"On January 30, 2010, Charlie Daniels suffered a debilitating stroke in Colorado and was forced to end his 50-plus-year touring and recording career. The once great fiddle player’s voice and music were silenced for the rest of his life until another stroke took his life ten years and six months later on July 6, 2020."
That is how the last ten years could have played out.
When I got the call from dad in 2010 that he was having a stroke after snowmobiling and they were heading to the hospital, the above scenario was what I was expecting. I just had a feeling that dad was done touring, he would never take the stage again to perform, and that everything was going to change in our world, and change drastically.
But thank God I was wrong and the above scenario didn’t happen.
Dad had an amazing last ten years of his life.
At 73 years old, many artists have slowed down considerably, and are enjoying the fruits of their labors -- or the consequences of excesses -- but not my dad.
Dad loved performing almost as much as he loved my mom and me, and he got to do that and so much more. He always said that what he was the most proud of was that he had managed to keep 25+ people gainfully employed for over 45 years, and some as long as 47.
In his last ten years, he got to see life-long dreams realized, and lived each day to the fullest.
Dad officially became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2008, and played that sacred stage up until 2019. Dad grew up listening to the Opry all the way in Wilmington, NC and I know how much it meant to him to be able to perform on the same stage where his musical heroes had performed. And dad was so full of energy, he often closed the Opry shows, even though he was one of the oldest members, but he was a hard act to follow.
I remember on one rare occasion a few years ago that Dierks Bentley and his band went on after dad, and Dierks even made a comment on stage, facetiously thanking the Opry for putting him on after Charlie Daniels, and having to follow dad’s raucous performance.
In 2016, the year of dad’s 80th birthday, he lost a friend and mentor in Bob Johnston, who with dad co-wrote a song recorded by Elvis Presley, arranged for dad to do a single Bob Dylan recording session, which later turned into three albums of work for dad, and later when Johnston’s plate got too full with projects, he handed some projects off to dad, like the "Elephant Mountain" album for The Youngbloods of “Get Together” fame.
Mom, dad, and I – along with a lot of the CDB staff - went to a memorial service for Bob at BMI in Nashville, and later David Corlew, Dad’s manager, said that we were going over to the Country Music Association office to take a picture, so we walked down the street and over to CMA to find out that wasn’t entirely correct. What we were actually there for was for CMA’s CEO, Sarah Trahern, to tell dad that he was going to be announced as one of the Class of 2016 for the Country Music Hall of Fame. Dad was overcome with emotion, as we all were. He was flabbergasted.
Dad said that everything else in his career was the cake and the icing, but that this was the cherry on the top.
This was the one honor you couldn’t work towards, this was the one that was completely out of your hands. The voting was secret, and the voting system was not well-known outside of the CMA board, so everything was very confidential.
But he had made it into something he could not have dreamed of as a child listening to Roy Acuff on the Grand Ole Opry 70-plus-years before.
Dad had also been working on his autobiography, but could never find a stopping point until the Hall of Fame. The night of his medallion ceremony in October where he along with fellow Tarheels Randy Travis and producer Fred Foster were officially inducted as Hall of Fame members, dad came back and started writing the last of his autobiography, which was later published as “Never Look at the Empty Seats.”
So, dad finally got to have his life story published and he even recorded the audiobook. There is nothing better than listening to dad read the story of his life to you. Then, a year later, another book based on his daily tweets was released. I am at least partially responsible for that one, being at least partially responsible for introducing him to Twitter.
A cousin of ours in North Carolina had the foresight to park @CharlieDaniels as a Twitter handle for dad, and in 2011, I set up the account for him to use. I told him that this was something he really needed to do, and he needed to familiarize himself with it, and familiarize himself, he most certainly did. His favorite things to tweet were political, along with photos from the road, my mom’s flowers, or some amazing sunrise he captured on camera. One of the things he started tweeting were daily words of wisdom, which is what evolved into “Let’s All Make the Day Count: The Everyday Wisdom of Charlie Daniels.”
We’re currently looking at compiling more of these words of wisdom tweets and some other writings of his into a second volume, if the interest from the publisher seems to be there.
In addition to reminding us daily that “Benghazi ain’t going away!,” “22 VETERANS COMMIT SUICIDE EVERYDAY!!!” and other daily tweets, dad tweeted a scripture every morning as well.
Dad loved the Lord, and made no bones about it. He was unapologetically Christian, and he was also compassionate.
I’ve gotten to know a rock star through social media who was friends with dad who basically told me that dad saved his life. He told me he was ready to end it, and that he and dad did a lot of messaging for a long time that night, and dad convinced him to get some help and that conversation got him into rehab and he’s still rockin’ today. Thank God.
Dad said that from an early age he realized that two things protected America, “the grace of Almighty God and the United States Military” and for years he honored our brave men and women serving and he wanted to keep helping our heroes once they came home.
Dad and David Corlew started The Journey Home Project in 2014 to help veterans adjust to civilian life, and that, in 2015, spilled over into The Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center at Middle Tennessee State University, which helps student veterans and their families with their academic needs.
He used to say “we have an unpayable debt of gratitude for those who have served,” and in his last ten years, he did his best to make some small contributions to that debt.
These are only parts of an outstanding final decade of the man’s life. More than anything, he loved his friends, he loved his employees, and he loved my mom and me, and our loss leaves a huge void in our lives, but we also know that he’s seeing some unimaginable sights right now.
Dad was a man of tremendous faith and I have no doubt where he is hanging out these days and I want to see him again, so I’m trying to follow in his footsteps which, of course, were following the footsteps of our Lord and Savior.
After his stroke, dad had no idea he would live another ten years, five years, or just a few weeks, and frankly, none of us do. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. We get one day at a time, and we have to do our best with that day, and then move on to the next one, if the Good Lord is willing.
That’s why every day he tweeted “let’s all make the day count.” Dad lived by that philosophy and I’m trying to do the same.
Who’s with me?
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.