While working as a session player in the 1960s with legendary songwriters such as Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, an up-and-coming Charlie Daniels witnessed first-hand greatness at both the pen and the microphone.
It’s apparent looking through Daniels’ catalog now decades later the Grammy-award winning artist had his antenna up during those early days of those Nashville sessions. His marriage of Southern rock with country music, mixed with folky lyrics and a live-wire fiddle earned Daniels’ fame across the musical landscape.
Sadly, one song killed this band for me in my youth.
It’s a common story. A song gets overplayed, overused and thrust in your face and eventually, the least little bit of disdain for a tune can change the way you think of the artist. Especially if you already despised the artists’ twangy turquoise flare.
I’d like to preface be saying I’m a huge fan of bluegrass and folk music, but the ten-millionth time I heard that fiddle screeching through “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” I must have snapped. That song morphed into something dark and evil for me, possibly because it reminded me of John Travolta’s disgraceful attempt at a southern accent and mechanical bull riding in the motion picture “Urban Cowboy.” Of course, my opinion of the tune is very much in the unpopular realm, as it won Daniels’ a Grammy and put the CDB at the top of the country charts in 1979.
A couple years ago my view of the band changed when after a few friends and I went and saw Ryan Bingham play a live show in Dallas. Bingham, a Grammy winning songwriter in his own right, covered a hopping, hard-driving song called “Sweet Louisiana.” Later I would find out it was originally a Charlie Daniels Band cut off the 1976 album Saddle Tramp. I also later would find out, after sampling the album, that I gave up on Charlie and the boys much too prematurely.
The title track is a winding epic that tops the ten minute mark. “Saddle Tramp” is as if Charlie collaborated with The Marshall Tucker Band for the first three minutes of the song, only to finish the last eight minutes with the 1980s version of the Grateful Dead. This is the track that sucked me in.
“Sweet Louisiana” follows and it is a road tune if there ever has been one. From the opening chord this one will have you wanting to get behind the wheel for a joyride: Well, it’s a long way back to Vicksburg, Louisiana’s waiting on the other side. “Wichita Jail” and “Sweetwater, Texas” are also included on this seven track album. “Witchita” having been the only track with billboard success.
Pieces of the album will remind you of that recognizable Charlie Daniels Band twang, but the good outweighs the bad on this one as the zombie fiddle is absent through much of the running time.