Busted: Charlie Daniels
The country music legend opines on God, politics and Bob Dylan
Interview by Fr. Dave Dwyer CSP
He's a born again Christian who made his name in the 1970s with a song about the devil. He's also a "Long Haired Country Boy" who is fiercely patriotic. Charlie Daniels' 40-plus year career has never been short on contradictions so it came as no surprise that the Grammy-winning perfomer also wasn't short on opinions either.
Daniels recently sat down for an interview with Fr. Dave Dwyer during Fr. Dave's daily "BustedHalo Show" on Sirius Satellite radio.
BustedHalo: Now I know the tradition you were raised in was not Catholic, but you’ve got an experience of Catholicism.
Charlie Daniels: Yes, I do and it was a very special experience, and it was Easter a year ago. We had gone to Iraq to entertain the troops and we were there Easter Sunday and inside the wire at Talil airbase is the ancient city of Ur. Where Abraham is from. There’s a pagan temple there that’s like four thousand years old. Within the city, or course when Saddam Hussein was in power, nobody could go in. I think it was an English archeologist who had gone in there before Saddam had taken over and located, as best they could, the house of Abraham and they had restored the foundation. In other words, you could tell how big it was, how many rooms it had and everything. But a chaplain took us around over there on a Saturday afternoon and I found out that we were going to have a Catholic Easter sunrise service over the next morning at Abraham’s house, and we went and there were so many people. It was pretty neat being in there on Easter, knowing that the patriarch of the Jewish nation—the race of our lord and savior Jesus Christ —had lived there.
BH: In addition to all your projects, you’re still touring, your book came out a few days ago that you helped edit. But you’re a big proponent on your soap box blog of free speech and freedom of religious expression. Tell us a bit about that. What gets you on your soap box?
CD: Well back when we started our website, one of the guys who helped set it up for us told me ‘You’re very opinionated. Why don’t we start a column where you express your opinion.’ And I started doing it weekly, and then it got a little more readership, so then I started doing it twice a week. I like to write about anything, I write about politics or going shopping with my wife which, in fact, turned out to be two cuts above getting root canal done, so sometimes it’s silly, sometimes it’s very serious. But one of the things I get very serious about is religion. It seems the ACLU and a few other organizations are constantly trying to crush any symbolism or any expression of Christianity, much more so than any other religion, it seems that Buddhism doesn’t bother them, Islam doesn’t bother them, any other religion. But any time you put a cross up, or a creche, or…
BH: The Ten Commandments.
CD: …anything that symbolizes the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, there is an objection to it and I don’t like that. I really get up in arms about it. And I’ve written some pretty strident things about the ACLU and the United Nations.
BH: Well I’ve often said in homilies and such that it feels like one of the principles upon which this country was founded was the freedom of religion and somehow that has morphed into the freedom from religion. That we can never mention religion in the public sphere, and that’s certainly not what the founding fathers had in mind, and if somebody’s deciding to go in that direction we should probably all vote on that, huh?
CD: Well, yeah, if you read the Constitution, it doesn’t say that. People talk about separation of Church and state is not in the Constitution, that was in a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote that had even at that time was not meant to mean that, but it says that congress shall pass no law concerning religion, is the exact terminology.
"Dylan said ‘I don’t want another guitar player, I want him.’ And that was the turning point in my life...to have those words come out of Bob Dylan’s mouth, that made you feel like you’re really worth something.
You need a little self worth once in a while, you need a little pat on the back."
BH: It seems like these days, as you’re pointing out, that a lot of people are moving towards the prohibition of expression.
CD: Well it was meant to protect the Church from the government. Not the government from the Church. When the forefathers came over they never meant ours to be a Godless society, by any stretch of the imagination. If we talk about our federal papers, and what our forefathers intended for this to be, well they came here to practice their religion in a way that they saw fit, whatever it happened to be. So I think we’re off on the wrong road there.
BH: Yeah, and it sounds like your soap box is a place where people can hear more about that. It’s Charlie Daniels band.com
CD: It’s www.charliedaniels.com. I update it twice a week usually on Friday and Monday.
BH: You’ve played with some great artists over the past 40 years can you tell us some of your memories of those experiences?
CD: Bob Dylan came to town doing an album called, “Nashville Skyline” and being a huge Dylan fan, a friend of mine was producing the sessions, a guy named Bob Johnston, and I was trying to make it as studio musician in Nashville and was working in a night club to make a living. I said [to Johnston] you got to let me play on a Dylan session so I can always say that I played with the great Bob Dylan. So he had me come in one afternoon and I played on some songs. And I was packing my instruments about to leave to go to my club gig, and Bob Dylan asked the producer, ‘where’s he going?’ Johnston told him I was leaving and that he had another guitar player coming in. Dylan said ‘I don’t want another guitar player, I want him.’ And that was the turning point in my life basically because after being low man on the totem pole in Nashville for so long and to have nobody really paying any attention, to have those words come out of Bob Dylan’s mouth, that made you feel like you’re really worth something. You need a little self worth once and a while, you need a little pat on the back once and while you know.
BH: Now, you’ve got a Grammy award, I’ve always wondered, is it heavy?
CD: No it’s not.
BH: Because it looks like a little Victrola. I wonder if they’re going to keep the same shape now that nobody knows that this looks like a Gramophone.
CD: I don’t think anybody’s known what that thing’s looked like for the last forty years.
BH: It should look like an iPod or something.
CD: But it wouldn’t be a Grammy, it would be a poddy, I guess
BH: (laughs) Well it’s time to go poddy I guess. Thank you for joining us here on the BustedHalo Show.
CD: It was a pleasure sir. I had a great time, and I thank you for having me on. Maybe we'll do it again someday.
BH: That would be great. Many of our listeners are truckers on the road and you’re on Sirius’s road channel, right?
CD: I’m the voice of the Road Dog channel.
BH: There you go! And now the voice of the Catholic Channel.
CD: I can do that.
BH: (laughter) Well God Bless and good luck with the many ways that you will be speaking out on behalf of the church and Christians.
Fr. Dave Dwyer CSP is the Director of Paulist Young Adult Ministry and the host of the "BustedHalo Show" on Sirius satellite radio.
Thanks to Thunderstruck.org for the pointer.