Charlie Daniels Jr.: I Won't Fill Dad's Shoes, But May Be in for Some Late-Blooming

By Charlie Daniels Jr. | September 18, 2020 | 2:21pm EDT
Charlie Daniels' decorated career as a singer, song writer, guitarist, and fiddler spanned several decades. (Photo credit: Gary Miller/Getty Images)
Charlie Daniels' decorated career as a singer, song writer, guitarist, and fiddler spanned several decades. (Photo credit: Gary Miller/Getty Images)

A couple of weeks ago, my mom gave me a new pair of shoes, and I’ve worn them almost every day since I got them. They’re a pair of navy-blue Asics, and probably one of the nicest pairs of new sneakers I’ve ever had.

Well, they’re new-ish.

Mom had gotten them for dad and he wore them for a few months before he went home on July 6th.

My dad was 6’2” tall and wore a size-12 shoe. I’m about 5’9” and I wear a size 11, largely due to my extremely wide feet, so needless to say, they aren’t a perfect fit.

I’ve put new insoles in them to try to make them fit a little better, and I’ve been trying to tie them a little tighter, adjust the laces, and trying a few things to adapt them to my feet.

But you know what I’ve come to realize?

No matter how hard I try, I’m never going to be able to fill dad’s shoes.

Literally or figuratively.

I’m not a musician. I never had the patience for it, at least not to learn the way dad learned. Dad’s friend, Russell Palmer, showed him a few cords on an old beat-up Stella guitar, and dad would practice those over and over. I wanted to be able to pick up the guitar and play like Eric Clapton.

Dad tried showing me a few chords on the guitar and then I'd learn them and when he came back off the road, he’d show me a few more. That could be a few days or a few weeks, depending on his schedule, so I never got past that stage. I think I would have done better with structured weekly lessons from a guitar instructor, but I didn’t realize that until years later.

Maybe I’ll do that someday, but regardless, I will never be the musician that my dad was. He could play just about anything with strings on it. He learned guitar, then he learned the mandolin because he and Russell wanted to form a Bluegrass band; from there, it was a natural progression to the fiddle.

People often would ask what the difference is between a fiddle and a violin.

It’s very simple.

A violin has wine stains on it. A fiddle has beer stains on it. There is absolutely NO difference in the instrument itself. It’s strictly how it’s played.

Dad said he met Itzhak Perlman, a world-renowned violinist, and when he introduced himself he said, “Mr. Perlman, I’m Charlie Daniels. I’m a fiddle player.” Perlman replied with “we’re all fiddle players.” So, I think that was a great feeling for dad to be recognized as a contemporary with one of the great classical violinists of all time, even though their styles were completely different.

So, I’m not a musician… but dad was also a songwriter who wrote a song that went #1 Country, #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and won a Grammy in addition to at least 5 or 6 more which either achieved top ten, or right around that chart position.

How are my songwriting skills?

Well, I’ve essentially written a little over 3/4 of a song. No, I didn’t get stuck on one song and couldn’t finish it.

I should clarify -- it wasn’t just one song, but part of 3. I was working for a publishing company when Tom Snyder - who wrote for dad’s publishing company - and the late George McCorkle, formerly of The Marshall Tucker Band -- who wrote their hit, “Fire on the Mountain” -- were writing in the office one day, and they started a song and were a little stuck, so I just started throwing out ideas, and they liked what I was throwing, so George said that if I kept that up, I was going to have to go in and help them finish writing it, which I did. It’s a goofy little novelty song about TV home shopping, but I essentially wrote 1/3 of the song since it was a three-way co-write. That’s how it works in the publishing business.

I did that one other time: I gave an idea for a song to two of dad’s staff writers when I was running dad's publishing company full-time, and I worked on it with the other writers, so I co-wrote another 1/3 of a song.

Then I made an off-hand comment to one of those writers, Del Gray from the band Little Texas, about how bad things had gotten before I got divorced back in 2002.

Well, you have to watch what you say around songwriters…

Del took that off-hand comment and wrote a song. He insisted on giving me 10% for the inspiration, so if you add that all together, I’ve written 0.7666 percent of a song.

That’s microscopic, compared to dad’s extensive library of songs.

So, that leaves vocal ability.

Well, I’m not going to get very far on “The Voice” or “American Idol." I can sometimes carry a tune, but not like dad could.

So, the bottom line is that dad’s shoes as an entertainer are impossible to fill.

But, there are a couple of things that have rubbed off on me: Dad’s determination and work ethic, and being able to write, not songs, but just writing.

I used to proofread and edit dad’s soapbox before sending them to another pair of eyes to find things that I overlooked, and I guess that has helped me as a writer, because I was never that good at putting things down on paper when I was in school, so I can credit dad with helping me learn to be a better writer, and put down my thoughts.

I also did something recently that I have only done twice before, and the last time was probably 10 years ago. I gave a speech.

It was at an event in Florida over the Labor Day weekend, and I worked really hard on my speech, and while things were chaotic, I had trouble with my iPad that had my speech on it, and I didn’t get to adjust things on the stage before I went up; I made the best of it and didn’t freeze up.

And lo and behold, people seemed interested in what I was saying.

Until it started pouring down rain in the middle of the speech.

I didn’t think it was THAT bad. (Badum pum, *cymbal crash*)

But I had a good time and public speaking is something I might be called upon to do again in the future, so it was a learning experience and it was good to get my feet wet - again, figuratively and literally.

So, I may not fill dad’s shoes, but I was never supposed to.

He would want me to find my own direction and discover my own talents. At 55, I may be a bit of a late bloomer, but dad didn’t have his first hit until he was 36, and his first gold record at 38, and didn’t have his career-defining song until he was 43.

Hopefully being a successful late bloomer will be something we both have in common.

God seems to have awakened some gifts that I wasn’t even aware I had; it’s almost as if after dad passed, He flipped a switch.

And I’m still wearing the shoes.

What do you think?

Pray for our troops, our police, our country, and the Peace of Jerusalem.

God Bless America!

— Charlie Daniels, Jr.

Charlie Daniels, Jr. is the son of legendary American singer, song writer, guitarist, and fiddler Charlie Daniels.

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