scene was controversial because, after almost a decade of playing rock & roll cover tunes in nightclubs across the country, Dad’s sound didn’t fit the smooth “Nashville Sound” that dominated the studios in the 60s and early 70s.
Had it not been for another couple of controversial figures - Bob Johnston and Bob Dylan – Dad might not have gotten where he did later in his career.
But as an actual recording artist, one of his first controversies started in 1973 with the release of his first top-ten single, “Uneasy Rider.”
“Uneasy Rider” borrowed its title from the Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper biker film, “Easy Rider,” as a duo of hippie bikers rode through the Southern states to New Orleans and ended up in conflict with some locals.
While Dad was with The Youngbloods at a music festival in Louisiana, some of the band’s members were a bit on edge about being in the South because of the movie, which Dad found humorous because he grew up in the South.
So, he turned that into a talking blues number which went to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But the song’s controversy doesn’t stop there.
For one thing, the character telling the story – also nervous about being in the South – starts trying to turn some bar locals against each other to try to protect himself by kicking a “fella with green teeth” and accusing him of being a communist and says that he’s “a friend of them long-haired hippie-type pinko fags.”
That line has become much more controversial in recent years; however, the song’s protagonist also says that while he was chasing the locals around the parking lot, he says, “I had ‘em all out there steppin’-and-fetchin like their heads was on fire and their asses was catchin’” which resulted in the original single version bleeping out the word “asses.”
Speaking of Louisiana, controversy bug resurfaced there when a song suggested by then-producer Paul Hornsby, originally called “The South’s Gonna Do It” – the title later evolved into “The South’s Gonna Do It (Again)” - was being used by none other than the Ku Klux Klan.
The Louisiana Klan was using the song in radio commercials for a KKK rally, much to the disgust of Dad and the CDB management team at Sound Seventy Productions/CDB, Inc.
Dad spoke out publicly against them in Billboard Magazine in 1975. He said, “I’m damn proud of the South, but I sure as hell am not proud of the Ku Klux Klan. I wrote the song about the land I love and my brothers. It was not written to promote hate groups.”
The Klan backed off using the song, and thankfully no legal action was necessary.
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was obviously controversial because of the album version of the song’s final verse, which says, “I done told you once you S.O.B., I’m the best there’s ever been,” something that most radio formats outside of AOR – Album Oriented Rock – wouldn’t play.
In this case, Dad and his producer, John Boylan, anticipated the controversy and dealt with upfront, and it paid off.
The solution made the song a bona fide hit across multiple radio formats. Contrary to popular belief, the “Son-of-a-gun” and “S.O.B” versions were recorded on the same day, with the “Son-of-a-gun” version being the single which went #1 Country and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
But here’s one you probably don’t know, there was a rift between Dad and Hank Williams, Jr. back in 1984.
It began in Cookeville, TN, on Sept. 22 at Tennessee Tech University at a concert that was part of the Charlie Daniels Day IV celebration, sponsored by the Mt. Juliet Kiwanis Club.
Charlie Daniels Day was Mt. Juliet, TN’s way of honoring their favorite adopted son, and this year they expanded into a large-scale concert in Cookeville, about 70 miles from Mt. Juliet.
Hank was one of the opening acts and was set to go on from 8:10 PM to 9:40 PM, meaning he was the lead-in act for the CDB, which was supposed to take the stage at 10:10 PM. That would give them until midnight at the absolute latest because it was a weekday, so there was a strict cut-off time.
Hank took the stage and played his set; then he played into the set change time, and then he played into the CDB’s scheduled start time.
At 10:15, which was five minutes after the CDB was scheduled to take the stage, the CDB crew tried to signal to Hank to wrap things up, but he ignored the signals, and continued to perform for another twenty minutes.
If I remember correctly, Hank’s band had already left the stage, and it was just him and his guitar. Finally, the CDB had no choice; they pulled the plug on Hank.
While you may say, “But he’s Hank…” and I get that, but Dad was headlining the show, which was meant to be a homecoming concert for him and the CDB, and because they had to finish up at midnight, the people that were there to see dad got a highly abbreviated CDB set, with dad cutting over 30 minutes of music so they could finish up by the strict midnight cut off time.
It was a huge mess.
I already knew the CDB’s side of the story, but years later, I met a friend at UT Knoxville who was at the show. He was a couple of years behind me, so I didn’t know him at the time of the incident, but he had gone to the show to see Dad. Years later, when I met him, he told me that because it was a school night, he had to leave before 11 and did not get to see Dad perform at all.
The event made its way into the media and was even fodder for jokes by Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
The media’s reporting on the incident seemed to be that The Charlie Daniels Band pulled the plug on Hank Williams Jr., who was just out there having a good time entertaining his crowd but leaving out the part that it wasn’t completely his crowd.
Dad even said how amateurish and unprofessional it was of Hank at a press conference shortly after the incident.
This is all water under the bridge now, and Dad and Hank worked together many more times over the years and let bygones be bygones, so why am I addressing it now?
Well, thanks to the monster that is TikTok, someone recently shared an interview that David Allen Coe did with Hank many years ago where he addressed the incident. Not surprisingly, it was highly slanted against Dad, implying that Hank really didn’t do anything wrong and that Dad’s camp got their panties in a wad over Hank just being Hank and put the blame squarely on the CDB. The interview was probably almost 40 years ago, and I imagine – at least I hope – that Hank’s feelings on the incident might have changed over the years, but the only real reason I can think of that someone resurrected the interview with no real context or research as to what actually happened, is most likely an attempt to tarnish dad’s memory.
I refuse to let that happen, ever.
We’ll have more controversies next time.
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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