Friday, July 08, 2005

Band, Daniels set to 'cook' Band, Daniels set to 'cook': "Band, Daniels set to 'cook'
Concert to mix classics, bluegrass


Tribune Correspondent

Charlie Daniels, who recently released his first bluegrass album, performs at the Firefly Festival on Saturday.

The Charlie Daniels Band is best known for the country and pop chart-topping hit 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia.' Released in 1979, the song became an international phenomenon with triple platinum sales and gave Daniels his first Grammy Award, for best country vocal.

So how does Daniels find the inspiration and motivation to play his most popular song over a quarter of a century later?

'I get a chance to play it better tonight than I did last night, and better tomorrow night than I did tonight,' he jokingly explained in a recent telephone interview. 'I haven't played it perfect yet.'

Whether he has perfected the song by the time he performs at the Firefly Festival on Saturday may be in doubt, but Daniels promises an energetic show nonetheless, mixing classics such as 'Uneasy Rider,' 'Long-Haired Country Boy' and 'The South's Gonna Do It (Again)' with tunes from his latest album, 'Songs From the Longleaf Pines.'

'I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, but we cook,' Daniels said. 'I probably have the best band I have ever had. They are all really good, hot musicians. We thoroughly enjoy playing together.'

'Songs From the Longleaf Pines,' considered by many critics to be his strongest release in recent years, is surprisingly the premier fiddler's first bluegrass album. Daniels has enlisted the talents of legendary bluegrass stalwarts (Earl Scruggs, Mac Wiseman) and musicians from the new generation of bluegrass (Nickel Creek's Chris Thile, the GrooveGrass Boyz) to help with this collection of gospel standards, such as 'Working on a Building,' 'Softly and Tenderly' and 'Keep on the Sunny Side.'

"I cut my teeth on bluegrass," Daniels said. "In fact, the first serious band I was in was a bluegrass band. When the opportunity came up to do this album, it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world. It was kind of like going to have Sunday dinner with a bunch of old friends."

Working with the 81-year-old Scruggs on the album was a career highlight for Daniels, but it was not his first time playing with the bluegrass banjoist. That came with the Earl Scruggs Revue in the late 1960s.

"Earl is amazing," Daniels said. "We did this thing of introducing the album to the music community of Nashville. We had Earl come down, and we did 'Foggy Mountain Breakdown,' and people just wouldn't stop applauding. He is an amazing man."

In recent years, Daniels has become as well known for his political beliefs as he is for his music, but unlike many celebrities, he acts on those beliefs rather than just talking about them. Recently, he performed for the American troops deployed in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq and Germany.

"It was a life-changing experience," Daniels said. "The morale is good, but our troops are confused as to why all of the bad things are so magnified, and why the good things that are going on are played down in the major media. They don't think this country is getting a fair account of what is going on. I don't either, really. It is the future of our country. The stakes are a little higher than they are reporting the Michael Jackson debacle."

Daniels said that he has issued a public challenge to Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and others to go with him to Iraq before they make any decisions about the war in Iraq.

"Our senators and congressmen, the people who handle the fates of our armed forces, should all go to Iraq," he said. "I don't mean to go and visit the diplomats. I am talking about getting out amongst the troops. You got these kids over there fighting, and you don't speak to any of them. You don't ask how they are doing. That is my impression of what is going on."

Daniels, an American music icon for more than 40 years, has the opportunity to reach a whole new generation of fans with the release of the "VeggieTales: Minnesota Cuke & The Search For Samson's Hairbrush" DVD on June 25. He co-wrote and performed the theme song for the latest installment of the popular children's animated series.

"I am still in the dark as to exactly what it is," Daniels admitted. "I don't travel in those circles. One good thing that I like about it is that it is a good Christian-based company. I am impressed with that. I had heard of it, but I didn't have any idea what it was. I had to ask some experts. You know, some people with kids."

How the "Minnesota Cuke" theme song will stand with his catalog of hits has yet to be determined, but chances are that if Daniels is still performing the song 25 years from now, he won't be satisfied until he has played it perfectly.

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