As a British schoolgirl in London in the late 1970s, I never dreamed that I would someday live here in beautiful Georgia. At that time, Georgia was more of a historical concept for me than a real place.
I had studied world history, knew that Georgia was established in 1732, and was the last of the original 13 British colonies to be founded in what was to become the United States of America.
However, something powerful happened to me at the tender age of 13 that made me think of Georgia as a real place in modern times. I was also introduced to country music, and realized that that a violin could be called a fiddle and used for something other than symphony orchestras and chamber music.
What was this powerful event? “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” of course!
The Charlie Daniels Band exploded onto the U.K. music scene with the release of their album “Million Mile Reflections” in 1979, containing their signature song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Following the release of this No. 1 country hit in America, it was released in the U.K. and immediately jumped straight into the Top 40.
It was a song that was like no other I had ever heard. It was funny, a great story of good versus evil, it told a tale of exotic people and places of which I had little concept, and that amazing fiddle playing – was that really a violin?
Fast forward almost 30 years later. In 2008, my husband and I were in the process of transitioning from London to beautiful Coastal Georgia, having bought our Richmond Hill home a few years earlier. We were in town and decided to go to our very first Ogeechee Seafood Festival in J.F. Gregory Park, and who was headlining the event on Saturday night? You guessed it – The Charlie Daniels Band.
And how was it? It was awesome. The Devil did again come to Georgia that night, and he was chased away once again by Johnny, the fiddle playing hero of the song. You can read the coverage of this great event a dozen years ago at www.bryancountynews.com.
The Charlie Daniels Band also had a number of other big hits over the years, including “Long Haired Country Boy," “The Souths Gonna Do It (Again)” and "In America." One of the first bands to have “crossover” hits on both country and rock hit lists, Charlie toured for over 60 years.
He passed away last week in Nashville, Tennessee, aged 83.
Over the years, some have tried to drag The Charlie Daniels Band into controversy, but the band has always stayed above it. When the Ku Klux Klan used the song “The Souths Gonna Do It (Again)” as background music for radio commercials for a Louisiana rally in 1975, Charlie was furious.
He told Billboard magazine, "I'm damn proud of the South, but I sure as hell am not proud of the Ku Klux Klan ... I wrote the song about the land I love and my brothers. It was not written to promote hate groups."
Charlie loved America, and spent considerable effort supporting the military. He visited and performed for American troops in dozens of places, including Guantanamo Bay, Bosnia, Kuwait, Korea, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition to his multiple awards and honors relating to his music, including a Grammy, Charlie was awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service award for his support of military personnel and the AmVet Silver Helmet award.
Charlie was particularly concerned about the plight of returning veterans. He argued against federal government cutbacks to veteran’s services and talked a lot about the strain on health care, education and job opportunities for veterans.
He was instrumental in setting up The Journey Home Project, a charity that focuses on supporting veterans “to return, to rehabilitate, and to reintegrate” into the country they risked their life to protect. You can learn more about this wonderful initiative at www.thejourneyhomeproject.org.
My husband has long been a supporter of this charity, and has an old, worn out t-shirt that came from this organization years ago. On the back it has this quote: “Only two things protect America: The Grace of Almighty God and the United States Military,” followed by Charlie Daniels’s signature.
God bless America. Stay safe, stay well and stay positive.