From Don Barnes —
Well, I knew this time would come one day. It’s a very sad season for all the many fans and friends who held the highest regard for the wonderful Charlie Daniels.
I had always said that out of anyone in this crazy music world, Charlie was my hero because even in his advanced years, he would still go out there and burn up that stage. It was amazing to watch him transform those crowds every night and it never appeared that he was slowing down. The spirit of his music was all he needed to keep him young.
We loved every single guy in his band and always looked forward to our shows together because we knew it was going to be a barn burner.
Many times in the early days, we opened shows for the CDB. But when we finally got our footing with a few radio hits, he was our special guest on our own headlining shows.
Charlie was a fine gentleman and mentor to anyone who knew him, a true hero of the road, irrefutably the godfather of Southern Rock.
In the mid-70’s, he couldn’t have had a better warm-up act than a group of long-haired guys with a burning in our hearts to succeed.
At times, the consummate gentleman Charlie Daniels was a like a ‘dad’ to us. I remember us sort of ‘misbehaving’ one night back at the hotel. The bar had stayed open too late and we weren’t ready to stop.
Making the long walk back to our rooms, someone got the big idea to take a fire extinguisher off the wall. We all laughed and plotted to go retrieve the band’s rooming list to surprise anyone - band or crew - who hadn’t been out partying with us. As we’d get to their door, one of us would slide the tip of the hose under the door and wait, while the next guy would knock. As soon as we heard them approach, they’d squeeze off the hi-pressure powder under the door and douse whoever was behind, then run like hell! (Hey, it was the 70’s.)
Several times that night, we created havoc while laughing and carrying on.
But as we ran and rounded the last hallway corner, here comes the giant of a man Charlie, who immediately grabbed the extinguisher, scolding us in his big booming voice...”Son! We don’t do those kinds of things out here. We treat our establishments with dignity!”
Our ‘dad’ had busted us. We learned right then how important it was to respect property.
Charlie taught us a lot about being more dignified when it came to our presence in the world. We were playing in Tennessee one night, somewhere near where Charlie was close enough to have a full guest list of family and friends attending. All during the day, one of our crew guys had been working wearing a t-shirt with a message that included the f-word. When Charlie got there for his sound check, he walked right up, towering over him, and told him he had 5 minutes to go change that shirt or he was out of there. He was not going to have representation like that around his stage. It was humorous to us but a little intimidating to our guy.
Donnie and I had been talking recently about the early days in the 70’s when we were still ‘green’ and playing the club circuit.
We were doing 5 sets a night in a club in downtown Atlanta.
Skynyrd was in town that night and Charlie opened for them at the Omni.
After their show, the two great friends, Charlie and Ronnie Van Zant, jumped in a limo and headed over to see Donnie. This was in the days where clubs became “bottle clubs” after a certain hour. They stopped serving alcohol but switched over to serving “mixers” while patrons brought in their own bottle. Crazy times back then.
So, we’re in our late night set and Charlie and Ronnie came roaring in to sit in with us. The crowd went wild upon seeing them and of course, we also were in awe of a moment like this. They were ‘feeling no pain,’ as they say. I remember switching over to bass, Jeff Carlisi already knew the song and our guys backed them up while Charlie sang and played my guitar. I was honored that his hands actually touched my simple little guitar, but the sight of Ronnie, Donnie and Charlie singing together on “Long Haired Country Boy” is something I’ll never forget.
There were few men that Ronnie Van Zant held in such high regard and respect as Charlie Daniels.
They were always talking and sharing stories on the road and their shows were a true celebration of brotherhood.
Of course, we were all devastated at the news of losing Ronnie in the plane crash. When Charlie was made aware of what had happened, he immediately jumped on a plane and was present throughout, offering any assistance to the families that he could.
By now, most everyone is aware of his written prose engraved on the memorial graveside bench for Ronnie.
Charlie had penned that on the plane coming down. Jeff Carlisi and I had the sad but distinct honor of playing at Ronnie’s funeral along with Charlie.
Charlie had requested that we play a song that Ronnie had confided always moved him.
It was tough to step up and play such an emotional song amidst all of the sadness and mourning, but Charlie’s stoic presence gave us strength.
In reverent silence, I began with the simple church chords on an acoustic guitar...and on slide guitar, playing an old dobro, Jeff Carlisi played the absolute sweetest rendition of “Amazing Grace” I have ever heard, even to this day. It was a touching send off to our great hero Ronnie.
As I looked over at Charlie Daniels, I could see the pain but also the light in his face. Unforgettable moments that are to this day, forever seared in my memory.
Charlie was that kind of friend, that kind of man, and we are all more fortunate to have known him in this world.
When I watched the funeral procession on tv, seeing the shiny new hearse drive by carrying his big casket for the final trip home, all of these memories came rushing back. Once again, I felt such gratitude that I had been in the presence of one of the greats.
Charlie, your grace and memory will never be forgotten.
Rest In Peace, dear sir.
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