Country legend Charlie Daniels has had a long and storied career. He’s now about to turn 81 and set to release his memoir, “Never Look at the Empty Seats.”
“I’ve had a great life,” he said while chatting with Glenn on radio Monday. “I wouldn’t trade lives with anybody.”
Daniels is best known for his country hit, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and he has been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. On today’s show, he talked about some of the highs and lows from his more than 60 years in music.
Listen to the full clip to hear Daniels talk about meeting “larger than life” Johnny Cash and share more stories.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: Charlie Daniels is in the studio. And I just was having a chat with him. And I said, I can’t believe I’m sitting with Charlie Daniels and he knows my name.
How are you, Charlie?
CHARLIE: I’m good, buddy. Good to be with you. It’s an honor.
GLENN: Yeah, you haven’t changed a bit. I can’t believe you’re 80.
CHARLIE: I’ll be 81. Twenty-eighth of this month, I’ll be 81.
GLENN: Unbelievable. You don’t look it at all.
CHARLIE: Well, thank you very much.
GLENN: You have had a remarkable life.
CHARLIE: Oh, I have. I’ve had a great life. I wouldn’t trade lives with anybody. I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do for a living for almost 60 years now, exactly what I wanted to do for a living. That’s a blessing.
GLENN: And I will tell you — your book is, by the way, really good.
CHARLIE: Thank you.
GLENN: And it’s full of God and blessings, and I want to talk to you about it. But the one thing I didn’t know is, at any point, did you think, maybe God doesn’t want me to — to play the fiddle or play the guitar, because you lost a finger.
CHARLIE: I did.
GLENN: Your arms were almost pulled off, from an auger.
CHARLIE: Yeah. You know, I never thought — I wanted to get up and go on, you know, just beat it and get on with the program.
I did lose a finger in high school. But I lost it on my right hand. If it had been my left hand, it’d have been the end of my career, because that’s the one I pushed the strings down, the chord with. But since I just use my other hand, my right hand to hold a fiddle bow and a guitar pick, I was okay.
My arm that got tangled in a post hole digger, it’s like an auger that digs post holes in the ground. And my arm literally got wrapped up on it. I had the bone out through the skin in a couple of places, and it was broken completely in two and three places.
And I never went — you know, a tractor, a lot of times, even after you turn it off, it will — if it had done that, it would pull my arm off, probably.
And I remember being down on my knees, and I said, help me, Lord. And the guy that had the tractor, when the tractor — he cut it up and stopped. And then wound my arm and took me to the hospital and get it put back together.
GLENN: And that was 1980. That was the height of your career.
CHARLIE: 1980. The hottest time of my year. Went down to Georgia. Took about four months off. Most frustrating time of my life.
GLENN: Oh, I bet it was.
CHARLIE: But I learned something. I learned during that four months, I did nothing. And when I got back on my feet again and really started to, you know, where I could move around, I was in such terrible condition, I could only walk about 100 yards. And I said, this ain’t going to do. And I started walking 110 yards and 120 yards. Anyway, I worked up to where I was doing a good level of exercise. And I had maintained that ever since then.
So I think I needed — I needed that time in my life to reassess taking care of myself.
CHARLIE: And I’ve done it a lot better since then.
GLENN: So in 1980, you were at your height. Devil went down to Georgia. I mean, it’s crazy. The record industry is still the record industry.
GLENN: And then — then things start to soften and your ticket prices go down.
GLENN: And you realize, not only are we not rolling in the cash, I owe $2 million.
CHARLIE: That’s right. I — that’s another lesson I learned. I kind of let that happen over a period of time.
And I got involved in a lot of businesses I shouldn’t have been involved in. There were peripheral things to the music business, but — that I knew nothing about. The first thing I knew, we were $2 million in debt. And I said, we have got to do something about this.
And we had to take — we took a lot of dates back then. And every old smoky-type place you can find, just for a payday. Just to keep the payment settled. And I said my prayers — and put on my hat and my boots and picked up my guitar and my fiddle. And we hit the road.
And the day that we got our debts paid off — we have an annual Christmas party with our company, with our employees. And we took the notes out in the yard and burned them, which was very symbolic to me. I was so glad to get rid of them. But, yeah, that was another lesson I learned.
STU: It’s a different way of looking at the world. Because now I feel like when people struggle and they have these problems, they’re blaming other people for having — they want other people to step in and cover their losses. You thought, maybe if I just work my butt off —
CHARLIE: Well, it was my fault. You know, I take responsibility for my actions. I have to.
STU: What language are you speaking?
GLENN: Again, you can tell how old he is just by that statement.
CHARLIE: Well, you know, I think you’re a miserable person if you can’t — if you’re going to blame everything on somebody else, you have no control over your life. That’s ridiculous.
If you want to see your enemy, go look in the mirror. Start there. And then you kind of work your way around and find out what the rest of the problems are.
But basically, I take responsibility for most all the bad things that have happened to me. The good things are blessings of God. The bad things are my fault.
If there’s one person I could go back in time and meet, they would be the — the only man I ever saw my grandfather stand up and give a standing ovation to, when he walked out on stage. And it was Johnny Cash.
CHARLIE: Wow. Yeah. Johnny Cash was bigger than life. And when he walked in a room, I mean, he just — you just could not ignore him.
I — when I first went to Nashville in ’67. I was just another young man with a guitar that showed up the music business and tried to make it in the business. Music City, tried to make it in the business.
And you don’t run into many superstars at this stage of your career. But I did run into him, several times around town. And he didn’t know who I was. It didn’t make any difference who you were. It was like every time you would see him, it was a handshake. And how are you doing? How is it going?
Back and forth. I’m standing there with my mouth open, said, I’m talking to Johnny Cash. I worked for a guy that used to produce Johnny Cash. This guy named Bob Johnson. And I’d run an errand for him once in a while. I’d take a tape to Johnny or something, you know. And usually all he had to do was walk on up, but he didn’t do that. He always took time to be a conversational. I never in my life forget what that meant to me and what an encouragement it was. And your granddad had good taste.
GLENN: He did.
CHARLIE: He honored a great man. No doubt about it.
GLENN: I remember being up to his knee. And I remember seeing — it was at a state fair.
GLENN: And I remember seeing the bus pull up to the back. And this guy in black get out. And he walked out. And my grandfather stood up.
GLENN: Erect. And gave him a standing ovation. And I remember not looking up at the stage. I remember looking up at my grandfather of seeing his face of admiration of him.
CHARLIE: Oh, he was a great man, no doubt about it. Great artist. Great man. You know, they did a thing. It’s called the Top 40 all time country music men or something like that. I can’t remember the exact title of it. But I thought Hank Williams would come in at number one. Number one was Johnny Cash. Yeah.
GLENN: Yeah. Who out of all the people — I mean, you’ve worked with everyone. And you’ve been around with everyone. You were in, what? 1973, you were with Ringo Starr, they’re joking about, you want to be in the Beatles. I mean, what are the — who made the lasting impression on you? Who is the one you learned the most from?
CHARLIE: You know, I — go back to the Johnny Cashes and those — of course, Johnny had — I admired Johnny Cash. He had overcome so many adversities in his life, and he just kept going.
And the greatest thing that ever happened to Johnny Cash was June Carter, because she was such an influence on his life.
But as far as who impressed me was concerned, I came along — when I came along as Bluegrass, it was Flat & Scrubs (phonetic) and Bill Monroe. And Reno and Smiley. And I didn’t even want to hear nothing else. That’s all I wanted to hear. And about the time Elvis came along, he made it possible for country boys to play rock music. Before then, it was bighorn sections. And, you know, the — that kind of thing.
CHARLIE: And Elvis would come up with two guitars and a bass and drums and started playing rock music.
And everybody said, I want to do that, you know. I remember, Glenn, when I was in — I think I was a senior in high school, and we had taken a trip down to Silver Springs, Florida. We were touring around on a school trip.
I remember seeing a great big placard. And it was a big country music package show, and it was The Louvin Brothers, Hank Snow. And down at the bottom, in type about the size of almost like typewriter print, it said Jimmie Rodgers Snow and Elvis Presley. And nobody knew who he was. First time I ever heard him, I hated him. He was on the Midnight Jamboree. The Jamboree that comes on after the Grand Ole Opry. And he sang Blue Moon of Kentucky. And it was — I was a Bill Monroe fanatic, and this guy sang one of Bill Monroe’s signature songs. And he sang — you know how he sang it.
And I thought, who the hell — I’ll never hear from him again. That’s the last thing he’ll ever do.
It took him on that tour — it took him all about two weeks to become the most popular thing on the tour. Everybody — nobody could follow him. It got to where everybody would go in, everyone would start hollering, Elvis, Elvis.
And, you know, Hank Snow, he was a great big artist at the time. The Louvin Brothers were big artists at the time, and everybody wanted to hear him. This new guy that nobody had ever heard of, named Elvis.
GLENN: We’re with Charlie.
CHARLIE: He was a big influence on me. I just wanted to say.
GLENN: We’re talking to Charlie Daniels. The name of the book is Never Look at the Empty Seats. A couple of other things I want to talk him about. We’ll continue our conversation here in a second.
GLENN: The legendary Charlie Daniels is with us. The name of his book, Never Look at the Empty Seats.
If we have time, I got to get him to tell that story in the book, on why he named it that. It’s a great, great lesson.
Charlie, I was — I was impressed by what you talked about with your dad.
GLENN: And describing your dad.
GLENN: In some ways, I’m an alcoholic. And you described me in many ways.
Your dad was not a wino. When you think of alcoholic, you think of a washed-up —
CHARLIE: Yeah. My dad was probably one of the top five people in pine timber in the southeast. He could look at a pine tree and he could you what kind of pole or piling it would make. How many feet of lumber it would make. And his millions of dollars changed hands on nothing more than his word. He would go cruise attractive timber. He would come back and say, this is worth so many thousands of dollars. They just paid it for him, because they knew his word was good. He had this problem with alcohol, and it truly is a sickness.
And he would go for as long as five years, never touch a drop of liquor. But he always said, I’m one drink away from a drunk. If I take the first one, I’m finished. And somehow, some way, he would take that first one. It was like several weeks to get straightened out. He would lose jobs. But he would always — he always had a job waiting for him, because he’s just that good. Even people that he had worked for before, that fired him, would hire him back again.
So my point was — I was trying to get the point across, and that was the hard thing for me to talk about. Because usually when you say alcoholic, somebody thinks about something, stumble upon — you know, walking around, looking for money to — somebody get him a drink. But dad wasn’t that way at all.
He was always loving. He always took care of his family. He was very responsible.
You know, something, Glenn, I used to go to AAA meetings with him. And I met a lot of alcoholics. I have never seen one sorry alcoholic. I saw a lot of sorry old drunks. But literally, the people that I met in his meetings, I mean, they were businessmen. They were responsible people that had that problem.
GLENN: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
CHARLIE: You know, that had that alcoholic problem.
GLENN: If you can beat it, you — it gives you quite perspective on life. I mean, some of the best people I’ve ever met are alcoholics.
CHARLIE: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve been surprised at some people that told me they’re alcoholics.
GLENN: So, Charlie, the thing that I’m searching for right now in my own life is what matters most. You know, with all of the stuff that is going on in the world and all of the things we’re arguing on and bickering on and everything else, as you look back, out of all the things that you have done and seen and learned, what matters most to you?
CHARLIE: There’s four things that rule my life. God, first of all. Family, secondly. My nation, my country, the way I feel about it, the way I want it to be, and my work.
That’s the four things — I try to concentrate on those four things. And as long as I do that, I keep a good perspective. I start getting sidelined by something that somebody else is doing, or something that really agitates me. It takes time away — I found out it takes just as much time to think a negative as it is to think a positive thought.
GLENN: Yeah. And I tried to live in a positive world.
I got a lot of things that I really enjoy doing. This writing is something I didn’t even know I could do.
GLENN: Yeah, it’s really good.
CHARLIE: You know, I didn’t know I could do it. It’s just another talent God gave me, that it took me a long time to discover.
I wrote on this book for 20 years. And I was just making notes and stuff.
And all of a sudden, I said, well, I’m going to make a book out of this. And I could never find a place to end it, because my life wasn’t — I didn’t get invited to join the Grand Ole Opry until I was in my 70s. So interesting things kept happening, and I kept writing.
And I could never find a place to end it, until I was told, I was going to be inducted into the country music Hall of Fame. And I thought, what a great place to end it. So the night I was inducted, the next morning, I sat down. I wrote the ending. And I kind of backfilled where I was. And I had the book. And you asked me about the title.
The title — if you’re a young musician, if you’re serious about it, and I was. You will play anywhere you can for anybody that’s there for anything they’ll give you. And you’re going to see a lot of empty seats, because nobody knows who you are.
But if you please those people, you forget the empty seats. You concentrate on the ones — you accentuate the positive, as the old song says. If you concentrate on them, the next time you go back to town, those people are going to say, hey, that guy is pretty good. Hey, let’s go see him.
And they’ll bring somebody with them. That’s how you build a following. And I keep trying to tell these young guys this, you know. All the time.
When you walk on that stage, you give it the best you’ve got. If your dog died, if your girlfriend left you, whatever the heck happened, that’s not the ticket price. They deserve a show. Go give them a show. So that’s what the title is about.
GLENN: You — my father was about your age. He’s — he would be probably 85 or 86 now if he were alive. And he said to me, you know, I’ve seen a lot of things in my life. Didn’t expect that we would ever go to the moon, when I was growing up.
GLENN: And he said, I’m glad my time is past because I — I worry about how you’re going to navigate the future.
Do you worry that?
CHARLIE: Well, I have a son. I only got one boy. He’s 53 years old. And he’s got a pretty good handle on it. Now, the grandkids, I don’t know how they — I would literally hate to grow up in a world nowadays. Because it’s a world — Glenn, I don’t understand the world anymore. I don’t understand how it works. I don’t understand what motivates people.
I feel that a lot of people in this country either don’t know or don’t care where we came from and how we got here.
CHARLIE: And the blood that was shed and the sacrifices that were made to get us where we are. And I’m an old World War II guy. I remember the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. My city that I came from, Wilmington, North Carolina, is a seaboard town. We had oil tankers and cargo boats that went across the ocean. You know, to service our troops. And there were some — several of them, just off our beaches by German U-boats that were out there. So we took the war very seriously. And I learned — and I say this on stage every night, two things protecting America is the grace of the Almighty God and the United States military. And —
GLENN: Charlie, I love you. Thank you so much.
CHARLIE: Love you too, my friend.
GLENN: The name of the book is Never Look at the Empty Seats. Well worth the price of admission. Charlie Daniels.
CHARLIE: Thank you.