The Charlie Daniels Band (CDB) sums up its attitude toward genre labels in the song “Let It Roll” when its leader sings, “They can call it country, they can call it rock. But I’ll play this (fiddle) till the day I drop.” By blending a little rock ‘n’ roll with his roots as a Nashville session musician, Daniels introduced country music in the ’70s and ’80s to young rockers and aging hippies who otherwise might’ve never listened to a white-hot fiddler from North Carolina.
The band’s leader became a household name in 1979 when “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” became the “Orange Blossom Special” of its time–a furious fiddle tune known beyond bluegrass circles. More genre inclusive gifts followed, including the occasional Volunteer Jam concert and albums as recent as 2016’s Night Hawk.
Over time, Daniels’ public persona became that of a proud, conservative-minded American. For example, his 2003 compilation Freedom and Justice For All gathered some of his most politically-charged material, including “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag,” “America, I Believe in You,” “Simple Man,” “In America,” “The Last Fallen Hero,” “God Bless the Mother,” “What this World Needs Is a Few Good Rednecks” and “American Farmer.” While those songs capture his values, these 10 classics define the 60-plus year career of a Country Music Hall of Famer.
10. “Run With the Crowd”
An obvious song like “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye,” a beloved deep cut like “Mister DJ” or Daniels’ version of “Caballo Diablo” could’ve made the cut here. Instead, let’s start off with this dose of good advice.
9. “Carolina (I Remember You)”
Like honorable mention picks “Sweet Louisiana” and “Wichita Jail” from the CDB’s Saddle Tramp album or the down-tempo ballad “Mississippi,” this song builds on the country music tradition of glorifying bygone times and specific places.
8. “Damn Good Cowboy”
Like “Billy the Kid” off the High Lonesome album, this unlikely pick tells a detailed and believable story about a tough hombre. It’s an amazing country song, featuring the Marshall Tucker Band’s Toy Caldwell on steel guitar.
7. “Uneasy Rider”
Daniels faces a series of calamities that poke fun at the friction between rednecks and hippies. Its loose narrative style makes it the honky tonk equivalent of a Ray Stevens song.
6. “The Legend of Wooley Swamp”
Watch out, highfalutin New York City types. There’s a ghost in this Deep South swamp, and Daniels is here to tell you why Lucias Clay died a restless spirit.
The CDB honors the Texas Playboys with this fierce interpretation of the Texas swing. It’s the sound of Bob Wills, filtered through the rock and country music he helped inspire.
4. “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”
Daniels’ funky take on country music coincided with the glory days of Southern rock. In this classic, he namedrops his old rock buddies in celebration of a great time to be a long-haired country boy.
3. “Still in Saigon”
While much of Daniels’ patriotic material can be polarizing, all Americans should be able to appreciate the sacrifices of Vietnam veterans after digesting this horrifying tale.
2. “Long Haired Country Boy”
Daniels’ second best-known song speaks as directly to Southern boys, from Dallas to Atlanta, as any Hank Williams Jr. hit.
1. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
Daniels tipped his cowboy hat to Saturday night barn dances and hillbilly fiddle tunes with this celebration of American music. It remains one of the most iconic songs of the 1970s.