A Life Well Lived: The Legend Charlie Daniels

Charlie Daniels
©2016 Erick Anderson Photography & Design
– Charlie Daniels

Alex Hodges spent 13 years with Charlie Daniels as his friend, confidant and agent, and at least once found himself the literal “uneasy rider” when visiting Daniels on the musician’s beloved Twin Pines Ranch in Tennessee.

Daniels took Hodges, now CEO of Nederlander Concerts, for a ride around the spread on one visit, and Hodges remembers it vividly. 
“He had this vehicle he liked to ride in,” Hodges tells Pollstar. “Of course, like everything else, he held the steering wheel. I was just the passenger but thank God I was wearing a seatbelt! No bump in the road would slow him down.”
Talk to Daniels’ longtime team and friends in the music business and they will all tell you that’s exactly the kind of guy he was. 
The COVID pandemic slowed him down but only a fatal stroke in early July stopped him completely. He died July 6 in Nashville.
“One of the great things about Charlie Daniels is that he loved to work,” Hodges says. 
Whether it was Daniels’ career dating back to the 1960s, his road warrior work ethic, the legendary Volunteer Jam concerts and recordings, the voluminous amount of work he did on behalf of veterans, or just tooling around the ranch on an ATV, Daniels was all in, a full tilt boogie in work and in life. 
“I’m sure COVID was hard on him. I have to compliment Steve Lassiter and APA (who was Daniels’ agent at the time of his death) for keeping Charlie busy. He loved to tell his stories and get on the road,” Hodges says.
Lassiter, who is now APA’s co-Head of Global Music, was Daniels’ agent twice: first, when the artist moved to William Morris Agency, where the agent worked at the time. 
When Lassiter left for APA, Daniels remained with William Morris and was as then represented by Steve Hauser, such was his sense of loyalty. Eventually, Daniels moved to APA and reuinted with Lassiter.  
Long before this, Daniels was having hits like 1973’s “Uneasy Rider,” a narrative about a hippie heading to L.A. by way of Mississippi. It went to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, which is around when Hodges first saw Daniels. 
Charlie Daniels
Bettman Collectin/Getty Images
– Charlie Daniels
Charlie Daniels, circa 1976, as he and his band played the Rose Garden of the White House, squeezing in a benefit show for then presidential candidate Jimmy Carter.
He soon met with Daniels and his longtime manager, David Corlew. It took a few late night meetings but Hodges, given his roles with many of the giants of Southern Rock and more, joined the team. 
It was the start of an adventure that would take them all to the White House for former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s inaugural in 1976, having spearheaded fundraising efforts among the Southern Rock family.
Daniels ended up sharing many stages with Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band and Marshall Tucker Band. Then he became a co-headliner. Then he became the headliner. He had an incredible trajectory. 
One of those shows was the grand opening of New Orleans Superdome, where Daniels met a young concert promoter named Louis Messina Jr. 
That show starred the Allman Brothers Band, Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels Band and Wet Willie. A great friendship was forged. 
“I remember doing a bunch of dates with him and they didn’t do as well as I hoped for him,” Messina says of one show. “As a young promoter, I was upset because I felt that I let him down. 
“He called me into his room to comfort me and gave me such encouraging words to lift my spirits, and those words helped launch my career.”
Lassiter had a more circuitous route on his way to joining the extended Daniels family. 
As a young boy, he’d taken a job delivering sandwiches to a nearby recording studio and taking a deep interest in the artists and music he encountered there. When he was about 16, he tells Pollstar, he attended the first Volunteer Jam and within three years was working with Daniels.
“I found myself working for Joe Sullivan, a concert promoter in Nashville, as an assistant production manager,” Lassiter says. “So we promoted a bunch of dates with Charlie and we also produced Volunteer Jam. I think that was from 1977 through 1983 or so. Doing everything from production, to stage and tour managing, security, you name it.”
Multi-tasking was another hallmark of Daniels’ team, along with longevity and loyalty. 
“I think Bebe Evans would tell you, if you asked him if he wanted to slow down any, he’d say, ‘You’d better find somebody else to book me,’” Hodges says, laughing.
Evans is Charlie Daniels Band’s touring director and, like most of Daniels’ core team, has been with the maestro for more than 40 years. 
Daniels may be gone but the team is still together, planning the next Volunteer Jam as a tribute to Daniels, and carrying on his charitable foundation and other support endeavors on behalf of veterans and police. 
Evans is also one of the many women that Daniels entrusted to keep the machine humming. 
“I ran that touring department and kept all those bands on the road,” Evans says of her early days. “And there were no computers and there were no cellphones. 
“No, we had typewriters. David Corlew taught me how to look at a map and figure out how many miles were between point A to point B using a ruler.” 
She started in 1977 as Daniels’ former manager’s assistant, working “in their management office that none of us ever went to.” While she formally worked for the management company, she really worked for Daniels. 
Charlie Daniels
Donn James
– Charlie Daniels
Charlie is inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016, which he considered one of his crowning achievements according to manager David Corlew.

“I don’t think I was called ‘assistant,’ I was called secretary. And if you were the manager’s secretary, you were also Charlie’s secretary,” the gregarious Evans says. “I sort of started my relationship with him in that capacity. 
“There were three people in our touring department in December, 1980. For one reason or another, they all quit at the same time. And those positions were offered to me,” she says, laughing.
In time, a new team was assembled and as the business of Charlie Daniels grew, so did the staff including crew members and technicians who taught Evans the ropes.
“They taught me all about production. I didn’t know anything,” Evans says. “But the lighting guy, the production manager, the technicians all helped me and I kind of made it up as I went along.”
Angela Wheeler is another staff member who joined the team and remains with Evans and Corlew. She’s presently Vice President, Creative Services & Assistant President for the Charlie Daniels Band. 
“Charlie and Hazel have been my ‘Tennessee Mom and Dad’ for 30-plus years,” Wheeler says. 
“My family and I have shared so many Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter holidays at their home, my daughter and I cooking in the kitchen with Hazel, preparing for the wonderful meals, baking cookies and dying Easter eggs,” she says. “The Charlie Daniels Band is more like a big family than just a job.”
When people would ask what she did for Daniels, she would tell them, “anything he says.” 
Another of the women who kept the machine oiled was Charlie Daniels Band publicist Paula Szeigis, who tells Pollstar, “Charlie Daniels was my boss and dear friend. He was a giant of a kind man who was loved by everyone. Charlie always had time to stop and talk to a fan, sign an autograph or have his photo taken.
“As his publicist I most appreciated how generous he was with his time,” Wheeler continues. “Charlie would make himself available for the thousands of interviews I asked him to do whether they were early morning or late at night. 
“I have so many fond memories of my 44-plus years with Charlie, from the night he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry to his inductions into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Musicians Hall of Fame to my numerous NYC media trips with him, and our many heart to heart conversations that I will forever cherish.”
Lassiter tells a similar story. “I was very young when I lost my father, and Charlie stepped into that mentor role. 
“I just looked at him as a father, as so many other people did. And then that’s how he treated you; like a son. You always knew where he was coming from. He was one of the kindest gentlemen that ever walked this earth. God certainly broke the mold with Charlie Daniels.”
Corlew is the thread that ties the team together behind, of course, Daniels. He hooked his wagon to the Daniels workhorse early on in his career, meeting the legend while working as a record store clerk in 1972. 
Like Evans, he started from the ground up and eventually formed David Corlew & Associates that produces the Volunteer Jam. Corlew also heads Blue Hat Records, and is a founder and executive director of the Journey Home Foundation. 
He continues to advise the Daniels estate and will continue to move the Daniels legacy forward.
“I was given that gift from Charlie,” Corlew says of his long career. “The Journey Home Project could have never happened without Charlie. And now my journey is to make it continue without him, hopefully create something that carries his legacy and his name… It’s the pearl that I was given from Charlie. And I have a thousand stories too.
“I’ve seen things, experienced things, I’ve been places. I’ve met some of the most phenomenal people. They weren’t dignitaries or rock stars or anything, they were just good, hardworking people. 
Charlie Daniels
Frederick Breedon / Getty Images
– Charlie Daniels
Charlie Daniels performs during the first intermission of Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena May 2, 2012.

“Charlie gave me a career and a life I’ll always be grateful for. I always knew that this was going to end. I just didn’t realize it was going to end this year, for all of us. [It’s] been a brutal year in a lot of different ways, but I know he would expect us to keep moving forward and not only finish out and help continue his legacy, but for us to continue our own legacy, and follow the dreams that we still have.”
And what a dream it’s been. Those uninitiated in the history of Charlie Daniels might be shocked to learn that not only was he the fiddler who beat the devil in “Th Devil Went Down To Georgia” or the long-haired hippie dropping into a “redneck-lookin’ joint called the Dew Drop Inn” of “Uneasy Rider.”
Daniels was a multi-hyphenate before anyone thought of the word. He played a multitude of instruments and styles, wrote the kind of storytelling songs that burn themselves into your brain for the rest of your life. 
He played with Bob Dylan on three albums including Nashville Skyline and Ringo Starr’s Beaucoup of Blues. He recruited band members that went on to join Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies. He toured with Leonard Cohen and performed with classical violinist Itzahk Perlman. 
And then there was that whole Southern Rock thing. 
Michael Smardak of Outback Presents also works with Volunteer Jam and has promoted hundreds of Charlie Daniels Band shows over the years, and has played a large role in bringing the Volunteer Jam back from a lengthy hiatus for its 40th anniversary in 2015. 
He was in college when Southern Rock was skyrocketing in the late ‘70s to its 1980s zenith.
“I was in Northern Virginia then, and you had Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers. Band, Marshall Tucker, and those bands were rock and Charlie was right there with them,” Smardak says.
“I got to know, love and appreciate the music and with Charlie you could see the core roots and the heritage was there,” he adds. 
“But his career was broader than country music or even Southern Rock. He could play the blues. He was an incredible Gospel musician, a versatile musician and great songwriter. And he was an even more gracious person.” 
Smardak emphasizes that Daniels could – and did – play anywhere, from the smallest dive bars to theatres, arenas and stadiums. Such was the trajectory of his storied career. One of the most memorable plays, he says, was at Bridgestone Arena between periods of a Nashville Predators NHL game. 
Unlike teams that play in towns not called Music City, the Predators brought live music to entertain rather than leave the music to DJs. They performed on a tiny stage within the cavernous, 20,000-capacity arena.
“It’s really funny. You know, a lot of people just look at it as networking. Maybe they have something to promote, or they’re just in town. Vince Gill has done it. Keith Urban has done it. Charlie’s done it a whole bunch.”
Andrew Farwell, who is a talent buyer with Smardak and Outback Presents, was there for the resurrection of the Volunteer Jam in 2015 after a lengthy hiatus. 
The team would regularly gather for lunch and at one such meeting, the group decided it was time for a comeback.
“I said, ‘Andrew, we’re going to create our own story and bring back the Vol Jam with the help of David Corlew and we’re going to make it an event,” Smardak says. 
“The word may get batted around a bit but I do feel that anybody who ever went would say it was a proud moment in their concert life and we are proud to have been part of that and that they let us do it.
“Charlie was the epitome of the Southern gentleman,” Smardak adds. “And you almost feel like that’s a cliché and doesn’t even hold a candle to what he actually was.”
Charlie Daniels
Courtesy of Charlie Daniels Band / Blue Hat Records
– Charlie Daniels
Charlie Daniels entertains troops in Iraq.

Tony Conway, through his years with Daniels’ friends and often tourmates, Alabama, will co-produce the Volunteer Jam tribute to Charlie Daniels in February. His music industry journey starts with Daniels.
“It was 1969 and my first ever arena concert was at Louisville Gardens with Charlie Daniels Band with opening act The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,” Conway says. “I cannot tell you what an experience and eye-opener that show was. It started my fascination with music and concerts. 
“Over the next 40 plus years I got to know Charlie as an artist and a friend. I worked with him on a number of shows and tours we produced and promoted. I have laughed, prayed, and cried with Charlie. I know he was a special person to all who knew and worked with him. 
“His work with the military, veterans and his support for America is undeniable. It was such a pleasure and honor to have had him on tour with Alabama the last three years, and now to be co-producer of the Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville in February brings us full circle. He will always be a musical and personal hero to me. God Bless Charlie Daniels.” 
Farwell marvels at Daniels’ sense of humility and respect for others. “He would take off his hat, shake your hand and look you directly in the eye, and you felt like you were on his level. And here I am, half of his age. And he made me feel like I was one of his peers. This  is a legend, and he treated everybody like that. And you hear that story so many times because it’s true.”
In addition to the Journey Home Project that assists war veterans, Daniels helped establish a Veterans Center at Middle Tennessee State University where not only do vets receive assistance filling out forms and registering for classes, but counseling and a place  to just gather with their peers away from the typical bustle of campus life.  He’s supported suicide prevention efforts and traveled overseas to perform for troops all over the world.
The Journey Home Project annual dinner at the Palm restaurant in Nashville, established some eight years ago, is another annual highlight for the team. 
Last year, a Patriot Award was established that honors a person who embodies the spirit of Daniels’ work and patriotism.  “One creative thing they did was to create the Patriot Award for the person that was the embodiment of the spirit of Journey Home project and what Charlie Daniels stood for,” Farwell explains. 
“The charity part of his career is what he was extremely proud of. And we were extremely proud to be a part of it, to have so many great military veterans and police force veterans and noteworthy people who are there for a common cause coming together for really a massive event that Charlie was a big part of creating. 
“He was very proud of the Journey Home Project and the good he’s been able to do because of that,” Farwell says.
The troops held a special place in Daniels’ heart, and he in theirs. 
“When I think of Charlie Daniels and the impact he made on my life, two words come to mind – God and Patriot, says Judy Seales, president and CEO of Stars For Stripes, of Daniels. 
“For me, Charlie was larger than life, not necessarily in stature, but in the way he lived his life by always passionately embracing what he held most dear – his wife and son, the Charlie Daniels Band family, God and the United States Military.
“Charlie was one of those rare individuals who did not simply ‘talk the talk.’ He “WALKED the WALK” every day.”