I don’t remember the first time I got on stage with him and jammed. We played together a lot. As far as that generation, he's somebody I collaborated with more than almost anybody other than Little Jimmy Dickens or Bill Anderson. I went up and recorded with him in a studio at his farm. We did a track on his [2007 album] Deuces. We got together with Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s surviving band. Charlie played guitar on that and so did I. It was really cool.
We did “Karate” [for Paisley’s 2013 album Wheelhouse] after that. I’d written that song with Chris DuBois and Kelly Loveless. I had this idea where a wife is in an abusive relationship. And I just loved the concept of Kill Bill in a country song. The husband is this bastard. There’s this rap part, and I realized the perfect person is Charlie because he's known for these songs that are kind of confrontational and battle songs. I mean, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is the same thing, it’s a duel. I also realized he's one of the first true rappers when you think about what rap is, which is the spoken word, rhyming, talking, melodic, however you want to quantify it.
So I sent that to him and said, “Would you do this?” And he went in the studio and it was fantastic. He just nails that. It just sounds so cool coming out of his mouth. It gave it cred. It was like, “Okay, this is legit now. This isn't me being goofy.” And that’s always how it’s been collaborating with somebody like Charlie. It was very selfish in a way because I got to ride on their coattails if I had somebody like Charlie on a record. And not only that, but it was just a fantasy fulfilled for me. I learned note for note, the dueling guitar parts of “In America” and I performed that with my band in West Virginia.
As far as a musician goes, it reminds me in some ways of the heartbreak I felt when Roy Clark passed. Very few entertainers entertain with their instrument now. Roy Clark entertained with his instrument. When you watched Roy Clark, you always felt like he was going around that turn on two wheels. When you watched Charlie Daniels with that fiddle, the dust was flying off the strings. He would flip that bow around like it was freaking Harry Potter’s wand. Same with on the guitar when he would play. He just looked so intense. He was going into battle when he played and you would follow him anywhere. He was like a general up there.
I remember maybe 10 years ago, one of the first festivals where he was on before me. I was headlining and I invited him to stay and play with me. And he did. And I remember going out there at the side of the stage and watching him. He wasn't a competitor per se, but I could tell he was making it very hard for me to follow him in a great way. Not in a negative way, but with love. He's doing “In America,” “Uneasy Rider,” all these songs, and ends with “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” and he’s like “Good night! Enjoy Brad Paisley.” It’s like “Damn it!” He might as well have looked at me and said [quoting “The Devil Went Down To Georgia"]: “I done told you once you son of a bitch, I’m the best that's ever been.” (laughs) Next thing you know he comes out and we did something together. He was a fantastic, wonderful man.
As told to Melinda Newman