Charlie Daniels talks aging, Gregg Allman and why he’ll never talk politics on stage

The country legend's annual Angelus charity fundraisers hit Tampa this week.
Published Nov. 27, 2017

Charlie Daniels just turned 81. He feels it sometimes, especially in his hands, which have fallen rickety from years of whiplash up and down the neck of his fiddle.

"Oh, yeah, I've got arthritis," Daniels said in a recent phone call from Savannah, Ga. "I've got a little bit of neuropathy from the stroke that I had. You have certain limitations. I practice scales on my guitar just about every day to counteract that, to keep my hands limbered up and keep everything that I use playing music limbered up. You have to make some adjustments, for sure. There's notes that I have a harder time reaching on the fiddle, getting hand to bend around there to 'em.

"But so far, I can still, for the most part, make people happy going on stage, and that's what it's all about. So I'm going to do that until the Lord calls me home."

Daniels has been making folks happy for decades, not only through his music — that lickety-split fiddle-ripper The Devil Went Down to Georgia still knocks 'em dead every time — but through his charity work. For 26 years, Daniels has been a major benefactor of the Angelus, a group home for the severely disabled in Hudson. His annual Angelus weekend — featuring a golf tournament, clay shooting tournament and star-studded concert at the Dallas Bull — returns this weekend.

Daniels doesn't get as much hands-on time with the weekend as he'd like these days, but he always relishes his trips to the home.

"I go around and visit with each and every one of them, and a lot of them have been in there ever since I've been doing the show," he said. "And then it comes home to you why we do this every year."

Before the show, Daniels called to talk about the Angelus. But he's also a staunch conservative when it comes to politics, and it wasn't long before the conversation steered that way, too.

Happy belated birthday. You feel 81?

I can't tell no difference than from when I was 80, be honest with you. Of course, there's the physical part of it. There's things I used to do that I can't do. I can't get on a horse anymore without having something to stand on. A lot of that is I think preconditioning in somebody's mind. One of the worst things that American labor has ever done is to have a retirement age of 65. Nowadays, people are just getting started then. Age is, to some extent, a state of mind. Do you want to be old? Do you want to act like you're 81? Do you want to act like you're 79? I choose to act like I'm 79, or however much I can get by with.

What's your favorite part of the Angelus weekend when you come through Tampa?

Going out and seeing the kids. The kids that come to the concert, that's always a thrill to entertain them. They sit there all night long, and they love everybody that comes on, and they have just such a great time. And what a break in their routine this is. We go our merry way, we get in a car, we drive somewhere, we go on trips, we do all these things. You have these people who basically spend their whole life sitting in a wheelchair. It reminds you how truly, truly blessed we are.

At last year's Angelus concert, you played with Montgomery Gentry. It was so sad to lose Troy Gentry this year.

Aw, gosh. I've known those kids since they first started. When they had their first record, they recorded one of my songs, and wanted me to come down and sing on it, and that's the first time I ever met them. We've had a lot of interaction these last many years. Anytime you lose somebody, it's traumatic.

We also lost Gregg Allman this year. Did you ever spend any time around him?

My gosh, yeah, we've worked together many, many times. Gregg was the best white blues singer in the world, bar none. Nobody could sing the blues like him. He just had a touch for it. Some people do, some people don't. I never did. I love the blues, I love to play it. But I don't have that. Whatever it is — an extra gene or something that makes you a blues singer and player — he had it. He had it in spades.

You're a very politically outspoken guy. Do you ever think about the possibility of your views impacting a charity like the Angelus?

No, not really. The people who know us know me, and know what I'm saying. It just ain't that way. I do not consider myself political. I can understand why people would say what I write is political. It's not. It's just my feelings. It's commons sense to me as an American citizen, which is not only our right, but our duty, really, to express our opinion, if no other way than at least in the voting booth. I don't do that on stage. I don't pay good money to go hear somebody talk about their political beliefs. It's just not part of my show. That is confined to the private part of my life, which I consider my writings on Twitter and what we're doing right now, the interviews. I just chop 'em up and let the chips fall where they will.

I don't know if you saw, but originally, journalists who covered the CMAs were instructed not to ask artists about politics or Las Vegas. Should artists feel more comfortable speaking their minds in a public setting? Or do you think that the industry just doesn't allow or encourage that?

I don't think an awards show is the place to do it. I don't think that the NFL football field's the place to do it. I don't think the workplace, where people are paying to see you — what'd people spend for tickets to see the CMAs this year? If you want to do that, there's plenty of time to do that after the show's over. But when you're on stage, you owe every second that you're on stage to people who bought tickets.

I've heard English people, people from England, get on awards shows and tell people who to vote for over here. If we went over there and did that, they'd accuse us of every kind of thing in the world. They have no business telling us who to vote for. Who gives a damn what an Englishman thinks about our politicians? That's our business. But when people have bought tickets for a CMA Awards show or something like that, that is not the time to get on stage and start spouting off your political beliefs. It just ain't.

What can unite people nowadays? How do we avoid getting into this constant, unending, sociocultural war with one another? What is able to unite us right now in America?

Leadership. We've had nothing but adversarial leadership for I don't know how long. The people who did not like Barack Obama, the people who do not like Donald Trump, have just decided they're going to be that way. The flames are fed by some media, and a lot of politicians who take advantage of the way people feel, and their political beliefs, to further their own agendas.

Why do we send people to Washington? We don't send people to Washington to argue with each other and point out how horrible the other party is, and try to keep America from going anywhere just because you don't like a president. Same thing with Barack Obama, same thing with Donald Trump. It has happened in both administrations. People are so into their own party. The hell with their party! We don't pay them and give them a privileged life to go to the capital and sit and argue with each other. We want something done. They owe it to us to go into their little smoke-filled rooms and say, 'Okay, we got to work this out. We really care about the American people. Let's come together.' You've got to give us something, Schumer. You've got to give us something, McConnell. You've got to give us something, Pelosi. Find some middle ground. Find something America can live with. Think country first, and let people know we are working together.

Same thing with leaders of the ethnic groups. People don't want to see Mexican flags. This is America. People don't want to hear Al Sharpton get up and tell everybody how sorry the white race is, and that they're responsible with everything that happened to the black race. It's not true. There's a lot of people out here that really, really care about what happens to every race.

That guy that got busted in L.A. had it all in one sentence: Why can't we all just get along, you know? If he can say it, then why in the heck can't we all get along?

— Jay Cridlin