The South did it again thanks to the North. At least in the case of the Charlie Daniels Band.
CDB was pivotal in getting Southern rock widely accepted in the Upper Midwest, especially in the Twin Cities. All because of KQRS.
In 1973, KQ gave us Lynyrd Skynyrd with “Gimme Three Steps” and Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” Then along came their spiritual uncle, Charlie Daniels.
He had been a session fiddler in Nashville, famously playing (bass) on Bob Dylan’s three albums recorded in Music City. In 1973, Daniels had a novelty hit, “Ballad of Uneasy Rider,” a spoof on the movie “Easy Rider.”
Two years later, he blew up on KQ with “The South’s Gonna Do It Again” and “Long Haired Country Boy.” This Northern station was instrumental in boosting his career.
The Midwest liked to boogie. It didn’t matter if it was a bearded fiddler from Tennessee or a suburban blues band calling themselves Lamont Cranston.
Times were divisive – the Vietnam war just ended, civil rights were an on-going issue – but maybe not as virulent as they are now. (See Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” vs. Neil Young’s “Southern Man.”)
Daniels, who died Monday of a stroke, was kind of a bridge between hippies and rednecks. He was pro-veterans, pro-America and quite jingoistic about it, but he also was your long-haired, bearded uncle who liked to smoke weed, boogie and keep the party going.
His recording career peaked with the 1979 smash “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which was propelled by KQ and even more so the John Travolta movie “Urban Cowboy.” The tune climbed to No. 1 on the country charts, No. 3 on the pop list.
I saw CDB in concert many times, including once at their famous Volunteer Jam in Tennessee, and interviewed Daniels a few times, including once in the basement of a St. Paul head shop.
One interview was in 1987 before Daniels was set to be grand marshal for the St. Paul Winter Carnival parade while in town for gigs at the old Carlton Celebrity Room in Bloomington.
He was never one afraid to speak his mind, whether it was about politics or music. We talked about artists’ responsibilities. He explained he quit endorsing a chewing tobacco product because he didn’t want to influence young people to start the habit.
“Music should not be a detrimental influence to anybody. It's supposed to be an uplifting experience,” Daniels told me. “I think it's a damn big responsibility, and it should be laid square at the feet of the record company and the artist. I know some of these outfits are evil, and they're motivated by greed. When you are starting a 12-year-old kid on a road of disobedience, it's wrong.
“Ozzy Osbourne had a tune called `Suicide Solution.' That's not a solution to anything. That's wrong. It's really parents' job to watch out for kids and that sort of thing."
However, Daniels didn't believe in censorship. In fact, he was a staunch supporter of a singer's right to free speech. He was merely against “the abuse of free speech.” Said he: "There's something that goes along with rights and that's called responsibility. And it's not being exercised."
CDB was a regular visitor to Minnesota, whether as part of Super Bowl festivities in 1992 or the We Fest in Detroit Lakes in 2011. I last saw Daniels in concert in 2017, opening for Willie Nelson at Treasure Island Casino in Red Wing. He last performed in the Twin Cities in June 2019, opening for Alabama at Target Center.
Charlie Daniels was 83.