Best Bets: Dover-bound Daniels still revved up after all these years

Charlie Daniels has been in the music business for over 60 years and is busier than ever.

Charlie Daniels is calling. He’s got 10 minutes to talk before he has to prepare for a show in Greensboro, North Carolina.

At the age of 82, the country music legend has been at this for more than 60 years. With fiddle in hand and more than a few musical yarns to spin, he still loves getting out and performing for fans.

“I just thank God I can still do it and people still want to hear me,” he said. “Retirement is not for me. That’s for sure.”

One of the next stops on his long-running musical journey takes him to Dover International Speedway Sunday for a free concert prior to the Gander RV 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on the newly named Xfinity Stage at Victory Plaza.

The free show is set to start at 11:30 a.m. and will also feature an appearance by John Rich of Big and Rich.

Mr. Daniels, inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016, formed the Charlie Daniels Band in 1972. His signature song, “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” won a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group in 1979, as well as Single of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards.

The Charlie Daniels Band’s other memorable hits include “Uneasy Rider,” “Long Haired Country Boy,” “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” “In America,” and “The Legend of Wooley Swamp.”

But not content to just rehash the old favorites, Mr. Daniels formed a new band called Beau Weevils last year. They released an album entitled “Songs in the Key of E” in October.

It sprung from a long-held desire to perform with drummer James Stroud.

“We had worked together before but only in terms of him being a producer,” Mr. Daniels explained.

“He’s an unusually talented drummer and we had never found the right vehicle until I started writing these new songs. We cut the album with a couple of other guys and it was just a thoroughly fun project.”

The Charlie Daniels Band will play a free show on Dover International Speedway’s XFinity Stage at Victory Plaza Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

As a drummer/percussionist, Mr. Stroud has played behind the likes of The Pointer Sisters, Paul Simon, Gladys Knight, Bob Seger and dozens more.

He’s joined on the album by Billy Crain, brother of the late Daniels band guitar player Tommy Crain, and longtime Charlie Daniels Band guitarist Charlie Hayward.

Mr, Daniels describes the music as “downhome, swampy rock meets funk with a little taste of Delta type of style.”

That could describe Mr. Daniels’ music in general as he has swung through a variety of genres throughout the years.

He says that comes from his upbringing.

“We’re all a product of our environment,” said the Wilmington, North Carolina native.

“Before radio was formatted for one kind of music or another, during the course of the day you would hear a variety of different music.

“You’d hear the popular music of the day and the big band stuff and that morphed into rock and country. You were just exposed to all kinds of stuff. And I liked a lot of it so it was natural to kind of go that way with my own music.”

Many of his songs are famous for the winding tales they tell. Mr. Daniels says that also was a product of his upbringing.

“As I look back on a lot of my early work, especially ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ and ‘Legend of Wooley Swamp’ and even now with some of the Beau Weevils songs, I realize that storytelling came from the fact that we didn’t have TV growing up,” he said.

“Most of the time spent was sitting around telling each other stories and you would enjoy being around the people who could tell the stories best. And some of the stories were true and some weren’t. A good storyteller was revered in my time. It was part of my heritage.”

And about his best known song where Johnny engages in that infamous fiddle contest with the Devil who’s looking to pounce — well, that tune turns 40 years old this year.

When asked if it seems like he’s been playing it for that long, he simply responds, “Or longer.”

“Somebody asked me how many times I’ve played it over the years and I had no idea,” he continued. “But I’m sure it’s in the thousands.”

Mr. Daniels said he had an idea it would do well but not quite as well as it did. The original version of the song spent 14 weeks on the Hot Country Singles charts in 1979, peaking at No. 1 and holding the position for one week. It spent two weeks at a No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was certified platinum on Dec. 20, 1989, for sales of over 1 million copies in the United States.

“You can never tell how well a song will do. But every once in a while, a song hits a certain lick and it works out wonderfully,” he said.

In a career filled with highlights, he says writing a song for Elvis Presley is way up there. The 1964 tune “It Hurts Me” was on the B-side of the Presley movie single, “Kissin’ Cousins.” The A side reached No. 12 in the U.S. singles charts, while “It Hurts Me” reached No. 29 but never became well-known.

But that didn’t matter to Mr. Daniels, who co-wrote the song with Joy Byers.

“That was like an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ type of thing,” he said. “That was the first major thing that happened to me on a national scale. Any good adjective you can think of applies to that situation.”

Another highlight keeps happening for Mr. Daniels every time he steps on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry as he did earlier this month. He became a full-fledged member in 2008.

“I remember listening to the Opry when I was a kid. It’s been around for over 90 years. I’ve listened to it all my life, really. And to become a member, I can never articulate what an honor it is to play on that stage. It’s a total blessing,” he said.

Being a North Carolina native, Mr. Daniels jokes that you have to be a NASCAR fan. But he’s not quite caught up on the newer faces in the sport.

“Junior’s gone. Jeff (Gordon) is gone. Smoke (Tony Stewart) is gone. And I just heard Darrell Waltrip is leaving the broadcast booth. That’s a shame. I always liked him,” he said.

“I’m not much in tune with the new generation but I still like the sport.”

After he finishes that last note in Dover on Sunday, there are shows in Alabama and South Carolina later in the week — and more after that. All of this as a bit of arthritis has set in his hands.

“You do the best you can do when you’re 82 years old. My hands are stiffer than they used to be but you work around it,” he said.

“I always say, ‘If you can’t get what you want, take what you can get and make what you want out of it.’”

Other fun at the track

The Xfinity Stage at Victory Plaza, located in the grassy area near the Monster Monument, is the home for the track’s free pre-race concerts and NASCAR driver and personality question-and-answers sessions throughout the Monster Mile’s NASCAR weekend. Xfinity will also have a special Xfinity Zone area located in the expanded 8-acre FanZone.

The famed Harlem Globetrotters will perform at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday in the FanZone. Micro Wrestling matches will also be held in the FanZone Sunday at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

A BMX stunt show and concerts by Industrial Rhythm will also fill out the schedule at the FanZone.

The race is at 2 p.m. Sunday, for which seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty will serve as the honorary starter and seven-time Dover NASCAR Cup Series race winner Bobby Allison will present the winner’s gold Monster Trophy in honor of the 50th anniversary of Dover International Speedway.

50th Anniversary Bash

Drivers and musical stars will appear on the Xfinity Stage in Victory Plaza as part of the speedway’s free 50th Anniversary Bash for fans on Saturday afternoon.

Mr. Rich will perform with Maryland native Sam Grow, a rising country music star, at the 50th Anniversary Bash. Cowboy Troy, who often makes tour appearances with Big & Rich, will also hit the stage starting at 5:30 p.m.

Country singer John Rich will perform at Saturday’s 50th Anniversary Bash. ( Submitted photo)

Mr. Petty, Mr. Allison, Jimmie Johnson and Mr. Waltrip, along with William Byron and Mike Joy, as well as longtime NASCAR executive Mike Helton and Dover Motorsports, Inc. President and CEO Denis McGlynn are among some of the special guests scheduled to make appearances. It will be hosted by Riki Rachtman and MRN’s and SiriusXM’s Mike Bagley.

The 50th Anniversary Bash runs from 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturday following the Allied Steel Buildings 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series Dash 4 Cash race, which gets underway at 1:30 p.m.

Dover’s traditional fireworks display will follow the Bash at approximately 9 p.m.

Food and drink

Concession stands surrounding the Xfinity Stage will remain open during the event, including Dover Downs Hotel & Casino’s Frankie’s Monster Mile Café, offering food and drink specials. As part of the speedway’s partnership with SoDel Concepts, a restaurant group based in Rehoboth Beach, the Monster Mile designed a special concession menu available all weekend, featuring many First State favorites, including the following:

• Sticky Icky Fried Rice Bowl: Fried chicken morsels, shaved vegetables, fried egg and special sauce.

• The Ricky Bobby: Shake and bake fried chicken, hand-blended dry seasonings, coleslaw, buttermilk aioli and potato roll.

• Slingshot Scrapple Grilled Cheese: Scrapple, American cheese, fried egg and white bread.

• Jimmie Jam: Hand-crafted griddled scrapple, foot long hot dog, fresh lobster and apple slaw.

Draft beer, such as Dover International Speedway’s 50th Anniversary “Splash & Go Lager,” brewed in collaboration with Dover-based Fordham & Dominion Brewing Company, will be available for purchase.

Other breweries represented during the Bash include Mispillion River Brewing and Blue Earl Brewery.

Starting gate

All of the action gets underway Friday with practice and qualifying and the running of the JEGS 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at 5:30 p.m.

The FanZone will see Truck Series drivers autograph sessions and free Hell on Wheels BMX Stunt Shows at noon, 2 and 4 p.m.

For tickets to any of the races, visit DoverSpeedway.com or call (800) 441-RACE.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the Charlize Theron-Seth Rogan comedy “Long Shot,” the suspense-thriller “The Intruder,” the animated film “Uglydolls,” the action-adventure “El Chicano” and the musical drama “Bolden.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is “The Lego Movie: The Second Part,” the comedy “What Women Want” and the horror film “The Prodigy.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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