Charlie Daniels

Tuesday, April 2, 2002

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“Speaking Freely” show recorded April 2, 2002, in Nashville, Tenn.

Ken Paulson: Welcome to “Speaking Freely,” a conversation about free speech in America. I’m Ken Paulson. Our guest today is a respected musician and true American voice. Please welcome Charlie Daniels. [Applause]

Charlie Daniels: [Plays and sings] “I ain’t nothin’ but a simple man. / They call me a redneck. / I reckon that I am, / but there’s things goin’ on make me mad down to the core. / I have to work like a dog to make ends meet, / and there’s crooked politicians and crime in the street. / And I’m madder than hell, and I ain’t goin’ take it no more. / We tell our kids to just say no. / Then some panty-waist judge lets a drug dealer go, / slaps him on the wrist and turns him back out on the town. / If I had my way with people sellin’ dope, / I’d take a big tall tree and a short piece of rope. / I’d hang ‘em up high and let ‘em swing ’til the sun goes down. / And you know what’s wrong with the world today? / Oh, people done gone put their Bibles away, / and they’re living by the law of the jungle, not the law of the land. / And the good book says it, so I know it’s the truth, / an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. / You better watch where you’re goin’. / Remember where you been. / That’s the way I see it. I’m a simple man. / Now, I’m the kinda man wouldn’t harm a mouse, / but if I catch somebody breakin’ in my house, / got a twelve-gauge shotgun a-waitin’ on the other side. / So don’t go pushing me against my will. / I don’t want to have to fight you, but I dern sure will. / If you don’t want trouble, then you’d better just pass me on by. / As far as I’m concerned, there ain’t no excuse / for the rapin’ and the killin’ and the child abuse, / and I’ve got a way to put an end to all of that mess. /You just take them rascals out in the swamp. / You put ‘em on their knees and tie ‘em to a stump / and let the rattlers and the bugs and the alligators do the rest. / And you know what’s wrong with the world today? / Well, people done gone and put their bibles away, / and they livin’ by the law of the jungle, not the law of the land. / And the good book says it, so I know it’s the truth, / an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. / You better watch where you goin’, / remember where you been. / That’s the way I see it. / I’m a simple man. / You better watch where you goin’. / Remember where you been. / That’s the way I see it. / I’m a simple man. /” [Applause] Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Paulson: We are delighted to welcome you, Charlie.

Daniels: I’m delighted to be here. Thank you. I even like the name of the show, “Speaking Freely.” I do a lot of that.

Paulson: I’m confident — I’m confident. You are the poster child for this show.

Daniels: And I ain’t been called a child in a long time, either. That’s great.

Paulson: Well, we are here as a part of the Tin Pan South Festival Salute to Songwriters in Nashville, and, and you are a songwriter who writes songs that affect people and people respond to. I mean, you’ve had a good number of hit records, and yet virtually every single record provokes response, I mean, not just an appreciation of the music. Typically, people applauding it, saying, “That’s how I feel strongly about —” or, “I feel strongly about —” Other people saying, “How dare you record that song?” “A Simple Man” is one of those songs.

Daniels: Yeah, “Simple Man,” I got some flak from that. You know, I wrote it almost in frustration, because you pick up the paper, and you see, you know, about rapes and murders and just horrible things, drugs that are really messing up our, our youth. And you know, I find it hard in, in my way of thinking — I find it really hard to think — I see all this stuff about insanity pleas and stuff. I don’t believe there’s anybody ever been born that is insane enough to think that it’s right to drown five babies in a bathtub. I just don’t think that’s possible. I think that’s just complete evil and meanness. And you know, people — I’m a, I’m a advocate of the death penalty. I’m not a mean person, but I, I think there’s some things that there’s no proper response to except the death penalty. And people say, “Well, it’s not a deterrent.” The death penalty was never meant as a deterrent. It’s meant for punishment. It’s to get one person who’s proven themselves not capable of living in society off the streets. And you know, I sometimes get people that don’t believe that way. This is America. Everybody’s entitled to believe the way they want to, but that’s the way I feel about it.

Paulson: And it’s got to be a special feeling to be able to translate your feeling — what your values are into a song.

Daniels: Well, you know, I write songs — when something’s on my mind — a lot of our songs are just foolishness, like “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” you know, “Legend of Wolley Swamp,” that sort of stuff. It’s just — you know, just songs about really nothing that ever really happened, but once in a while, something will come up that really kind of gets my dander up, and we’ll write a song about it.

Paulson: Now, in, in “A Simple Man”, you talk about the need to remember where you’ve been, and you’ve been some remarkable places. Even before America heard of the Charlie Daniels Band, you were in some recording studios and making some legendary records. In the first place, before that, you’re one of the few songwriters who — in this town — who’s had the honor of Elvis Presley cutting one of your songs.

Daniels: At that time, he was just — he stood alone. I mean, he was just the man, period. And it was, it was euphoric. It was just euphoric. I mean, just, you know, like, wow, you walk around in a daze all day long. Actually, and then you waited for it to come out. You know, it was awhile before it’d come out, and it finally came out. And then you turn the radio on, and here’s Elvis singing my song (“It Hurts Me,” the flip side of “Kissin’ Cousins.”) And it just — it was one of the fantastic things that happened to me in my lifetime, and I’ve had a lot of ‘em.

Paulson: You actually have. I mean, very few people would have had the experience of having contributed to Elvis’ career, and then you show up in the studio with Bob Dylan for Nashville Skyline.

Daniels: I was workin’ in a nightclub here, making a living, and Bob Dylan was coming to town. I said, “Bob” — Johnston, who was producing the session — I said, “you know, I really admire Bob Dylan, and I would very much love to play on one session of his, and the rest of my life, I can always remember that I played on a Bob Dylan session.” And so, he — the sessions in Nashville take place at 10 o’clock in the morning, 2 o’clock in the afternoon, 6 o’clock in the evening, and 10 o’clock at night. Well, the first session was booked at 6 o’clock, and I went in, and I was going to do one session and go to my nightclub job. And another guitar player was going to come in. And I played on that, on that first session, and, and I was packin’ my instruments up, gettin’ ready to leave, and, and Bob Dylan asked Bob Johnston, he said, “Where’s he goin’?” And he said, “He’s leavin’. I got another guitar player comin’ in.” And he said a few words at that time that was to affect my way of thinking about myself, my career, and the music business for the rest of my life. He said, “I don’t want another guitar player. I want him.” And it was, you know, another one of those moments.

Paulson: I’m going to ask you to play in a minute the first song most of us heard from you, something called, “Uneasy Rider.”

Daniels: Yeah, yeah, that’s older than you are.

Paulson: No, I wish it were. What inspired that song?

Daniels: I was doing some producing, some record producing, and I was doing a group called the Youngbloods from San Francisco. It was right after the “Easy Rider” movie had come out, and here we are in Louisiana, and here’s all these long-haired people from San Francisco with the weird clothes on. And they were so nervous about being there, about, you know, like, it was like this. You go into a restaurant to eat breakfast, and it’s like some of ‘em, I think, had seen the movie, and they thought if they stopped at a 7-Eleven store, somebody was going to come out with a pair of shears and cut their hair, you know? They were really uptight about being in Louisiana, and I’m from the South. I was raised in the South, and I just thought it was funny. I mean, you know, I thought it was, you know, the South was gettin’ a kind of bad rap then. We had our long-haired people, too, you know, and it was like, “Where I come from, we don’t take things lying down,” you know? It’s like, if somebody messes with you, you know, you, you take up for yourself. I went in a — my hair’s never been much longer than it is right now, and I went in a place one morning after a recording session to get some breakfast, and I walked in, and I sat at the counter. And this guy come walkin’ up to me. I think he’d had too many Pabst Blue Ribbons or something, and he walked up and said, “You might think you look good with that old long hair, but I don’t think you look worth a damn.” And I turned around and looked at him. I said, “Do you think that if I lived to be 100 years old that I could possibly care what you think about the way I look?” And he just wilted. Because, you know, what was happenin’ was, back during that time, a lot of people — especially people who did have long hair, who looked like hippies, you know, or were hippies — they really were very passive, which is good in one way but very bad in another way, because you get, you get some of these guys that just think that, you know, “All I gotta do is look at you, and you’re going to go runnin’.” And the best thing they could have done was say, “Hey, you want some of me? Come get it.” And 75% of these guys would have turned around and left. Now, I’ve never been a fighter. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to make it sound like that. But you do have to kind of stick up for yourself. So, I got to thinking about how ridiculous it was for, you know, these guys to feel this way, and I put a guy into a situation and got him out, extricated him, as you educated people say.

Paulson: Could we hear that classic?

Daniels: Oh, yeah, you sure can. [Plays and sings] “I was takin’ a trip out to L.A., / was kind of toolin’ along in my Chevrolet. / I was tokin’ on a number, diggin’ on the radio. / Just as I crossed that Mississippi line, / I heard that highway start to whine, / and I knew that left rear tire was just about to go. / Well, the spare was flat, and I got uptight, / ’cause there wasn’t a fillin’ station in sight. / So I just limped on down the shoulder on the rim. / I went as far as I could, and when I stopped the car, / it was right in front of this little bar, / kind of a, a redneck-lookin’ joint called the Dew Drop Inn. / Stuffed all my hair up under my hat, / went in and told the bartender I’d had a flat, / and would he be kind enough to give me change for a one? / There was one thing I was sure proud to see: / there wasn’t a soul in the place, ‘cept for him and me, / and he just looked disgusted and pointed toward the telephone. / I called up the station down the road a ways. / He said, ‘Well, we ain’t very busy today, / and we can have somebody there in just about ten minutes or so.’ / He said, ‘Now you just stay right where you’re at,’ / and I didn’t even bother to tell the dern fool that / I sure as hell didn’t have anyplace else to go. / I just ordered up a beer and sat down at the bar. / And some guy walked in and said, / ‘Who owns that car / with the gun racks and the mag wheels and four on the floor?’ / Well, he looked at me, and I dern-near died, / and I decided I’d just wait outside. / So I laid a dollar on the bar, / and I headed for the door. / Just when I thought I was gonna get outta there with my skin, / these five big dudes come strollin’ in / with this one old drunk chick and this fella with green teeth. / I was almost to the door when the biggest one said, / ‘You tip your hat to this lady, son,’ / and when I did all that hair fell out from underneath. / Last thing I wanted was to get in a fight in Jackson, Mississippi, / on a Saturday night, especially when there was six of them and only one of me. / Well, they all started laughin’. I got to feelin’ sick, / I knew I’d better think of somethin’ pretty quick, / so I hauled off and kicked old green-teeth right in the knee. / Now, he let out a yell that’d curl your hair, / but before he could move, I grabbed me a chair and said, / ‘Watch him, folks. He’s a thoroughly dangerous man. / Y’all may not know it, but this man’s a spy. / He’s an undercover agent for the FBI. / He’s been sent down here to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.’ / He was still bent over, holdin’ on to his knee, / but everybody else was lookin’ and listenin’ to me, / and just I laid it on thicker and heavier as I went. / I said, ‘Would you believe this man has gone as far as tearin’ Bush stickers off the bumpers of cars, / and he voted for … Gore for president. / He’s a friend of them long-haired, hippie-type big ol’ fags. / I betcha he’s even got a commie flag / tacked up on the wall inside of his garage. / He’s a snake in the grass. / I can tell you guys, he may look dumb, but that’s just a disguise. / He’s a mastermind in the ways of espionage.’ / They all started lookin’ real suspicious at him. / He jumped up and said: ‘Now, wait a minute, Jim. / You know he’s lyin’. I’ve been livin’ here all of my life. / I’m a faithful follower of Burly John Birch. / I belong to the Antioch Baptist Church, / and I ain’t even got no garage, / You can call home and ask my wife.’ / Then he started sayin’ somethin’ ’bout the way I was dressed, / but I didn’t stay around to hear the rest, / ’cause I was too busy movin’, hopin’ I didn’t run outta luck. / When I hit the ground, I was makin’ tracks, / and they were just takin’ my car down off the jack, / and I threw the man a fifty, jumped in, and fired that booger up. /” Oh, who was it — let’s see — what race car driver went — oh. “/ Old Dale Earnhardt would have sure been proud / of the way I was movin’ when I passed that crowd / comin’ out the door and headin’ toward me in a trot. / I knew I shoulda gone ahead and run, / but somehow I just couldn’t resist the fun / of chasin’ them all just once around the parkin’ lot. / They headed for their cars, and I hit the gas, / spun around and headed ‘em off at the pass. / I was slingin’ gravel and puttin’ a ton of dust in the air. / I had ‘em all out there steppin’ and fetchin’ like their heads were on fire and their rear ends was catchin’, / but I figured I better go ahead and split before the cops got there. / When I hit that road, I was really wheelin’. / Had gravel flyin’ and rubber squealin’. / I didn’t slow down ’til I was almost to Arkansas. / I think I’m gonna re-route my trip. / I wonder if everybody’d think I’d flipped if I / went to L.A. / via Omaha. /” [Applause] Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you kindly. I appreciate it.

Paulson: That still sounds as fresh as it did back in ’72 and ’73. And you’ve updated it a bit.

Daniels: Well, I wrote a song awhile back called “Uneasy Rider ’88,” 1988.

Paulson: And, and you — well, actually, you raised “Uneasy Rider ’88.” Can we talk about that for a minute?

Daniels: Sure.

Paulson: You know, I know you’re a nice guy and you care about people, but you took some heat for that song.

Daniels: Oh, yeah.

Paulson: Which updated the song you just heard and put it in a gay bar. Is that —

Daniels: Right, yeah.

Paulson: What prompted that, and do you have any regrets about that song at all?

Daniels: It’s just an idea I had. I mean, that’s, you know, gay people are, if they’re part of mainstream America, you can talk about them just like anybody else.

Paulson: But you talk about homosexuality being an abomination on your Web site.

Daniels: Well, I didn’t say that. God said that. Take it up with him.

Paulson: OK, so a song — no topic is off-limits for you in terms of a song.

Daniels: Oh, well, you know, I’m a songwriter.

Paulson: Which we’re going — we’re about to explore.

Daniels: Journalists say no topic’s off-limits for them, why should it be off-limits to me?

Paulson: OK, fair enough.

Daniels: OK.

Paulson: We believe in free speech, and we’re going to hear more of it.

Daniels: You talk to me, you’re going to hear a bunch of it.

Paulson: Yeah, good. But the interesting thing about the song we just heard is on a couple fronts. One is that you cleaned it up a little.

Daniels: Cleaned up what?

Paulson: I think you used “rear ends” in this —

Daniels: Yeah.

Paulson: — and, and in some of your songs, you’re not using language that was, that was the language you used in the beginning.

Daniels: Right, yeah.

Paulson: Have you mellowed, Charlie?

Daniels: Well, yeah, I guess I have mellowed to some extent. I’m not any —and never have been on any kind of crusade to do profanity or certainly not to promote drugs and alcohol. At the time I wrote some of these songs, of course, I was a lot younger. I was, you know, I was just doin’ tongue-in-cheek type stuff. It was never anything really serious. And the song “Uneasy Rider ’88″ is a tongue-in-cheek thing, you know. But I don’t — you know, I don’t — other words, I use words for emphasis, you know, and if “damn” sounds better than “darn,” I’ll put it in, but if it don’t, there’s no reason to use it. And I’ve got a couple of, of, of songs where the, the lyrics could be misconstrued to thinkin’ I was promotin’ drug use and alcohol, so I’ve tried to change that around. And also, some of the profanity that I didn’t need, I’ve taken out.

Paulson: But let’s talk about the most controversial song of the recent past anyway. In the wake of September 11, you were moved to write a song, and it, it is a striking song that gets people’s attention real quick. Can you talk about what went into writing “It’s Not a Rag; It’s a Flag”?

Daniels: When I saw those Trade Towers go down, it hit me in a way that I have never had anything affect me, that people had actually come over here and run our airplanes into our buildings and killed our people. And I would, for a long time after that, when I’d see that happen — they kept replaying it on TV, and I kept — I’d weep when I’d see it. I mean — don’t mean get misty-eyed. I’m talkin’ about crying. I mean, it just tore me all to pieces. Then I got mad. Then I got very — I got what I call “cold mad.” I got, “OK, you want to do that; you messed with the wrong people this time.” You know, “We will come, and we will pursue this thing, and we will take care of you, and we will trace you down. If you go anywhere, if you go to another planet, we’ll be right behind you. We’re coming to get you. We are not going to put up with that kind of thing. We will not have our people treated that way.” And every time I saw Osama Bin Laden on TV, he had this rag wrapped around his head. So, I got to thinkin’ — I don’t know where the phrase came from: “This ain’t no rag; it’s a flag.” And, and I’ve been asked this so many times, “Who are you talkin’ about? You’re talkin’ about people that wear turbans?” I’m not talkin’ about anybody that was not involved in either the World Trade disaster — the World Trade Center disaster — the plane crash in Pennsylvania, or the thing that happened at the Pentagon, or anyone who is, who is, you know, is, is dedicated to terrorism and the destruction of this country that wears something on their head. That’s the only people I’m talkin’ about. I wrote the song; I know who it’s about. If people want to misconstrue it and say it’s about, you know, about something else, then I can’t help it. I’m sorry. But I was moved to write this song for that reason. And some radio stations wouldn’t play it. Let me tell you somethin’: we’re gonna, we’re gonna politically correct ourself into the grave here. You know it? I mean, we are; we literally are. [Applause] We’re so, we’re so concerned with being politically correct, and political correctness, to a big part, is basically semantics. It has no underpinning. It’s like, you call something something, or you can call it something else, or you can do this or that. You know, I wear stuff on my head, too, you know. It’s not about do-rags. It’s not about Sikhs who wear turbans. It’s not about anybody. It’s about Osama Bin Laden and that bunch of lowlife scumbags who bombed our buildings up there. That’s exactly who it’s about.

Paulson: Can we hear it?

Daniels: Sure. [Plays and sings] “This ain’t no rag; it’s a flag, and we don’t wear it on our heads. / It’s a symbol of the land where the good guys live. Are you listening to what I said? / You a coward and a fool, and you broke all the rules, and you wounded our American pride. / Now we comin’ with a gun, / and we know you going to run, but you can’t find no place to hide. / We’re gonna hunt you down like a mad dog hound, / make you pay for the lives you stole. / Well, I’m through talkin’ and a-messin’ around, and now it’s time to rock and roll. / These colors don’t run, and we’re speakin’ as one when we say, / ‘United We Stand.’ / When you mess with one, you mess with us all, every boy, girl, woman, and man. / You been actin’ mighty rash and talkin’ that trash. Let me give you some advice. / You can crawl back in your hole like a dirty little mole, but now you’re gonna pay the price. / You might have shot us in the back, but you gotta face the fact / that the big boy’s in the game. / The thunder’s been a-crashin’, and the lightning’s been a-flashin’, and now it’s getting ready to rain. / This is the United States of America, the land of the brave and free. / We believe in God. We believe in justice. We believe in liberty. / You been a-pullin’ our chain. We shoulda done something about you a long time ago. / But now the flag’s flyin’ high, and the fur’s gonna fly. And soon the whole world’s gonna know. / This ain’t no rag; it’s a flag, old glory, red, white, and blue. / The stars and the stripes, when it comes to a fight, we can do what we have to do. / The people stand proud. The American crowd is faithful and loyal and tough. / We as good as the best and better than the rest. Gonna find out soon enough. / When you look up in the sky, you see the eagle fly, you’re gonna know he’s headed your way, / ’cause this ain’t no rag; it’s a flag, and it stands for the USA.” [Applause] Thank you. Thank you.

Paulson: When you hear a Charlie Daniels song, you know where the man stands. Ah, I have to believe, in addition to the flak we’ve talked about — we’ve talked about “Uneasy Rider ’88″; we’ve talked about this song — that in addition to that, you also hear from a good number of people who say, “Thank you.”

Daniels: Oh, yeah, yeah. Overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly. I wish everybody, whether you, whether you agree with me or not, and a lot of people don’t, and that’s fine — but I wish everybody in this country would express their opinion, their opinion, not what they hear on the news or not what they hear somebody else say, myself included, but their own opinion. If they agree with something, if they don’t agree with something, if they like something that our government does, if they don’t like something that our government does, if everybody in this country would speak, speak their mind, if everybody — if 75% of the electorate in this country would ever go to the polls at one time, regardless of whichever way they voted, Democrat, Republican, independent, whichever way they want to go, it would shake the foundations of Washington, D.C.

Paulson: One of the great features on your Web site is “Charlie’s Soap Box,” where you pull no punches and take no prisoners, and you say what you believe in. Let me throw out some topics —

Daniels: Sure.

Paulson: — both from the Web site and — from life. What’s your sense of President Bush?

Daniels: I love President Bush. I think he’s doing a great job. I think some, like, 80% of the people is — we’re in a big crisis right now. We need a leader, and I think we got one.

Paulson: The judicial system?

Daniels: The poorest — a street person should be treated just as fairly as one of the Rockefellers would be. And, unfortunately, that’s not true in, in our judicial system, and I think that’s something that needs to be straightened out.

Paulson: The Confederate flag?

Daniels: I don’t have anything against the Confederate flag. Which, I mean, to me, it just designates a part of the, of the country, but some people do. It’s — it means something else to, to parts of our society, so I don’t, I don’t keep a Confederate flag around. I don’t use ‘em on stage or anything.

Paulson: And you once did use them on stage.

Daniels: We did, but it never, it never meant anything to me except the part of the country I was from. I never mean it for, you know, to — I’m not a prejudiced person. I don’t, you know — I never would — as soon as it started — offended somebody, I just got rid of it, you know?

Paulson: Here’s a tough one for you, Charlie. People are debating this —

Daniels: You ain’t asked me no tough ones yet? Is that what you’re sayin’?

Paulson: This is, this is — this one’s, this one’s really tough. ‘Cause I know you love the American flag, and I know you love the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court in 1989 said, “You know what, in this country, you can burn your own flag on your own front lawn if you’re angry with the government.” And now there’s a movement to change the Constitution to prevent that from happening. Where are you on that?

Daniels: Well, you know, I think, I think the flag is a piece of cloth. If somebody is, you know, if somebody don’t respect — my thing about it is, it comes down to what you respect and what you don’t respect. I have a great respect for the flag. Thousands of people have died that are represented by that flag. I would never burn an American flag, but if somebody does, I think we would be goin’ a little far to pass a law — and I have very deep feelings about people burning a flag — but I think, if you own something, if you go buy the — now, don’t come burn my flag, you know?

Paulson: Wouldn’t dream of it.

Daniels: No, but I mean, if you, if you bought an American flag, and you want to take it and burn it, I think it would actually be — and this is probably going to surprise a lot of people — but I think it would actually be against your, you know, against our fundamental rights that are guaranteed, that if you, if you burn it, I don’t like it at all, but I don’t think we can pass a law to keep people from it.

Paulson: We only have a few minutes left. You know, there’s a theme that runs through your comments, through your “Soap Box,” and through your songs. And the one overriding theme is a great respect for this country. And, and one of your most timeless songs is “In America,” which was written in 1980?

Daniels: Yes. It was written during the Iranian hostage crisis and the frustration, frustration that I think we were all experiencing at that time.

Paulson: It resonates again today. I wonder if we could hear that.

Daniels: Certainly. [Plays and sings] ” Well, the eagle’s been flyin’ slow, / and the flag’s been flyin’ low, / and there’s a lot of people sayin’ that America’s fixin’ to fall. / But speakin’ just for me / and some people from Tennessee, / we’ve got a thing or two to tell ya all. / Now, this here lady may have stumbled. / She ain’t never fell. / If our enemies don’t believe that, / they can all go straight to hell. / Gonna put her feet back on the paths of righteousness, and then / God bless America again. / And you never did think that it ever would happen again in America, did ya? / You never did think we’d get together again. Well, we dang-sure fooled you. / We’re walkin’ real proud, / and we’re talkin’ real loud again. / Here in America, you never did think that it ever would happen again.”