Charlie Daniels played his last show before the pandemic on March 13, 2020, at the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall in Huntsville, Ala. Hunkered down at home in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., he spent the following months telling anyone who would listen — his son, journalists — that he couldn’t wait to get back on the road, where he still played up to 140 dates a year, an ambitious schedule for any artist, much less an 83-year-old.
“He was champing at the bit to get back on the road,” says Charlie Daniels Jr., who worked for his father for two decades in various capacities.
Before that could happen, though, Daniels suffered a hemorrhagic stroke on July 6 and died later that day in a Hermitage, Tenn., hospital. Now, close to a year later, Daniels Jr., the singer’s only child, and other members of Daniels’ team are planning to preserve the artistic legacy of the country legend, who had left a will — he is also survived by his wife, Hazel — but hadn’t done much estate planning.
“We had no idea this was coming,” says Daniels Jr. “After the initial shock, we had to start trying to sort through it all.”
That means reviewing Daniels’ holdings, including royalties, recordings, instruments and equipment, for tax evaluation. “There’s a lot of work to be done,” says David Corlew, who worked with Daniels since 1973, managed him since 1989 and had run Blue Hat Records with him since 1997. “It took us 50 years to build what Charlie represented, so we’re not going to unravel it anytime soon.”
Daniels is best known for his ferocious fiddle playing and Southern rock barnburners like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” (his lone No. 1 on Billboard’s country chart), “The South’s Gonna Do It Again” and “Long Haired Country Boy,” but also was a star musician who played on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and toured with Leonard Cohen. He was an unapologetic iconoclast who performed at President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration but later leaned far right politically.
On July 16, Blue Hat will release Duets, Daniels’ first posthumous collection (initially available as a Walmart exclusive), which combines the 2007 album Deuces — which included collaborations with Dolly Parton, Darius Rucker and Brad Paisley — with previously released duets, including one with Garth Brooks. “Charlie always liked dedications on every album,” says Corlew, “and we decided we would dedicate this one to the greatest duo of all — him and Hazel.”
That’s only the beginning of Daniels’ vault, which Corlew estimates contains at least 40 master recordings, including multiple previously unreleased tracks, that Daniels owned, as well as decades’ worth of Volunteer Jams, the now-legendary concerts Daniels hosted from 1974 to 1996 at various venues around Nashville. Those shows featured a wide range of artists, from Billy Joel and James Brown to Don Henley and John Prine.
Daniels Jr. is also working with Sony to release or reissue recordings from Daniels’ 1975-91 stint on Epic, especially Honky Tonk Avenue, an unreleased concept album Daniels recorded in 1984, when he was moved from Epic in New York to the company’s Nashville division. “The powers that be in Nashville didn’t think it was commercial country enough,” says Daniels Jr.
He has also set up Charlie Daniels Brands to house licensed product partnerships, including a line of meats from Tyler County Market that launched shortly after Daniels’ death. “Some people saw it as ‘They’re just trying to capitalize on Dad’s death,’ not knowing you can’t put a deal like this together overnight,” says Daniels Jr. “It had been going for years.” He also stepped in after his father’s death to record an audio version of Let’s All Make the Day Count, a devotional book from HarperCollins that expanded on some of Daniels’ tweets and paired them with Bible verses. That recording is expected to arrive before the end of the year.
In addition, Daniels Jr. is keeping his father’s memory alive on Daniels’ Soapbox blog, now dubbed Soapbox Jr., where he shares thoughts on his dad and muses about a possible non-fungible token of Daniels’ fiddle. Next up? Daniels Jr. is considering a podcast based on his father’s career. Other ideas include pursuing a documentary, a musical based on “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” that would include other Daniels songs and a symphonic tour of his music. Also on the wish list: a museum in Daniels’ beloved Mt. Juliet next to a new shopping center named Charlie’s Place.
More immediately, the 2021 Volunteer Jam, scheduled for Aug. 18 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, will reunite Daniels’ band for a tribute that will also feature Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis and Alabama. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Daniels’ veterans assistance charity, the Journey Home Project.
There’s still hard work to do, though. Daniels’ estate shuttered his touring operation, laying off 25 staffers, and it’s in the process of selling some of his work and personal items through the music memorabilia company Rockology. Among the items available: Daniels’ and Hazel’s custom-made rings from their 1999 celebrity golf classic ($3,300), his bass boat ($5,995) and the pleather couch from his studio ($995). Nearly every item holds a memory.
“We have 4,000 pieces of equipment we need to sell, but it’s hard for me to walk into that studio,” says Corlew. “It’s heart- tugging. There’s this sentimental aspect to every part of this wind-down. Everywhere you look, there’s Charlie.”