Charlie Daniels was born on Oct. 28, 1936, in Wilmington, N.C., and raised on a musical diet that included Pentecostal gospel, local bluegrass bands and the rhythm & blues and country music from Nashville's 50,000-watt radio stations WLAC and WSM. He graduated from high school in 1955. Already skilled on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, Daniels formed a rock 'n' roll band and hit the road.
While en route to California in 1959, the group paused in Texas to record "Jaguar," an instrumental produced by the legendary Bob Johnston, which was picked up for national distribution by Epic. It was also the beginning of a long association with Johnston. The two wrote "It Hurts Me," which became the B-side of a 1964 Presley hit. In 1969, at the urging of Johnston, Daniels moved to Nashville to find work as a session guitarist.
Among his more notable sessions were the Bob Dylan albums of 1969-70 Nashville Skyline, New Morning and Self Portrait. Daniels produced the Youngbloods' albums of 1969-70 Elephant Mountain and Ride the Wind, toured Europe with Leonard Cohen and performed on records with artists as diverse as Al Kooper and Marty Robbins.
Daniels broke through as a record maker himself with 1973's hit hippie song "Uneasy Rider." His rebel anthems "Long Haired Country Boy" and "The South's Gonna Do It" propelled his 1975 collection Fire on the Mountain to double-platinum status.
After recording for the Capitol and Kama Sutra labels, Epic Records signed him to its rock roster in New York in 1976. The contract, reportedly worth $3 million, was the largest ever given to a Nashville act up to that time. In the summer of 1979, Daniels rewarded the company's faith by delivering "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," which became a platinum single, topped both country and pop charts, won a Grammy Award, earned three CMA trophies, became a cornerstone of the Urban Cowboy movie soundtrack and propelled Daniel's Million Mile Reflections album to triple- platinum sales levels.
The album's title was a reference to a milestone in the Charlie Daniels Band's legendary coast-to-coast tours, which including two drummers, twin guitars and a flamenco dancer. The CDB often toured more than 250 days a year and by this time had logged more than a million miles on the road. Transported in a convoy of buses and gleaming black tractor-trailer rigs, the band now included a full horn section, backup singers, a troupe of clog dancers and sometimes a gospel choir. By 1981, the Charlie Daniels Band had twice been voted the Academy of Country Music's touring band of the year.
Daniels' annual Volunteer Jam concerts, world famous musical extravaganzas that served as a prototype for many of today's annual day-long music marathons, always featured a variety of current stars and heritage artists and are considered by historians as his most impressive contribution to Southern music.