Charlie Daniels, the Southern rock legend behind the iconic hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” died Monday morning, his publicist confirmed. The country music singer was 83.
Daniels passed away at Summit Medical Center in Hermitate, Tennessee. The official cause of death was a hemorrhagic stroke.
Daniels was a Country Music Hall of Fame inductee and a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Known for his fiddling and guitar prowess, he was also inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame.
He co-founded The Journey Home Project in 2014 to help veterans of the U.S. military.
“There are few artists that touched so many different generations in our business than Charlie Daniels did,” said Sarah Trahern, Country Music Association CEO, via statement. “Today, our community has lost an innovator and advocate of country music.”
We are deeply saddened by the passing of Charlie Daniels. Charlie was a proud supporter of the Nashville Predators and we are so grateful for his love over the years.— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) July 6, 2020
Our hearts are with his wife Hazel, his loved ones, and the country music community. pic.twitter.com/wCerMwRgkx
He had suffered what was described as a mild stroke in January 2010 and had a heart pacemaker implanted in 2013 but continued to perform.
Daniels, a singer, guitarist and fiddler, started out as a session musician, even playing on Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” sessions. Beginning in the early 1970s, his five-piece band toured endlessly, sometimes doing 250 shows a year.
“I can ask people where they are from, and if they say ‘Waukegan,′ I can say I’ve played there. If they say ‘Baton Rouge,′ I can say I’ve played there. There’s not a city we haven’t played in,” Daniels said in 1998.
Daniels performed at White House, at the Super Bowl, throughout Europe and often for troops in the Middle East.
He played himself in the 1980 John Travolta movie “Urban Cowboy” and was closely identified with the rise of country music generated by that film.
“I’ve kept people employed for over 20 years and never missed a payroll,” Daniels said in 1998. That same year, he received the Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music.
In the 1990s Daniels softened some of his lyrics from his earlier days when he often was embroiled in controversy.
In “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a 1979 song about a fiddling duel between the devil and a whippersnapper named Johnny, Daniels originally called the devil a “son of a bitch,” but changed it to “son of a gun.”
In his 1980 hit “Long Haired Country Boy,” he used to sing about being “stoned in the morning” and “drunk in the afternoon.” Daniels changed it to “I get up in the morning. I get down in the afternoon.”
“I guess I’ve mellowed in my old age,” Daniels said in 1998.
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was No. 1 on the country charts in 1979 and No. 3 on the pop charts. It was voted single of the year by the Country Music Association.
He hosted regular Volunteer Jam concerts in Nashville in which the performers usually were not announced in advance. Entertainers at thes shows included Don Henley, Amy Grant, James Brown, Pat Boone, Bill Monroe, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band, Alabama, Billy Joel, Little Richard, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eugene Fodor and Woody Herman.
“He loved his God, he loved his family and he loved his country. And we all loved him!!! He lived it and breathed it every day. What a great American!,” pioneering music legend Brenda Lee said, via statement.
Contemporary country artists like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean also paid tribute to Daniels on social media. “What a hero. A true patriot, Christian, and country music icon. Prayers to his family,” said Bryan in a tweet.
Other fellow musicians released statements on Daniels’ passing late Monday.
“I will truly miss my friend and fellow Country Music Hall Of Fame member,” said country music star Charley Pride. “He was one of the most honest and genuinely nice people in the business. I will miss our talks. We shared lots of memories and supported each other. My prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues.”
“Charlie was such a beloved part of our community! He was a great friend and a fellow patriot. I will always cherish the countless shows we worked together over the decades and our backstage talks. He leaves an immeasurable mark on country and southern rock music,” said singer-songwriter Lee Greenwood and his wife, and Kim, in a joint statement “Charlie was a great leader and philanthropist, incredibly humble and one of the biggest supporters of our armed forces and veterans.”
Daniels, a native of Wilmington, N.C., played on several Bob Dylan albums as a Nashville recording session guitarist in the late 1960s, including “New Morning” and “Self-Portrait.”
Eventually, at the age of 71, he was invited to join the epitome of Nashville’s music establishment, the Grand Ole Opry. He was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.
He said in 1998 that he kept touring so much because “I have never played those notes perfectly. I’ve never sung every song perfectly. I’m in competition to be better tonight than I was last night and to be better tomorrow than tonight.”
Daniels said his favorite place to play was “anywhere with a good crowd and a good paycheck.”
“Charlie Daniels was an incredible musician, entertainer and friend. I was thrilled to get to know him on the road and in the studio throughout our careers. He will always be remembered as a patriot, and a faith-filled Christian above all else,” said Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jerry Lee Lewis, in a statement Monday.
Contributing: Sun-Times staff reporter Miriam Di Nunzio