Monday, July 19, 2010

Charlie Daniels: The Long-Haired Country Boy Comes Home (1997)

(As published in WORLD ... )

The time when shaggy-dog stories could translate into hit records has probably passed for good, but many people who remember the good ol' days agree that two of the best shaggy-dog hits ever--"Uneasy Rider" and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"--belong to a genuine good ol' boy: Charlie Daniels.

And since many Christians are good ol' boys (and girls) themselves, they were more than happy to extend an open-arms welcome to Daniels when, in 1994, he released The Door (Sparrow), an album so full of gospel witness that the Gospel Music Association gave it a Dove Award for "Country Album of the Year."

He followed it in 1996 with Steel Witness (Sparrow), an album that recently received a Grammy nomination and that spawned the Christian-radio chart-topper "Somebody Was Prayin' for Me." Until recently, in fact, "Somebody Was Prayin' for Me" occupied a high-profile position in the Charlie Daniels Band's typical concert set, right between "The Orange Blossom Special" and "Long-Haired Country Boy."

Such a juxtaposition, however, has caused some of Daniels' fans to wonder whether, instead of a gospel message, he may not actually be sending a mixed one. "Long-Haired Country Boy," after all, although a signature Charlie Daniels tune from way back, falls considerably short of endorsing family values: "People say I'm no good and crazy as a loon / 'cause I get stoned in the mornin', get drunk in the afternoon."

"Well, I'm not proud of songs like that," the former long-haired country boy told WORLD, "and some of those songs I don't do any more. But with some I've simply changed the lyrics.

“We recorded 'Long-Haired Country Boy' back when I was a much younger man, and although it had some alcohol and marijuana mentions in it, it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing to me at the time. It was not taken all that seriously. But nowadays everything is taken very seriously, and I did quit doing the song. But I kept getting requests for it, so I modified the lyric to 'I get up in the morning, I get down in the afternoon,' and I'm fixin' to record it again."

In response to questions about what caused him to begin making gospel music after more than twenty albums and twenty years as a high-profile country-rocker, Daniels tells a low-profile story. "I've been a believer all my life. I was raised in a believing family. There was a time when I didn't know anybody who didn't believe in God. But for many years I did get away from walking the walk."

He describes his return as "a gradual coming back." "It was not a Damascus Road experience by any means. It was more like, 'Charlie, you know you're not doing the right thing here. Start cleaning up your act a little bit'--or a whole lot, actually."

He laughs. "You know, it's not as if one day I just all of a sudden got blinded by the light or something. I knew about the light all the time."

In a refreshing change from the "celebrity-Christian" norm, Daniels takes such "civilian-Christian" duties as considering the effect his music has on others--especially youth--seriously. "I think a lot of young people say that they give their life to Jesus but don't really understand what they're doing. I know I had the misconception that I had to be good enough, that if I committed a sin, my salvation was off ," he laughs. "Sometimes I feel that--especially with very young people, children--we need to explain that we all sin and that forgiveness is there for us, that we serve a forgiving, loving God, not one who's hiding behind a tree with a baseball bat ready to pop us."

He also takes such "civilian-Christian" duties as church attendance seriously (his "home church" is in Nashville) and finds the idea that the commotion caused by fame exempts the famous from fellowship to be "just a lame excuse." "A lot of times, on the road, the real reason that you don't want to go to church is that you stayed up till two and just don't feel like getting up," he chuckles. "There are all kinds of excuses you can come up with, but being too famous is not one of them.

“I'm not Michael Jackson. If I go somewhere and they recognize me, that's fine."

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