Bootleg City: The Charlie Daniels Band in Minnesota, May ’79
We had a small problem last week in Bootleg City when some guy named Guest tried to pull a fast one and disparage our happy home. Fortunately, Sheriff Will Teasle quickly ran the riffraff out of town, but because this interloper hid behind an alias, everybody was pretty sure he wasn’t trained by Colonel Samuel Trautman. (Geez, I go to prison for a fortnight or two and suddenly Lindsey Buckingham is no longer sheriff? Still, let’s go easy on The Last Starfighter‘s Lance Guest, who’s currently starring on Broadway as Johnny Cash in Million Dollar Quartet. The role of the Man in Black clearly did a number on Joaquin Phoenix when he starred in Walk the Line five years ago, so we shouldn’t expect Mr. Guest to walk away unscathed. —Mayor Cass, prisoner #OU812)
We, the citizens of Bootleg City, have no problems with drifter types. But if you cross over our border and start talking smack, we’re gonna pull an Arizona and/or Brian Dennehy on you. Ship you back or move you along to more tolerant pastures — whichever’s easier.
But let’s get to this week’s bootleg. I know a lot of Popdose’s readers — hell, the writers especially! — are of a certain age, meaning that only some of you might remember a particular time in history — the late ’70s, to be exact — when white America embraced its inner redneck.
Let’s be honest — we went fucking nuts.
I personally blame it on two people: Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds. The once groundbreaking movie stuntman-director and the “it guy” of the Me Decade teamed up in 1977 to make Smokey and the Bandit, a classic road movie about bootlegging Coors beer. Soon every teenage boy in America wanted a black Firebird Trans Am, and everybody had a CB radio.
Quick aside: by 1979 my dad was successful enough to fulfill a lifelong wish and buy a brand-new Cadillac., and in his hot-off-the-assembly-line silver Seville, he had an in-dash CB radio. No shit — the built-in digital (!) radio had four modes: AM, FM, eight-track, and CB. It was the bomb, and was obviously needed for my dad’s 45-minute daily commute down the Merritt Parkway. Similar to e-mail addresses today, everybody in the late ’70s had a “handle,” even kids messing around in the old man’s Cadillac. Mine was “IseeBoobs.” (What do you want? I was 12! And I was told to get off the radio every single time — truckers on I-95 didn’t want to hear my stupid crap.)
But I digress. We had the Dukes on TV every Friday night, CBs in every car, and the Charlie Daniels Band playing on every radio.
That band was one of the big winners of America’s late-’70s southern lurch, and they were a true band, not just a bunch of backing musicians. Guitarist-vocalist Tom Crain joined in late ’75 and was the final piece of the puzzle, which included longtime keyboardist Taz DiGregorio, Charles Hayward on bass, and dual percussionists Fred Edwards and James Marshall. Quite honestly, they weren’t a country band, at least not in the sense of what we consider country music to be nowadays. Sometimes the experts on YouTube have it right: “Too bad country doesn’t sound like this anymore… it’s all just Taylor Swift gay shit.”
The Charlie Daniels Band were touring monsters. In fact Million Mile Reflections, the album they were touring behind in ’79, referred to the amount of touring the band estimated they’d already done.
And this bootleg, recorded for radio broadcast at the Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, on May 19, 1979, emphasizes the full band, particularly Crain and DiGregorio. Each gets to sing lead and show off his chops, while Daniels steps back and assumes the role of rhythm guitarist.
Just check out the jam that kicks off “Cumberland Mountain Number Nine” — it might not be country, but it sure is good.
I’ll say it again: this show isn’t exactly “country.” When I listened to it again, “No Potion for the Pain” popped up on the iPod and one of my buddies asked if I was listening to a Clapton show. “Who’s that singing for him?” he asked. My buddy isn’t a blues scholar, but with the horn section, female background singers, and some killer blues licks, one can easily assume he thought I was listening to a ’70s-era English guitarist.
The CDB’s songs also get a little bit of a live change-up here. Longtime standard “Uneasy Rider” gets upgraded to a funky number with a lot of chicken pickin’ guitar work; the tune’s story is sung instead of spoken, and updated to the times, with “Reagan” replacing “Wallace” and a reference to then-President Carter replacing “McGovern.” (By May of ’79, accusing somebody of voting for Carter was a massive slur.)
Throughout the ’70s the Charlie Daniels Band were a hardcore touring ensemble. Remember that story about some emo band that walked off the stage earlier this summer because a bird took a dump on the bass player? Do you think the CDB would miss a gig for such a nonsense reason? Check out the screen cap below of DiGregorio playing a show with a freakin’ broken arm. That had to be a bitch for a keyboard player. Bird shit? Please.
Unfortunately, this boot also features another ’70s concert tradition: morons pitching firecrackers at the stage. If I had a time machine I’d go back to certain appearances by Aerosmith, Nugent, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, etc., not to mention this Charlie Daniels show, and start throwing some punches.
Although it’d appeared a few times earlier in the night, Daniels closes the Bloomington show by bringing out what everybody in the crowd came to hear: his fiddle. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the band’s new single at the time, is played, but the crowd doesn’t realize what a massive cultural earworm this song will become (then again, neither does the band). It’s since become “a Beethoven song,” one that will be recognized 200 years from now, right up there with “Stairway to Heaven,” “Yesterday,” and maybe “Smoke on the Water.”
The band finishes with “Orange Blossom Special,” a requirement for any fiddle player; if you’re impressed with Daniels in his GEICO commercial, this number will blow your mind. (The YouTube experts chime in again: “This guy is Jesus on the fiddle.”)
The CDB’s Bloomington show was one of radio’s largest live simulcasts in the late ’70s, broadcast on at least 18 radio stations from Buffalo to Grand Rapids and as far south as Nashville. (Yes, Wardlaw, even your beloved WMMS was in the mix.) “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” wasn’t even a big hit yet, but this concert, the last stop on a twelve-month tour, was huge.
This is a kick-ass gig. I don’t care if you’re not into “not really country music” — if your foot isn’t wiggling when you listen to this, you might want to question whether you’re still breathing. And for the last time, this show isn’t what you’d call “country.”
Sadly, white America’s inner redneck wasn’t long for this world, because no matter how good a trend is, it’ll eventually be run into the ground. And since they started it, Needham and Reynolds put the final nail in the America-turns-southern coffin a few years after the Charlie Daniels Band’s Bloomington gig. They even had the help of the band.
But for a while there, blues, country, and some good ol’ redneck fun combined in a perfect storm to produce some pretty kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll.
Be proud, you rebels, ’cause the south is gonna do it again.
Behind Your Eyes
Johnny B. Goode
Long Haired Country Boy
No Potion for the Pain
Cumberland Mountain Number Nine
The Devil Went Down to Georgia
The South’s Gonna Do It
Orange Blossom Special