Editor's Note: Article & photos compliments of www.wilsonlivingmagazine.com
“She found this place,“ says Charlie, 72. “We had started riding horses and wanted to get some acreage. There’s a big pond at the bottom of the hill, and when we came in the front gate and saw that pond and we saw this hill up here, we knew if this hill was flat enough to build on this was the place we wanted to build.”
The Daniels moved to Wilson County when son Charles Jr. was 4. They first lived in Mt. Juliet near Lakeview Elementary School. They bought their rural property in 1976 and moved into the ranch house, which they designed themselves, in 1979.
“I wanted a big den,” said Charlie. “I love western art. I’ve got a bunch of it around: the sculptures and the paintings and Kachina dolls and knives, and I’m a voracious reader. I’ve read an awful lot of these books in here.”
Indeed, this great ranch-style den holds shelves and shelves of books as it boasts a massive stone fireplace, an arched ceiling, a wagon-wheel chandelier, western sculptures and paintings of cowboys, Indians and horses.
“I love the privacy. When I turn off the gate down there, this is where my private life starts,” says Charlie. “This is our little world up here. I can stay at home and not go off the place for days at a time. I’ve got a pond I fish in with a little dock on it down there. I‘ve got a putting green and a driving pad out in the back here that I hit golf balls off of and practice putting. I’ve got a shooting range in the back that I can target shoot. I’ve just got the stuff that I enjoy doing. In winter time I like to keep a fire going in the fireplace when it‘s cold out here.”
“There’s just the feeling like you’re a million miles away from any place,” said Hazel, and “I love the people of Wilson County. Our son went all the way through Wilson County schools, Lakeview Elementary, Mt. Juliet Junior and Senior High.”
While Charlie is a man of diverse musical talents and interests, Hazel pursues a variety of hobbies as well. She plays golf, does needlepoint, reads, goes antiquing and collects antique glassware. She also enjoys time in the kitchen, claiming to be “a country cook.” (Charlie is most partial to her country-fried steak with rice and gravy.)
The couple met in Hazel’s hometown of Tulsa, Okla., when she was a 20-year-old hairdresser. “My girlfriend was going with his drummer and she introduced me to Charlie. He married me for my car,” she says with a laugh. “He didn’t have a car.” “I didn’t have anything,” he confesses. “We came to town with a $20 bill and a clutch out of the car and a 2-year-old baby.” “We’ve had a storybook life together,” Hazel said. “He rings my bell and I still ring his.” She credits the success of their 45-year-marriage to three factors: “I think it’s the blessings of the good Lord and we just love each other. And when we were young, Charlie said we would never go to bed mad at each other. So we’ve always worked out the little problems.”
Daniels just completed his 50th year in the music business and his first year as a member of The Grand Ole Opry. He co-wrote the song “It Hurts Me” for Elvis Presley in 1964 and played on three album sessions for Bob Dylan in Nashville. The fiddle player, guitarist and vocalist saw his own career begin to take off when he released his Southern rock anthem, “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” in 1974.
In 1979, he struck gold with his mammoth hit, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which he wrote and that earned him the Grammy award for best country vocal performance.
A native of Wilmington, N.C., Charlie learned his work ethics from his father, a timber buyer for a creosote company. “Everybody in the timber business knew him and his reputation and that he was really good at what he did. He told me, ‘Do something you like to do, because you’re gonna be working more than you’re not working.’ After I learned a few chords on a guitar, all I wanted to do was play,” Daniels said.
At age 14 or 15, Charlie learned a few chords from a friend who owned an old Stella guitar. Then he picked up a mandolin and a fiddle, and it was off to the races.
“We were big admirers of the bluegrass music of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. We couldn’t be the Foggy Mountain Boys, so we were the Misty Mountain Boys,” Daniels said with a grin.
He eventually settled in Nashville in 1967 at the urging of his friend and mentor Bob Johnston, who produced albums for Dylan, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins and Simon & Garfunkle among others.
Among the musical influences on Daniels were Bill Monroe, bluegrass musicians, fiddle players and Elvis. But it took him time to sort things out and find his own style, a sound that reflected his unique place in the budding world of Southern country rock.
“When I reached 1974, I did an album, Fire on the Mountain, and I made a conscious effort to just be me. Just to open my mouth and sing and whatever came out would be a natural thing. Basically my place is on stage. It’s not in the recording studio. My whole premise for being in the music business is the stage. That is what I’m best at and what I enjoy doing the most.”
For much of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, Daniels and his band burned up the concert trail. He has slowed things down a bit now, cutting back to 90 dates this year.
“We were just constantly on the road. It’s what you had to do to make a living. I had my first hit album in 1974; so I was 38 years old. I never looked good in a pair of tight jeans. I had nothing to go on except talent and entertainment. The music. That was it.”
In 1979, Daniels struck gold with his rousing and rocking tale of a boy with a fiddle who got into a duel with Satan. To this day, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” continues to rack up airplay on pop and country radio. The song was inspired by a poem, Stephen Vincent Benet’s “The Mountain Whippoorwill,” which Daniels remembered from his school days.
“It was a long poem about a kid that played a fiddle in a contest, and he played about the stuff he heard in the mountains: the mountain whippoorwill, the waterfalls. Where the phrase ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ came from, I don‘t know. It just came into my head. I sat down with the band, and we started putting the drum beat and bass licks and guitar licks to it, and I sat down and wrote the lyrics, and we went in the studio and recorded it. I had a good feeling about it. Here it is 30 years later. That song was a hit in places where they don’t even speak English, and it was our entrée into the international scene.”
Daniels, with his own inimitable voice, has always had a way with words, and he has never been shy of letting his opinions be heard, something he does regularly in the soap box section of his web site.
“I think every American ought to speak out, and I’ve got a forum for it,” he says. “In my opinion there are two things that hurt America. People do not delve deep into situations enough to be knowledgeable about it, and they don’t speak their minds. They let other people make their minds up for them.”
As for politicians and government he says, “I think we desperately need term limits. I think eight years is long enough for anybody. Our Constitution was not meant for career politicians. Washington is totally out of touch with America.”
“You will not find an American that is more loyal or more patriotic than I am. I am very patriotic,” says the musician who has made two trips to Iraq and Kuwait with his band to play for American soldiers. “And I know for a fact there is no place, even with our flaws, that comes up to what America is. It is just such a wonderful place that I just hate to see it get ruined by a bunch of people who don’t know what they are doing or don’t care what they are doing.”
“We would run Charlie for president if he was 20 years old,” says Hazel, but Charlie retorts, “I have no desire to do that.”
What he has been passionate about for decades is playing cowboys. That seems obvious when you consider the trademarks of his onstage wardrobe, a bull rider hat and big belt buckle. He fell in love with cowboys as a boy of the 1940s, an era when every small-town theater in the South showed horse operas.
“In my day, Saturday was cowboy day. I went to the movies and saw Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Sunset Carson and Lash LaRue. I got into it back then, and I’ve always had a great respect and fascination with the cowboy way of life,” he says.
And a cowboy way of life it is on the 400-plus acres of Twin Pines, a working ranch with a 13-stall barn, an indoor arena and shop and a 150 feet by 220 feet full-sized arena where they have held numerous roping clinics over the years.
Overseeing the spread for the Daniels for about 30 years has been ranch foreman Thurman Mullins, plus they’ve got a cowboy from Mississippi, Leroy Crawford, who serves full time as top hand.
“Charlie has the first ranch east of the Mississippi to have registered Corriente cattle,” said Mullins. “They’re descendants of the first Spanish cattle and ancestors to the Texas longhorns. Corriente are primarily recreational cattle being used for ropings or rodeos.”
The stock here includes just over 100 head of Corriente, eight beef cattle and 41 horses, including three stud stallions, American paint horses, quarter horses and saddle horses.
“Our main thing is roping horses, working cow horses and cutting bloodlines,” said Mullins. “Charlie received a lifetime achievement award from the American Paint Horse Association for contributions to raising paint horses. We’ve got as good a blood as anywhere on this place.”
What’s it like working for the musician and cowboy? “He is the best and has more patience and faith with mankind and people than anybody I’ve ever known,” said Mullins. “A guy asked me, ‘What is the trick to Charlie?’ The trick to Charlie’s success is that Charlie looks everybody in the eye. He doesn’t look up to or down to nobody. The only one he looks up to is the Lord. He has a real deep Christian faith as does his wife. He’s a patriot and a family man. They’re just genuine people.”
When asked what his legacy will be, Daniels responds, “I have always felt that a person should be remembered for what they were and what they were in the eyes of the people who knew them the best. I have a lot of facets to my character and to my life. I’m a Christian, a husband, a father, grandfather, employer, musician, entertainer. I’m a lot of different things, but I guess what people will remember me for most would be the music.”
Hazel answers simply, “Charlie’s a good guy.”
"Well, thank you, honey,” says her husband, an American original who can play cowboys, guitars and fiddles with the best of ’em.
Wilson Living Magazine's purpose is to keep the citizens of Wilson County connected to each other. We hope to bring you stories about your neighbors that you may not have known. We intend to keep you informed on local businesses, politics and government that affect your daily lives. We will share inspiring stories of those in Wilson County who are giving back to the community. And we will provide you all the Wilson Happenings on restaurants, sports, schools and events that can be found in the area.