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Though he himself may be considered a country legend as a singer-songwriter and musician and notorious for his expertise on the fiddle, Charlie Daniels has his own idols within the music business. We got to sit down with Daniels to talk about the April 1 release of Off the Grid – Doin’ it Dylan, a Southern-rock tribute to icon Bob Dylan.
Nashville Lifestyles (NL): Bob Dylan has been an inspiration to you for your entire 50+ year career. What is it about his creative, non-traditional writing style that you’ve found so inspiring?
Charlie Daniels (CD): Before The Beatles, before any of the people we look at as being innovators, Bob comes along and starts writing stuff like nobody’s ever heard. He experienced a great freedom when he wrote. If a song’s not three and a half minutes long like everybody wants, that’s okay. If the words don’t make sense to nobody but me, that’s okay. When I got ready to do creative things, I wanted that freedom. It was [an] influence, not to try to be like him—I could never emulate him—but to try to be as freethinking as he was.
NL: You’ve had quite an incredible career as both a musician and singer-songwriter. How did you get the opportunity to play guitar on Dylan’s albums Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait, and New Morning in 1969 and 1970?
CD: When he came to town to do Nashville Skyline, my friend Bob Johnston was producing him, and I asked him to put me on a session. It just so happened that the guitar player they were going to use could not make [it]. I played the first session, and Dylan liked what I did and wanted me to stay around and do the rest of it. It was just a right place, right time, right kind of pickin’.
NL: What kind of feeling did that give you to work with him?
CD: It gave me a lot of confidence. I mean, I was pretty young at the time. Nashville is a tough town for musicians, and I wasn’t making a lot of headway. Bob Dylan was always nice enough to put the pickers’ names on the back of his albums. It really meant something then, because … everything [people] could find out about Bob Dylan, they did, including the musicians who played on his albums. It gave me some notoriety that had been hard to come by.
NL: Why did you decide to create Off the Grid, and what is its significance to you?
CD: It’s just an idea whose time had come. The reason this album is called Off the Grid is because it’s acoustic — we’re an electric band. We did a song for a TV show called Hell on Wheels a while back that takes place in the 1800s, so we had to use acoustic instruments, not electric. We liked the result; it was just a whole new sound for CDB. My manager said, “Why don’t you do an album like that?” I think it’s always been in the back of my mind to do some Dylan stuff since I’ve admired him so much.
NL: Is this the first time you’ve recorded your own versions of some Dylan classics?
CD: I did a couple – “Maggie’s Farm” on a duet album with Earl Scruggs and “Like a Rolling Stone” with Darius Rucker. But I’ve never done a whole bunch of them at one time.
NL: How did you go about choosing which songs you wanted to cover?
CD: Some songs we had to pass on because I didn’t feel like it was something we could put our individual mark on, that we could say, “This is CDB doing a Bob Dylan tune and that’s where the similarities stop.” I wanted it to be totally different — the arrangements, the tempos, the beats. If I was unable to achieve that, we didn’t do the song. The great thing about Dylan is there’s no end to the catalog; you’ve got plenty of songs to choose from.
NL: What do you hope fans get out of your Southern-rock tribute to Dylan?
CD: Entertainment. That’s what I’m here for. I’m not trying to do any big social statement or anything with this album. To me, it’s just a good album that I want people to enjoy listening to and be entertained by. It’s just like, “Here’s CDB doing Bob Dylan. Y'all enjoy it.”
“Off the Grid – Doin’ it Dylan” will be released by Blue Hat Records on April 1.
Visit charliedaniels.com for more information or to purchase the album.