That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 13: Honky Tonk Avenue: The LOST Album
In 1984, the CDB was hard at work on its next release, ‘Honky Tonk Avenue.’ The album was loosely based on a short story that dad wrote in his short story collection “The Devil Went Down to Georgia: Stories by Charlie Daniels” which would be released the next year.
The idea was to tie in the story and the album into something along the lines of Willie Nelson’s ‘Redheaded Stranger’ album, where the songs tell a bigger story.
As with most of the recordings in the John Boylan produced era, the tracks were recorded at Nashville’s Woodland Sound Studios and kept the same production team and band lineup as the three new songs from ‘A Decade of Hits.’
This album was also a departure in one other notable way, it was the first album to be released through the Nashville CBS/Epic Records offices. Even though the CDB had success on the country charts, most notably with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the band was signed through the CBS New York offices, and therefore was still considered a pop/rock act, so this would be the band’s first true country release.
The album featured some really great-sounding songs. The title track is one of my favorite CDB songs with a couple of tempo changes which eventually breaks into a brief “Free Bird”-like instrumental section, “Wyoming on My Mind” is a beautiful song and “O Precious Time” is a cry to our Lord and a powerful commentary on our society which still holds up today given the state our country and our world is in.
You don’t remember the ‘Honky Tonk Avenue’ album?
No, I’m not talking about the song with the heavy string section arrangement which ended up on the ‘Homesick Heroes’ album, this was for all intents and purposes, a totally different song.
If you don’t remember it, you’re not alone… Sadly, it was never released.
What it boiled down to was that the regime in the Nashville CBS office didn’t like what they had recorded. They wanted something more commercial and not this “concept album” that dad had envisioned.
So, the album was basically scrapped and it wasn’t the last time that this particular label executive and dad would butt heads, it happened a couple of times. I won’t name him, and he has since passed on, so I’m not going to speak ill of the dead… but years later when he was running another Nashville record label, a songwriter unfurled a banner across from his offices that said Will Rodgers never met him, the implication that Will Rodgers never met a man he didn’t like, but never met this man…
Well, despite not having ever been released, I wanted to still do my review of the album, at least what I have been able to piece together.
And, when I asked him about the album a couple of years ago, dad didn’t think he had turned in a completed album, so there may be a couple of songs that were rehearsed and in line to be recorded to finish the album, but I’m still investigating that.
There is no particular order here because the album was not ever sequenced. Dad said that it wasn’t even finished. I’ve found at least six tracks that I know were fully recorded, but I believe there are at least eight. Some of them possibly ended up on B-sides of singles, two ended up in a mediocre Stephen King movie called “Graveyard Shift” and one ended up on ‘The Roots Remain’ boxed set.
It’s worth pointing out that the short story from the collection differs quite a bit from the songs on the album. The title song still fits, but the story in the book is basically a guy named Billy who moves to Honky Tonk Ave. from Wyoming to become a singer, he and his girlfriend get beaten up and his hands get crushed, the owner of the bar he works at finds the perpetrators and beats the hell out of them, as Billy heals – and with all that has happened - he feels he is supposed to move back home, and plays “Wyoming on My Mind” in the bar after his hands finally healed.
I’m guessing what dad envisioned was songs inspired by the story, or other stories that happened on Honky Tonk Avenue, but I can only guess at this point.
So let’s get to the songs that I know were to be included.
We’ll start with the title track, “Honky Tonk Avenue.” As I mentioned earlier, this is mostly the same lyrics, but a totally different arrangement, and it has a bridge right before a killer instrumental section which isn’t included in the version on ‘Homesick Heroes’ which is a pretty standard country ballad. This one ROCKS.
It starts off with an inspired piano riff which is one of my favorites that Taz ever played, and for the first verse and chorus it is just Taz’s piano and dad’s vocals, then the band kicks in on the second verse and chorus, before picking up tempo and and becoming a rockin’ instrumental. It’s one of my favorite CDB songs, and I hate that it has been sitting in a vault for almost 38 years. Those who purchased a CD we had available from the CDB website called “Vintage Live Performances” were able to get a taste of this arrangement which pulled several live songs from various Volunteer Jams.
Then there’s “Peace on the River,” a nice little uptempo about getting out of the rat race and moving out to a much simpler way of life, and encouraging people to do the same, “nothing is sweeter than peace on the river” “with ten thousand stars twinkling up in the sky,” and “the love that I feel in the arms of my woman’s something fame won’t get you and money can’t buy.”
“O Precious Time” could be released today, and if we locate the masters (and if the song had actually been recorded) then it would be perfect for the times. Several things that were happening back in the early 80s when he wrote it are applicable again. “The price of survival is rising so high and inflation is clear out of hand. And it seems like the president can’t say a word that a poor fool like me understands.
The Russians are rattling their sabers again and there's trouble as far as I see. Civilization is losing control, and Lord, it’s just too much for me.”
That’s downright prophetic.
The song is about the power of prayer to help us to deal with all the worries of the world, “Lord I need some time on your telephone line.”
I’ve found a live version from one of the Jam performances, but that’s it so far.
“Baby’s Gone” is Taz’s contribution to this album. One thing I haven’t been able to find is a song of Tommy Crain’s from this album, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there, I’m still looking.
But the song is a sad one in E Minor, which is a sad key, but not the “Saddest of all keys” which according to “This Is Spinal Tap” is D Minor – it has a haunting fiddle intro and licks throughout the song by dad. It’s about a lost love, obviously and how “whiskey and pills can’t take away the way she feels.”
He wants her back, and if he does, he’s going to treat her right, but we don’t know if it ever happens.
“You Have Been a Friend to Me” is another one of those rare CDB love songs. Taz’s electric piano dominates the song, along with a pedal steel guitar solo by Tommy Crain. It’s about a true love with a grateful man telling his woman that she makes him “about as happy as a man can be,” and she has been a friend to him. It’s the kind of love that my parents shared, even when times got hard.
“Bad Boys” was featured in the Stephen King movie “Graveyard Shift” as background music, so I know this song was fully mixed and mastered. It’s a love story about an outlaw named Billy Joe Bonner who changes his ways so he can marry the love of his life, Joanna Brown. Joanna won’t marry him without the promise that he puts that life behind him, which he attempts to do.
In a sad turn of events, the law catches up with him on their wedding day, and he is taken away right after the ceremony. Billy Joe tells Joanna to move on without him, but she vows that she’ll either be waiting for him when he gets out or dead.
30 years later, Billy Joe is finally released, and silver-haired Joanna is there to meet him. They finally consummate their marriage and she has remained faithful to him for 30 years and remained a virgin. As a line from the chorus says, “A good girl is mighty hard to find.”
“To Be With Joanna Again” is tied into “Bad Boys” in that it’s a lament of Billy Joe longing for Joanna while he is in prison, “My life is empty and I’d give it all just to be with Joanna again.”
This is one song you can find pretty easily. It was on ‘The Roots Remain’ boxed set. It’s a very heartfelt and lamenting song, and I could hear Chris Stapleton covering the song.
The final song is “Wyoming on my Mind.” So far, I can’t find where dad actually recorded the song in the studio, perhaps it was intended to be recorded in the last batch after they got approval from Epic/CBS Nashville, or it’s sitting in the Sony vaults somewhere.
The song did get released, but by a Western group called Sons of the San Joaquin, and on an infamous appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman” in 1984 when dad offered Dave some Skoal and he spit it out on his desk, but the other highlight of that interview was dad performing “Wyoming on my Mind” with just him and an acoustic guitar. It’s on YouTube, check it out.
There may be one or two other songs, but I’m still looking.
But everything that was recorded for ‘Honky Tonk Avenue” was scrapped, even though some were still being considered for the next album, ‘Me and the Boys,’ but instead, they ended up shelved.
So, there is the album that never was… but that could change.
I have been making inquiries at Sony Music (formerly CBS Records) for at least 6 years or more trying to locate these masters, and nobody was able to locate them, which made me think that things were not as far along as I had originally thought, but I distinctly remember having a cassette of some rough mixes from ‘Honky Tonk Avenue’ in 1984, but several cassettes got stolen from my car a couple of years later.
Charlie Hayward, longtime CDB bass player, recently gave me some cassettes which are promising, and I’m going through them and trying to piece things together, and I think I have a hypothesis as to where the masters might be.
And, if there wasn’t a completed album turned in and there are actually maybe one or two more spaces to make up a ten-song album, there were a couple of songs recorded for ‘Me and the Boys’ which were also never released but would fit with the theme of the album.
So… I’m going to try something, this seemed to work for the Zack Snyder cut of the "Justice League" movie which got butchered when he left production following the death of his daughter… The #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag finally resulted in the director’s restored vision for the film.
So, in that spirit…
Let’s share the heck out of this on social media and see if we can make it happen!
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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